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March 23, 2019
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Podcasting

How I podcast: Bullseye’s Jesse Thorn

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The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs.

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

For week three, I’ve asked my longtime friend and professional podcaster, Jesse Thorn, to share his thoughts. “America’s Radio Sweetheart” is the host of several long-running shows, including NPR’s Bullseye and the comedy podcast, Jordan Jesse Go. He’s also the owner and proprietor of Los Angeles-based podcasting network Maximum Fun, which hosts a ridiculous number of shows, including Judge John Hodgman, My Brother, My Brother and Me and Oh No, Ross and Carrie.

He’s highlighted his unique setup with a requisite side order of Hyphy.

I bought this recording booth on Craigslist. For years, I recorded in my house, and walls lined with books and lots of soft furniture were enough to make my recordings sound passable, but then my wife told me to get an office. The intern in our living room kept waking up the baby.

The office is in a concrete loft building, very unforgiving for sound, so I ended up in a guy’s backyard in Harvard Heights, in central LA [checking out this booth]. He was a huge Samoan dude who’d run a Pacific Islander R&B label until his business partner went on tour as Justin Bieber’s vocal coach. I bought it for three grand, hired a guy with a van to bring it to the office and set it up, and we were in business.

Guests often comment on the booth — the spectrum runs from, “this is a little low-rent” to “what am I, in one of the Saw movies?” Honestly I think that helps keep our conversations human. It’s not quite soundproof; one of our producers is a particularly loud laugher and he ends up on the tape a lot. But honestly I kind of love it.

Also pictured: My lucky mug. It has E-40’s “In A Major Way” album cover on it.

News Source = techcrunch.com

How I podcast: Effectively Wild’s Ben Lindbergh

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Last month, Spotify announced that it had paid $340 million for Gimlet and Anchor in a push to make its mark on podcasting. But while it’s encouraging to see media giants throw weight and money behind the medium, the beauty of the format has always been its accessibility.

It’s the rare form of entertainment that’s nearly as easy to create as it is to consume. And now, thanks to the proliferation of devoted hardware and software solutions, it’s never been easier. Podcast studios run the range from NPR to Skype chat and every variation in-between, with recording rigs every bit as diverse as the shows themselves.

After receiving some great feedback from my writeup of my own setup, I’ve reached out to some of my favorite podcasters to see what they’re working with. I’ll be highlighting some of those in the coming weeks, beginning with Ben Lindbergh, the host of my favorite baseball podcast, Effectively Wild.

For six and a half years and 1,341 episodes, the Fangraphs-produced show has offered an idiosyncratic look at the world of sabermetrics — statistically fueled baseball analytics. Host Ben Lindbergh is also a baseball writer at The Ringer, who has formerly written for Baseball Prospectus, Grantland and FiveThirtyEight.

[Above: Ben’s rig.]

I’m an East Coaster who’s been putting out podcasts with West Coast co-hosts for several years, recording roughly 1,500 episodes of various shows for The Ringer and via independent, Patreon-supported pursuits. I don’t have a whole lot of gear, relying largely on the ubiquitous Blue Yeti with a $30 shock mount (attached to a boom arm) and a $20 pop filter, both from Auphonix. (I do have a TASCAM, which occasionally comes in handy for more narrativereported pods.)

I use Cast to talk to and pull local audio from guests who can connect via computer, resorting to Skype and MP3 Skype Recorder when necessary for phone conversations. I use Audacity to edit, which works fine for me. My employers have helped with hosting and promotion, and Facebook has been best for building a community.

All told, it’s a simple, inexpensive setup, but with some care in the production process, it still sounds good. Remote recording has its hurdles, but given chemistry between co-hosts, repetition, practice and judicious editing, cross-country conversations can sound as intimate and natural as in-studio discussions. Sometimes it’s freeing to be far apart.

I’ve been working this way for so long that it now seems strange to be able to see the person(s) I’m podcasting with. If we’re doing it right, though, the listener won’t notice or mind that there’s a continent between us.

News Source = techcrunch.com

How I podcast

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I’ve been podcasting in various forms for about a dozen years now. Sometimes it has been within the corporate confines of the various publications I’ve worked for and sometimes it has just been for myself. That’s the beauty of podcasting — there’s no overhead.

It can be recorded on a terrible Skype line or meticulously crafted by an army of producers. You can do it for five listeners or five million. Do a five-episode miniseries or suddenly look at the calendar one day and realize you’ve been putting up an episode a week for five years.

My current podcast, RiYL, falls into the latter category. Episode 322 just posted this weekend. That’s a lifetime in podcast years, and I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s no way the show would have lasted this long had I not assembled the proper gear.

It’s true that doing the show has been an ongoing process of refining my setup, both in terms of recording hardware and the software workflow, but the core components have been in place for a while. A number of my more successful friends have invested thousands to build home studios that sound as professional as any NPR affiliate.

For me, however, the key has always been mobility. I’ve fine-tuned a podcasting rig that sounds good, but is small enough to slip into a laptop sleeve. Leave no trace, as the saying goes.

The motivation dates back to the show’s humble beginnings (though, for the record, the first few episodes were done over Skype as I was still figuring things out). I realized pretty early on that getting touring artists and musicians to come to my place in Queens (with a few exceptions) was going to be a non-starter.

Piecing together a lightweight rig has given me the flexibility to meet people where they are, be it a hotel room, bar or their PR rep’s conference room. And now that I travel pretty regularly for work, it means I can easily slip the setup into a carry-on, so I can meet guests in their hometowns.

Here’s a photo of upcoming guest Hannibal Buress, recorded in my hotel room in Lagos, Nigeria. My setup is placed gingerly atop my overturned suitcase on a coffee table. He’s clearly impressed.

The other thing the setup has helped me realize is that people’s expectations for professionalism has shifted considerably in recent decades. My rig is small and simple, but various guests have commented over the years that they’re impressed. The last person who interviewed them had them speak into their iPhone.

At the very least, this is certainly better than that.

It’s not the end-all, be-all, by any stretch of the imagination. This is just what has worked for me. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of people — guests and otherwise — ask me what I use. Also, in the wake of last week’s Spotify acquisition of Anchor and Gimlet, podcasts are, once again, the hot newness. So now seemed like as good a time as any to get this all down on paper.

TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder ($170): This was my first acquisition and the one piece of hardware I’ve held onto through the duration of the show (though for the record, I’ve purchased it twice after an unfortunate incident with a lost backpack).

Zoom and Roland also make solid multi-track recorders that will probably be interchangeable for most. The key is finding a system you like that sports dual XLR mic inputs that you can monitor on the fly. They pretty much all have built-in mics, but you’re not going to want to rely on room mics for a podcast. It sounds like crap and it’s a nightmare to edit if you’ve got more than one speaker.

Recording works like a charm. The system records each mic to a left and right channel, which it saves as a WAV file on an SD card. Just make sure the mics are placed at a sufficient distance, so you don’t pick up too much cross talk.

Of course, here you’re limited to two mics. That’s been an issue at points when entire bands have wanted to join in on the fun. The aforementioned companies do make recorders with more inputs. Those are generally larger and a lot pricier, though.

Honorable mention here goes to the Rodecaster. The board is really great at what it does. We recorded an episode of TechCrunch Original Content on the thing, with it doing guest duties and producing in real time. The recent addition of multi-track recording makes this thing an absolute killer.

It has eight channels, including multiple mic inputs, triggerable sound pads and the ability to beam someone in via phone. If I was setting up a home studio on the cheap, I would shell out for one of these, no questions asked. That said, it’s just way too large for my current needs.

Weymic New Wm57 ($10): Okay, true story. Right after I bought the TASCAM, I invested in a pair of super-cheap mics. They sounded… OK, but the presentation was lacking. One afternoon, I went to Reggie Watts’ Brooklyn apartment to record an episode. I handed him a mic. He looked it over, moved it around in his hand a bit, then slyly unplugged it and reached into a drawer behind him, grabbed a mic and popped it on.

The guy knows from microphones.

My takeaway here is that presentation is important. Looks matter, as does weight. A microphone should have some heft to it. People’s expectations have lowered with regards to what an audio setup looks like, but you need good mics if pros are going to take you seriously.

I’ve since been through various mics, and lately I’ve settled on these things. For the record, they’re a wholesale knock-off of the Shure SM57 Cardioid Dynamic Microphone — the go-to microphone for podcasters. The SM57 is the thing I assume Marc Maron and Terry Gross would talk about if they had to share an Uber Pool to Silver Lake.

The Weymic looks nearly identical and sounds great for one-tenth the price. Don’t ask me how. And hey, I’m not exactly swimming in Casper ad revenue here. Also do yourself a favor and invest in a couple of foam windscreens to cut down on sibilance. You can get a bunch in a pack for cheap.

Universal Adjustable Desk Microphone Stand Portable Foldable Tripod (Two for $15): I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to add these to the repertoire. Guests jostle mics a lot during long interviews, and that stuff picks up. I’ve also had a number of older guests on the show, and asking them to hold a microphone for 45 minutes to an hour is just cruel.

These, picked up from Amazon, are super-cheap and fold up into nothing, making them perfect for my laptop-sleeve constraints. The only issues are: 1) They’re not great for super-tall guests. I recently had a member of the band Health on the show and ended up sticking the stand precariously atop a pile of several books; and 2) The screws loosen themselves like crazy for some reason, so I just purchased a pair of keychain screw drivers to keep them in check.

I pair all of that with a couple of six-foot XLR mic cables ($7 a piece for Amazon basics) and some velcro ties. Those fit nicely in the outside pocket of the laptop sleeve, along with backup batteries.

Audacity/Garage Band: Sometimes you just stick with the workflow you’ve got. I should probably upgrade to Adobe Audition (maybe this article will be what motivates me) one of these days, but I’ve been using Audacity for like 10 years at this point. It’s simple and it works fine for chopping up a show. That’s my biggest complaint with a number of the free apps like Anchor — they mostly suck when it comes to editing a show.

And editing is important. It’s true that another one of the wonderful things about podcasts is they can be as long or as short as you want, but everything can benefit from a little tightening up. I also spend a lot of time adjusting levels (often on the subway ride home). And make sure to record a little room tone to get rid of ambient noise in post.

After the show is edited, I export it as a single track and import it into my show template in Garage Band. That’s where I add the music beds, outros and the like.

Podbean: A couple of friends are launching a podcast soon. They asked me who I use for hosting. Podbean is something I found early on. I’m not sure I’d recommend the service, but I’m 300+ episodes deep at this point. There are a lot of options out there, so shop around a bit. Anchor is compelling for novices, including its built-in ad-servicing (though I’m a little wary of how the Spotify acquisition will play out) and a lot of my friends swear by Libsyn for more popular shows. Heck, even SoundCloud has a decent option.

Everyone has an embedded player and the means with which to syndicate to iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, et al.

I’ve found Podbean to be a bit clunky and the service has experienced a handful of outages. That said, recent additions have streamlined the program, and they’ve added some pretty decent analytics to the backend, so it’s definitely headed in the right direction. Once uploaded, I embed that into a Tumblr post.

Headliner: I’ve tried a number of speech visualizers for promoting the show. I found Anchor’s clunky. Wavve’s was decent, but they start charging you after your first 30-second clip. I only just started using Headliner this week, and it’s terrific. Easy to use, highly customizable and, best of all, free.

The transcriptions are okay for a free service (you’re going to have to clean them up) and the online editing tools are great. I think I’m sticking with this one for a while.

Additional shout-outs to Google Drive. The first thing I do after transferring files from my desktop is back them up here. It’s the one place where I’ve got all my files and has helped quite a bit with scheduling episodes.

YouTube is another recent experiment for me. I’ve been syndicating the show to all of the usual places, as mentioned above, but it recently occurred to me that people use the video platform to listen to audio programs. I asked a bunch of folks on Facebook and found it to be surprisingly popular. This will become increasingly important as more people purchase screen-sporting assistants like Google Home Hub and the Amazon Show. It’s a new thing for me and I’ve only got a handful of subscribers at the moment, but I’ll let you know how that goes.

I do still find myself recording remotely from time to time. Auto podcaster extraordinaire Kirsten recently introduced me to Zencastr, which is great for this purpose, recording each caller remotely and backing up those files to a server. If I’m using Skype, I go with the old standby, Ecamm’s Call Recorder, to record locally.

I’ve also become attached to Blue’s Raspberry USB mic for this purpose. It’s adorable and tiny, so you can stash it in a backpack for travel. It’s not the best-sounding mic, but it’s good for its size and it sounds a hell of a lot better than the company’s Yeti Nano. Rode’s got a company of models with optional windscreens I’ve been meaning to check out as well, but I’ve heard good things.

If you’re hip to any new tools you think I should check out, hit me up on Twitter at @bheater. I’m always looking for ways to step up my game.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Spotify’s increased focus on podcasts in 2019 includes selling its own ads

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Having established itself as a top streaming service with now over 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily, and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts, as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming.

In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push.

Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper,” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow.

The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with it comes to working with music artists.

Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered – it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content.

“Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said Head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said.

“What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices…so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added.

Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (Its first season was wide, second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover,” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.”

At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more –  journalist Jemele Hill is coming Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture, and more.

In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms.

For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify.

This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system.

There are other perks for Spotify, too – when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found.

“People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify – including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted.

While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else.

With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience.

One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like.

For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts – including the ads in the podcasts themselves.

“Think about what we’ve done around music – the more understand you around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts.

The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being.

Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising – meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well.

But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. Benedik told us Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright.

Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system.

Now Spotify aims to catch up.

The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as company, Holt said.

“We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform…And, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique – to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said.

Image credits: Spotify

News Source = techcrunch.com

The Rodecaster Pro is a perfect centerpiece to a home podcasting studio

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My podcasting rig is simple: Two microphones, a Tascam recorder, two XLR cables. I’ve upgraded things a bit in the past year — improved the mics, bought some foam windscreens and bought a pair of tabletop, foldable mic stands. But the principle is the same: take nothing I can’t fit into a laptop sleeve.

It’s served me pretty well in the five years I’ve been doing my show. While friends were building soundproof posting studios in their homes, I went with a rig I could take with me. It’s a lot easier to ask someone to be on your show if you’re able to go to them.

Here’s a picture I took of comedian Hannibal Buress after recording an upcoming episode in my hotel room in Lagos, Nigeria. That’s my setup right there. It’s sitting atop my rolling luggage, which is turned upside down on a small hotel coffee table. Improvisation is key.

There are trade-offs, of course. Sound is a big one. The mics themselves are pretty crisp, but ambient noise is an issue. I’ve recorded a bunch of these in cafes, bars and restaurants. I tell myself it’s part of the charm. And, of course, with a Tascam, you don’t have the same sort of sophisticated control you get with a board.

Perhaps I’ve always secretly fantasized about what a home studio might look like. Cost has always been a factor, of course. These things add up like crazy. Also, the barrier of entry is needlessly complex. A handful of companies have looked to capitalize on the increasingly profitable world of non-professional podcasts. Blue has produced some pretty compelling USB-based stuff. For those who want to record multiple guests in the same room, however, things start to get much trickier.

I jumped at the chance to try out the Rodecaster Pro. From the looks of it, it just might be the ideal product to help home podcasters scratch that itch. The product is essentially a six-channel soundboard with self-contained production capabilities. The idea is to just record everything live to a single track that can be uploaded directly to your podcast server of choice.

That includes everything from live mixing to an octet of sound pads you can use to trigger music beds and sound effects. Better yet, you can patch people in remotely by connecting a smartphone via hardwire or Bluetooth.

It’s a really lovely piece of hardware. I showed it to a few folks during setup, and everyone was impressed by the look of the thing, from the pro knobs to the brightly illuminated sound pads with customizable colors.

There’s a small touchscreen display at the top of the board that serves both as a way to gauge levels and navigate various settings. Essentially it serves as a way to bypass the computer entirely, once you’ve finished the setup process. The Rodecaster operates on a similar principle as much of anchor.fm’s offerings, giving users the path of least resistance to bringing a podcast to life.

It’s an admirable goal, especially in the world of podcasting, where content democratization is supposed to be a guiding principle. And certainly setup is painless, so far as mixing boards go. I had to fine-tune and troubleshoot a few things to get it up and running, but within an hour or two, everything was perfectly set up and running.

The downside to that level of simplicity, however, is that it removes the ability to fine-tune some key parts of the process. The most glaring omission is multi-track recording. Sure, you can record four people on mics and a fifth on a phone call, but it all records to the same track. That’s fine and dandy if you want something quick and dirty (as, granted, some podcasters do), but I’m a proponent of editing.

If you’re trying to make it sound professional, you’re going to want to cut it down. Even as someone whose podcast often runs in excess of an hour, I still find I spend much more time chopping the show up in Audacity than I do actually recording. It sucks, but that’s what you need to do if you want it to sound half decent.

Even if you’re not editing for content, at least cut the “uhms” and “ahs” and all of those bits where everyone talks over each other. That’s a hell of a lot easier to do when you’re operating with multiple tracks. I realize not everyone feels that way, but the option would be nice.

Setup mostly consists of unboxing and plugging in cables. Rode sent up a deluxe edition in a giant backpack that also included a pair of its Podcaster microphones and large, heavy stands. You’ll need to go through a couple of screens to set up odds and ends like time and date and to pair it to your phone, if you plan to go that route.

I tethered the board to my laptop during setup, in order to customize the sounds. It comes preloaded by default with applause, laughter, a rimshot and the like — it’s the Morning Zoo Crew package. I tossed in an intro and outro song and a couple of custom effects for good measure (Reggaeton air horn and Nelson from The Simpsons, naturally).

There’s a total of 512MB of storage, so you can add longer tracks as well, associating them by dropping them onto the corresponding pads on the desktop app. Check the levels, pop in a microSD card for recording and you’re off to the races.

I’ll admit that I ran into a couple of hiccups with things like phone audio through the board. Also, the rear headphone jacks require an adapter if you want everyone to hear themselves and the sound effects. Seems like an odd choice, given the novice target audience. Especially since the front cans use a standard jack size.

Original Content records its weekly episode on Fridays, so the timing worked out perfectly to test the thing out. Anthony and I set up mics across the table from each other and we beamed Jordan in via phone.

I hit record, tapped the intro music and we were off. Somewhat annoyingly, the buttons can only trigger the sounds, but not turn them off. That’s great for something like the air horn (for ironic comedic effect only, I swear), but less great with music. You’ll want to edit that down to the length you need it, otherwise you’ll end up potting down the fader, effectively losing that channel until it’s finished playing. The ability to see how much time is remaining on each track would have been a nice touch, but it’s not crucial here.

Once everything was up and running, we didn’t run into any issues for the hour and change we spent recording (aside from me riding the sound effect board a little too hard, perhaps). We finished recording, popped out the card and transferred the files. Boom, podcast.

The sound quality on the Rode mics is really terrific — borderline studio-quality stuff. The episode will be up in a few days, so you can judge for yourself. The sound on Jordan’s phone connection isn’t great, but you can’t really fault Rode for the poor state of cellphone call quality these days.

The Rodecaster Pro does exactly what is says on the box — and does most of it quite well. As someone who operated a board back in my radio days, I got back into the swing of things almost immediately. I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed going through those motions in the intervening years. And the ability to actually do a show face to face brings a level of energy and understanding you lose when relegated to Skype.

Bottom line: $600 for the board alone is going to be prohibitively expensive for many novice podcasters. But for a select few looking to start down the path to serious podcasting, this will really hit the sweet spot and up your game with the press of a button.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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