My introduction to the world of podcasts was quite fitting — one of the first articles I was assigned to write for my high school newspaper was about a class where students were making podcasts rather than writing an essay for one of their units.
I talked to a few people at my school who were already enthusiastic podcast listeners and found their passion inspiring. They introduced me to Serial, which, despite having already broken out of the niche world that podcasts still mostly inhabit and entered the mainstream, I hadn’t yet heard of.
They told me about Welcome to Night Vale, a fictional radio show reporting on the town of Night Vale, where, according to the podcast’s creator Joseph Fink, all conspiracy theories are true. The podcast is a supernatural dark comedy, a feat of modern magical realism that’s created a cult following of tens of thousands of listeners.
So it was only natural for me to download the first episodes of each story. And immediately, I was enraptured. Both podcasts were so different — Serial was a serious, investigative story that developed throughout each episode, and Night Vale was a creative work of worldbuilding and humor.
But both had something no other form of storytelling could provide. They created soundscapes in my headphones that thoroughly engaged me in the worlds they existed in; I felt like I wasn’t just hearing a story, I was existing in a space where that story was occurring around me.
My podcast consumption snowballed from there. I subscribed to nearly every NPR podcast I could find, from Shankar Vedantam’s Hidden Brain, which delves into how psychology applies to our everyday decisions, to Radio Ambulante, NPR’s first-ever Spanish language podcast. Despite having only learned the minimum amount of Spanish to pass my high school language requirement, the use of sound in Radio Ambulante made the stories as understandable as any other.
During my senior year, I decided that I wanted to make my own podcast. I tried to start one at my school newspaper, but between the extracurriculars I was involved in, college applications and challenging classes, I never found the time to do so.
Instead, I started writing reviews of podcasts for my school newspaper — what started out as full-length articles for my school newspaper would soon turn into my podcast review website, where I wrote reviews of 100 different podcasts in 100-word blurbs. Although it took me nearly a full year, I completed it toward the end of my first semester at USC, and I was proud to have something to show for my obsession with podcasts, even if it wasn’t a podcast of my own.
It was this semester at USC that I made the transition — from podcast connoisseur to podcaster. I still continue to talk and write about podcasts all the time (this column is a good example), but I finally found myself behind the mic this semester.
I am enrolled in a class called “Aural Culture.” In the course, we consider everything about how sound functions in society — from the physics of how sound works in the first place to how music and sound art serve as integral parts of our communities and entertainment. Podcasts, naturally, were a major part of the class.
For my final project, I made a podcast on my own. Although my only experience with the Adobe Audition audio editing software was in an introductory journalism class where we spent a week or two creating audio stories, I was able to put together a fun story with a voiceover, some natural sound and some musical undertones, the elements of podcasts that made me love them in the first place.
And of course, the Daily Trojan gave me the opportunity I had been working toward since my senior year of high school — creating and hosting my own podcast. I pitched a news discussion show to our editor-in-chief Emma Peplow, and after much deliberation, we decided to name it “General Education.”
Each week, two guests and I discuss our favorite stories from the pages of the Daily Trojan. Although it took forever to make sure everything went right when we first started the podcast, now, recording the podcast is easy, and each episode seems to be better than the last.
And then — one week ago — I I was offered an internship with Pineapple Street Media, a podcast production company that produced some of my favorite audio stories. With this internship, my role in the world of podcasts is no longer just as an obsessive fan or an amateur podcaster — I’m now a part of the magic.
Pineapple Media has shared stories like Missing Richard Simmons, a longform podcast that investigated why the actor and fitness instructor decided to disappear from public life, and With Her, the podcast where Pineapple Street Media co-founder Max Linksy interviewed then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Needless to say, I am elated to begin working there.
So, to close out my final “Honest to Pod” column of the semester, I want to thank everyone who made the development of my relationship to podcasts possible. To the assigning editor at my high school who inadvertently sparked my love for podcasts. To the people I interviewed who told me about their favorite podcasts.
To my best friend Meghan, who was the person who held me accountable to finishing my podcast review website on the days I felt like giving up. To my aural culture professor Bruce Smith and teaching assistant Dexter Booth, who taught me so much about sound that I otherwise would’ve never considered.
To lifestyle editors Kitty Guo and Kenan Draughorne, who let me have this column at the last minute even though applications were well past due. To Jonathon Xue, our multimedia editor, who has to put up with listening to the sound of my voice over and over again when he edits and produces General Education every week, transforming it from a raw cut of stuttered and mispronounced sentences to a clean and professional audio story.
To Emma Peplow, our editor-in-chief, who encouraged and supported starting General Education despite my lack of podcasting experience and who puts up with me constantly pronouncing her last name completely wrong at the end of every episode. To associate managing editor Kylie Cheung, who found and sent me Pineapple Street Media’s internship application, and who encouraged me to apply when initially I doubted my qualifications for it.
And finally, to Maddy Sprung-Keyser, Jess Hackel, Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky, all of whom work at Pineapple Street Media, who saw something in me and my love for podcasts and decided I was worthy of the opportunity to make podcasts with them.
Karan Nevatia is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the news editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Honest to Pod,” ran every other Friday.