I did some talking, and some listening, at the recent Sounds of Science #talkfest at the Biochemical Society . I thought I'd throw my thinkings down on to internet paper and add some bits from the other panellists who were way more insightful than me. Now could be a good time to bail out, and go listen to the talk which was kindly recorded by Martin Zaltz Austwick. Alternatively I will relink at the bottom. This is kind of like a 'choose your own adventure book'


My first podcast emerged from 2008. I wanted the student news satire radio show, made by me and Sam Wong, to reach more than 3 people. The university had a website where you could stream stuff, which was great [but not download]. Unlike the music shows however we didn't have any rights issues; due to our opinions not being valued by the Recording industry Association of America. We decided we would offer it as a podcast. It got us hundreds of new listeners, which for us, was awesome. We were now accessible to anyone at their whim, for download from RSS feeds and itunes.


After that I did work experience at the BBC for a month and then started work at the British Medical Journal, making educational podcasts about Swine Flu. It was an interesting time, and perfectly suited to the quick turnaround medium of the podcast. Especially as the BMJ wanted to increase is online offering; moving toward being an 'online first journal' jabbing at the cutting edge of digital publishing.

It proved to be very popular for us, and gave me a job. After swine flu, we moved on to doing more esoteric, nuanced, debates which we felt would benefit from having someone talk you through the issues.

In educational terms, they're great for debate, and discussion. It's like listening in on a great conversation. Also, a fundamental point is the web-based nature of podcasts allow you to have a landing page with links that build on what has been discussed. These links then point you in the direction of more information giving you a chance to investigate opinions further for yourself. The internet is full of all the knowledge, but we need 'experts and gatekeepers we respect and trust' to direct us toward great content. If you have a trusted brand, or are an expert in something, it's a great way to deliver your message.

During #Talkfest people played some brilliant audio clips, but as these clips played I got anxious about what to do with my eyes, where am I supposed to look? Normally I'm fine, but occasionally I find mid-conversation I think about eye contact and panic about how much eye contact is weird, am I making too much or too little? What is the ratio? Is there some etiquette list out there somewhere?

I just went and looked one up, it said

'E-How - To maintain a healthy level of eye contact, communication experts recommend looking someone in the eye for intervals of four to five seconds, then looking away briefly -- at their mouth or nose or at something nearby -- then re-establish eye contact.
Yahoo Answers- i would say 70% on and 30% brief look aways if im conversing with someone for an extended period of time'


Here is one of the clips: An Oral History of British Science, was introduced by Tom Lean. He's working on a project creating a major archive of in-depth interviews with British Scientists. There are some great clips there

Martin created a kind of drum and bass Whale -music influenced podcast intro, made from the sounds of Tottenham Court Road...

I think in the internet age, audio can have a non-compulsory, complimentary, visual aspect. I LOVE soundcloud, something about seeing waveforms is just cool. But it's not just like the dizzy heights of the Windows Media Player visualizations, you can add comments to different sections of your audio, and a little profile picture pops up at the bottom,

LET US compare these two players.




each of those little cubes is a comment which flashes up as the playhead travels along the song. Not essential in order to enjoy the audio, but a nice interactive adjunct.

Interactivity is often thrown around with regard to multimedia, and is something which grinds my gears. Multimedia is not inherently interactive; unless you count pressing play and stop as interaction. Which from an educational/informative perspective reminds me of a quote I read once, it was about documentary but I think the point stands

  ‘an audience that is already sitting back listening may not be persuaded to sit forward and see for itself’

Robert Drew

‘Imagining Reality’

I agree this is possible, but also that, audio particularly, is sometimes the most immersive medium around.

Audio's challenges, are also it's strong points, and I guess that's why the digital era is so exciting, as we can build on these, and start to move away from arbitrary audio/video/text delineations.

Cowbird is a new storytelling startup which looks really cool. You have a large image, which you can kind of pan around, whilst listening to a short-story piece. It could be fiction, or someone interviewing a relative. I think some of these come out beautifully and I will try to make my own one soon.

The phenomenon of the 'produser' and the massive democratizing effect of technology is having a real impact on storytelling. I heard someone recently state that the idea of sitting down to a 90 minute film, will be seen as a real anachronism; a kind of blip in the history of culture. It's an interesting idea, but I certainly feel like a powerful short film, audio piece or poem, or combination of all three has so many different chances to live and be consumed that hopefully the best ones will find an audience.


If you want to make a podcast, you probably already have the equipment. Radio Kate, works at Audioboo and this fantastic clip emphasises how you can capture something awesome on a mobile phone.

Another favourite podcaster of mine is Daniel Ruiz Tizon - he recorded probably somewhere in the region of 100 hours of podcasts on his Blackberry, and for the most part it's some of the most original, compelling, podcast content I've heard in a while.

A significant portion of the audience discussion focussed on the quality of audio, and whilst it's definitely an issue, I'm so in the camp that ideas are worth way more than quality. If you consider how we can tolerate a crappy phone line for an hour, if the other end of that line is making us laugh or think then it's not such a big deal.

Michelle brought us back to the skills involved in professional radio production, and creating soundscapes in documentary. Mentioning a #ProTip she heard from a Norwegian producer,

Treat the microphone like a camera, with close ups, mids and wide shots.

It's a really effective way of layering sound, and giving some contextual clues to help people anchor themselves in space, working the subconscious. Michelle also emphasised the importance of the first minute of your audio, but I would also urge listeners to bear with podcasts for a bit, part of the joy is the slow burn potential.

Her lovely documentary on 'the instruction manual' is a beautiful listen



  • Zoom H4n [£250] - Broadcast quality sound equipment
  • Audacity [Free]
  • Podomatic/soundcloud/ [which feed into] iTunes [Freemium]


It's important for people producing stuff to be able to keep producing it. There are a number of different models around and everyone is still finding their feet. I don't think people go into these industries with the idea that they'll strike it rich, but they probably want to buy shoes for their children, and if they make cool stuff that makes your life better, that's got to be worth a bit of a financial-digital high five. Some media outlets [

like the Guardian

] have internal podcast teams, some have links with podcasts [formerly Times and the Bugle]. Some commercial outlets support podcasters [David Mitchell's Soapbox]. Increasingly traditional broadcasters are getting on board with people who tested their ideas in digital media.

Consider Black Cab Sessions - originally a couple of guys filming bands in the back of a cab for one song, for putting on youtube. Several years later, they now have their own Channel4 show which took a Black Cab to America.


Black Cab Sessions USA from Black Cab Sessions on Vimeo.

Robert Llewelyn's video podcast in which interviewed people whlst driving around in his electric car, was originally sponsored by an electric car manufacturer, and finally became a show on TV station Dave.

Ricky Gervais' podcasts went from being hosted by the Guardian, to being turned into animated cartoons for HBO.

Donations and [pay what you think it's worth] are interesting phenomena, and I'd love to see the stats on how these things do. I've donated to a couple recently, and it feels completely right to do so. Something like the


has probably given me 100 hours of entertainment for FREE, it would seem bastardish to not feel like chipping in when you think of it like that.

Richard Herring

, a long time podcaster, articulated how people feel inclined to come out and watch his shows because of how much entertainment he's given them via his own podcasts. They don't just see it as £10 for an evening, it's a more nuanced transaction. It's also a great medium for testing material, and getting yourself out there to new audiences.

Other podcasts like Pappy's Flatshare Slamdown, have live recordings and charge a small fee to the audience

MY TOP TEN PODCASTS [these link to my favourite episodes, where appropriate]


Comedy Bang Bang

 - insane improvised comedy, music and games currently my number 1


The Bugle

 - Previous champion - still a huge pull - best satirical news out there right now


Pod F Tompkast

 - my favourite comedian from #1 fastest wit, and best impressions


Off the Wall Post

 - one for the tech and social/new media geeks out there, always good value, funny and interesting, source of #wankywords


NPR All Songs Considered

 - American Music podcasts, always food for thought.


Daniel Ruiz Tizon

 - Half man, half-P45, writer Daniel Ruiz Tizon and his tales of Lambeth living



 - Most innovative science podcast out there, embraces digital technology in it's production - sometimes MAGIC


Pappy's Flatshare Slamdown

 - curveball, comedy, sketches, audience interaction - fun


Guardian Science Weekly

- great balance of proper science and healthy irreverance


Coffee Break Spanish

- learn Spanish - free podcasts, pay for additional worksheets and extras


Interacting Weakly

- bottom of the list because it's only 3 episodes old, and a nepotism warning as I gave birth to some of the words used in it

A lot of these are included in a

less technical blog about podcasts

I wrote last year, with more description of why I like them

These will wax and wane and flux, but I'd hearilty recommend getting stuck in to any of them

Another blog post about the event, by Melanie Hall, can be found here

Great 'How To: Guide' post by Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick about academic podcasting http://sociablephysics.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/academic-podcasting-101/

And Elizabeth Hauke's 5 'P's of Podcasting

People you should follow on Twitter

Dr Alice Bell 

Kate Arkless Gray

Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick

Michelle Martin

and me.... @thomhoffman

As promised, a podcast of the talk...