On podcasting

Some thoughts on producing audio broadcasts as The Physics Capsule podcast reaches its first series finale.

Around June last year I first began toying with the idea of starting a podcast. But I knew it would be demanding: thinking up topics, scripting (or at least having an agenda), research, planning the presentation, recording, editing, hosting, managing the show on multiple podcast providers etc. The most obvious choice was then to turn to Physics Capsule, the physics learning platform I co-founded with my great friend and fellow physicist R. Sawhil four years ago. It offered a constant stream of ideas and co-hosting a show would undoubtedly be better than forcing people to listen to my voice alone. Needless to say we were both thrilled about it and got down to working on an identity for the show.

We decided to call our show simply The Physics Capsule podcast, that way it would retain its link to Physics Capsule and embody the core ideas of our platform: to make academic physics accessible to the layperson both in terms of ease of understanding and in terms of the actual cost of accessing the website. It would serve as the logical next step to an article-driven website but would be more than a regurgitation of what was already on Physics Capsule. It would serve to explore topics that we could not explore under the scope of our existing platform so we turned our attention towards discussing the physics behind everyday phenomena and objects that few people ever think about.

We have just ended series one of our podcast and have learnt a few things along the way. It was only halfway through the show that we gained a proper foothold over how we can steer it. By then the show had already taken a persona of its own so any changes we made would have to be subtle enough to have an impact but not obvious enough to become off-putting to our existing listener base. As far as our listeners go we had many more than we expected; it was humbling. Our average listener count is in the ballpark of 10,000 listeners a month. At 15 min an episode (another average) we realised that three people are listening to our show at any given point throughout a month. That was reach unlike anything we had ever imagined.

The entire first series of The Physics Capsule podcastwas about discovering what we can do with the show and we are always looking for feedback on what we can improve upon.

For the curious, we define a listener as anyone who plays one of our episodes on their device(s) for 80% of the duration of that episode via iTunes or other podcast providers. We count listens only via our feed and do not count downloads straight from our website, a number that routinely hits 250–300 a month. We do not count this simply because once someone downloads an episode there is no way of telling if they actually listened to it.

Our first episodes were being recorded at the studio next to the physics department where we worked. We could no longer have free access to the studio by the time we reached the series finale so we had to think of alternative solutions. It was fun (we are physicists after all) to set up a room in our headquarters that we had to make soundproof using innovative means and find an apt location for our microphone and recorder that would reduce ambient noise and improve the quality of our recording. Although we lost the studio we were in no mood to let the change of venue affect our production negatively.

We procured a Marantz MPM-1000U cardioid condenser microphone with a 20–17,000 Hz frequency response range. I would highly recommend it for anyone looking to set up a simple recording station. We did not have a shock mount (and the MPM-1000U does not come with one, sadly) so we had to make do with a tripod and some MacGyverism in the end. The results were pretty great.

One of my main takeaways from series one has been that we can never plan far enough ahead. That aside there are some subtle changes we would like to make for series two that would retain in full everything series one offered but do it better and more efficiently. The entire first series was about us discovering what we can do with the podcast and we are constantly looking for feedback on what we can improve upon. If you would like us to address specific questions in our upcoming episodes, let us know. If you would like us to incorporate some changes, let us know and we will give it serious consideration. The feedback we have got so far has helped us throughout the first series and we want to begin production for the second series with everything in place soon. We do not want to list out the changes that we will be making, though; we would rather you listened to the new series and enjoyed it in the flow.

The Physics Capsule podcast is for everyone, and you certainly need have no prior knowledge of physics to understand it, so please head to the website, subscribe today and listen to our entire first series while you wait for series two to begin this September.