Podcasting has exploded in recent years with people across all demographics producing regular episodes on everything from Thai food to college lacrosse to independent films.
To give students a solid introduction to this platform, Saint Leo University offered a podcast course in the fall of 2020. Dr. Kenneth Embry, an associate professor of communication, served as the instructor for the course.
A Look at Embry's Background
Embry began his career about 20 years ago working in television.
"I started out working as a camera operator at a small station in Bowling Green, KY and then moved to a station in Louisville," Embry recounts.
He says he became "a little disenchanted" working in TV and decided to pursue a graduate education and teaching career. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Memphis in 2009.
"I saw how the Internet was changing things as a disrupter," he recalls. "My dissertation was on interpersonal relationships in the online world."
Idea for the Podcast Course
Saint Leo University's bachelor's in communication degree program in the Tapia College of Business offers tracks in digital media, social media influencer, and communication studies. The program was revamped in 2020, and the idea of a podcast class was born during this process.
"Podcasting came out of a larger discussion on where communication is going," Embry explains. "It was part of the curriculum redevelopment we did. We realized that podcasting was a central part of these ideas."
Embry points to one specific academic track in this communication degree program that really stands out to him.
"The influencer track represents disruption in communication that's not going away and offers countless opportunities to allow students to explore and experiment in this arena. If students want to be entrepreneurs and do things on their own, I think that's wonderful. But every organization out there needs someone to handle their digital media presence."
Why Podcasts Pop in Today's Society
According to Embry, with forms of traditional media rapidly evolving in recent years, the concept of a podcast as a piece of content fits the on-demand desire of today's consumers.
"We are consuming more media than ever before, and podcasting has become a really vital platform," Embry says. "TV and radio shows used to be centered on appointment consumption, but with podcasts, you can pause them or take them to the grocery store and listen while you shop. There are no real boundaries."
He adds that there is more opportunity than ever to enter the media landscape, unlike in the past when aspiring media personalities could primarily only find opportunities through other companies. He explains why the landscape is so different now.
"The barriers to entry are so low. The cost of high-quality recording equipment has become very inexpensive, and there are lots of free and low-cost podcast hosting platforms out there."
He says that podcasting provides the opportunity for a highly flexible platform in terms of production.
"Live radio has so many restraints in terms of commercial breaks and boundaries. With podcasting, it can be as free-form as you'd like."
Because of these factors, the number of podcasts in production today is enormous.
"According to recent data, there are between 250,000 and 1.2 million active podcasts out there," Embry says. "I believe it's closer to the lower number."
Embry currently hosts a faith-based podcast called "Balancing the Christian Life."
"It's a solo podcast on which I mainly interview guests," he explains. "I take a very hands-on approach to it and will edit out um's, ah's, and pointless questions or responses. I try to make it succinct and value-driven."
An Inside Peek at the Podcast Class Curriculum
While this podcast course touched on the technical side of podcasting and content creation, it also delved into many other important concepts.
"We looked at how to market and distribute, in addition to building a brand. You have to realize that your billboard is your website and social media channels through which you promote your podcast."
He says there is a direct correlation between the marketing of a podcast's episodes and listenership.
"The beauty of podcasts or YouTube videos is that you can specifically track listens or views on your content. Plus, you know your audience pretty well and where they are located."
He also discussed the need to outsource certain tasks and brought up Fiverr, a freelancing website with countless freelancers who can assist podcasters with various tasks.
"Podcasts need some artwork, music tracks, transcripts, and many other elements. The students had to identify their weaknesses and decide on what to outsource to someone else."
Looking back on the course, he pinpointed the biggest challenge that faces all podcasters.
"This semester, I learned that it's not the inability for students to use the recording and editing hardware and software. The bigger challenge to podcasting is organization. It's the discipline you need to figure out your topics, with whom you're going to discuss these topics in terms of co-hosts or guests, and learning from the mistakes you make along the way."
Connecting the Dots
Making solid connections is another big piece of the puzzle, Embry says.
"When you're seeking out guests and even building your audience, it's all about establishing those positive relationships with others who in turn can support your podcast in a variety of ways. Every organization is in the relationship business, so no matter what field you pursue, these skills can help."
He adds that the relationship between a podcast host and listener is unique.
"I say podcasting develops close relationships between the host and listener because we are allowing people to whisper into our ears for anywhere between 15 minutes and three hours per episode."
One unique dynamic of having a community of podcasters in this podcast course allowed students to provide feedback on each other's work.
"Most podcasters don't have a chance to get good feedback from fellow podcasters on the quality of their content. In this class, students listened to each other's podcasts and were able to provide them with direct feedback. I think this honest feedback they get from their peers means a lot to them."
Outside Perspectives from Guest Speakers
Embry also virtually brought in several guest speakers to talk to the students and answer common questions about all aspects of podcasting.
"I met the CEOs from six or seven of the major podcasting platforms out there at a podcasting conference. I told them I was teaching this podcast course in the fall and asked about getting some members from their teams to speak to the students."
He made a great connection with Alban Brooke, the head of marketing at Buzzsprout.
"I just related to him very well and he's a very smart and creative guy. Plus, he lives in Florida. I mainly wanted him to speak about how to grow a podcast. He also has a great eight-part series on starting a podcast."
Other guest speakers included Kris Emerson, a longtime minister in Texas who hosts the "Excel Still More" podcast. He talked to the class about growing his audience from the ground up with over 500,000 downloads in just over a year. Bruce Wawrzyniak of the "Catholic Sports Radio" podcast spoke about how he successfully promotes and monetizes his work.
Podcast Course Projects
The class started with a podcast plan. Students had to create a podcast avatar representing the ideal listener and the demographics of such an individual. They then had to develop an outline of episodes and how each recording would be formatted in terms of the content.
To demonstrate their understanding of the course material and discussions, the students had to produce at least five episodes, upload them to Buzzsprout, and promote them through various social media channels.
"I had them write a reflection paper on one specific episode they did," Embry explains. "They had to explain how they created the content for it, how they promoted it, the audience they targeted, and how many downloads it had received."
Growth of Students
Embry says he witnessed several students gain confidence and learn to express themselves quite well through the podcasting project.
"I'm so proud of my students," he says. "I had 1 student who wanted to talk about living with epilepsy. Another student focused her podcast on her autism, and one student spoke about her social anxiety as a college student. I can't really ask students about these things, but the students in this class have opened my eyes to so much that they normally wouldn't share."
Other topics covered on the student podcasts included the Washington Football Team, dog training, and mixed martial arts (MMA).
"I appreciate the students sharing their passions through these podcasts. In general, people are always attracted to others who are passionate about something. Hearing someone get excited about something and bringing u on their journey is fun and interesting."
He also looked at the bigger picture of how this podcast class will benefit students in any career they choose to pursue.
"I think this class helped students think through ideas and become better critical thinkers. When doing a podcast, you have to be able to organize your thoughts and look at things through a different lens at times."
Listen to the Podcasts
Check out the podcasts each student in the course created.
"Podcast About a Football Team" – Jarret Brightbill
This podcast explores the Washington Football Team, formerly the Redskins, from a lifelong fan. Listen here.
"Religious Sentiments" – Geovanni Hillis
This show focuses on Catholicism and religious living. Listen here.
"The Cage MMA Podcast" – Avery Merkle
This podcast dives into the world of MMA and UFC. Listen here.
"Life Through a Different Lens" – Camryn Christoff
This is a personal podcast on Christoff's story of having a sensory processing disorder. Listen here.
"My Roommate, Anxiety" – Adamaris Cruz
This personal podcast looks at how Cruz deals with anxiety as a college student. Listen here.
"From 1st World to 3rd World" – Montserrat Molina
This podcast explores Molina's personal journey of moving from Honduras to the United States. Listen here.
"Self-Reliant" – Gina Demayo
This podcast offers up tips and tricks on how one can be more self-reliant. Listen here.
"No Bad Streams" – Kacie Parrow
This podcast reviews various Netflix shows. Listen here.
"Sorority Check" – Alissa Grams
This podcast looks at the impact of joining a sorority. Listen here.
"Epilepsy: My Story" – Julissa Vazquez
This personal podcast looks at what life is like living with epilepsy. Listen here.
"Christian Buoy" – Masiala Umba
This show explores how Christians can keep their faith despite life's challenges. Listen here.
"Running Forward" – Kerry Reilly
This podcast explores female runners. Listen here.
"Good Dog: A DogCast" – Emily Prengaman
This show dives into the world of dog training. Listen here.
"Life in the Bubble" – Emanuel Johnson
This show looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted sports. Listen here.
"Abroad in a Crisis" – Jaise Banks
This podcast looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected college students in the United States. Listen here.