Have you been on the internet lately? We try to be nice and eloquent for you here at Great Central, but there are only so many ways to say “good god, there’s so many things!” In a country where 71% of the media is owned by three companies, facilitating an Overton Window even narrower than the scope of their arts review pages, it’s no surprise to find a wealth of grassroots content pushing back to diversify our discourse, and nothing is doing so more dynamically than the podcast.
Yes, the time-limit-nonspecific citizen-generated audio medium du jour is dangerously close to outliving its du jour status and becoming a permanent fixture in our cultural consciousness, and of course, our city couldn’t resist getting in on the act. Leicester has seen home-grown microphones sprouting all over the place lately, capturing a more insightful picture of what’s actually happening in the world than your broadsheets, news shows or countdown-list blogs could dream of (although we like to think free local culture magazines are doing pretty well there).
GC’s own Dan Wallbank, creator of self-reviewing podcast Instant Nostalgia, says the city naturally facilitates this. “It’s given me a fantastic opportunity to connect with the Leicester cultural scene,” says Wallbank, who started Nostalgia and its every-episode-reviews-the-last format is based on a joke a friend posted on Twitter. “Each episode offers me a different insight into the sheer amount of material being produced by people from the city.”
That said, Nostalgia has already hosted guests from as far afield as Australia, and other Leicester podcasts share the city’s famously diverse outlook. Poetry night Find the Right Words, featured in GC issue 3, ran a sadly-missed podcast of their night, broadcasting Leicester’s spoken word to the world and finding a new audience for their range of headliners. Protest singer Grace Petrie followed suit by podcasting her Fire in Your Heart folk night, and also had “many reasons” for wanting to do so from Leicester. “I wanted a club that anyone of any age, ability or level of folk knowledge could feel welcome at,” Petrie explains. “I love the variety of interpretations of “folk”, and we have floor spots for local performers to share any kind they want to bring to the table. Presenting it as a podcast is a way of marrying the old and new elements.”
And as Leicester looks out on the world, so the world gazes back. Film review podcast Skip to the End, for example, has found itself cultivating an international audience in its 69 episodes. “We never expected it to be as successful as it’s become,” presenters Ben, Mark and Gemma say. “Our listeners mean the world to us, and interactivity with them is what sets us apart.”
That welcoming spirit that permeates Nostalgia and FIYH is a recurring trope, too. Rob Watson, the man behind the prolific Round the Counter podcast, says his project is less a conscious media production and more “social therapy that happens to get shared online. It’s a chance to chat, play music, and drink some tea.” The STTE crew take a similarly no-nonsense approach – “we approach movies as fans, not critics, and listeners respond to our lack of pretension and sense of fun!”
Of course, being on the media fringes often means podcasting is a labour of love. Wallbank tells me each episode of Nostalgia “represents four to five hours of work”, and this is far from uncommon. It’s a medium that’s delicately balanced on people’s good will, expertise and free time – the lack of the latter being the reason that Find the Right Words’ audio output is currently on hiatus.
So what drives Leicester’s creators to keep up the stream of content? Unsurprisingly, it’s a myriad of reasons. Wallbank’s love affair with radio means he strives to make something he “could hear being broadcast on Radio 4”. Petrie wants FIYH to be “open to all sides of the folk world”. And for the STTE presenters, it’s simple mutual gratification – “We love making the podcast, and will continue to do it as long as people keep tuning in”.
Avg length: 20-30 minutes
What is it?: A podcast that reviews itself (and everything else)
They say: “The concept of Instant Nostalgia, that each episode is a review of the previous episode, is both a pastiche on the vast number of review podcasts on the market and also a format that is pretty unique. It also encourages people to listen right from episode 00!”
Fire In Your Hear Folk Club
Avg length: 1½-2 hours
What is it?: Monthly Leicester folk night lovingly documented
They say: “I started FIYH to encourage more diversity within the vast and varied spectrum of folk, and to try and bring some younger people into the tradition with a view to ensuring its longevity. We’re starting to build a lovely community!”
Round The Counter
Avg length: 1-1¼ hours
What is it?: The ultimate in citizen journalism – friends setting the world to rights
They say: “The last thing we’ve said we want is any kind of plan. We have no idea what it’s about or where it’s leading to. As podcasts go it’s got no point, other than a couple of people getting together each week to share stories, discuss media, arts and music, or just vent about issues that are vexing.”
Skip To The End
Avg length: 2 hours
What is it?: Film reviews by fans, for fans
They say: “We came up with the idea for Skip to the End when we were sitting in a local pub, and that’s exactly what we wanted the podcast to sound like: three friends in a pub talking about movies.”