Podcasting in the Pacific: tips from experience

Podcasts have grown in popularity as smart phones and internet access have become more affordable and available. Topics range from cooking to health, and users range from casual listeners to students in the classroom and in the community.

A quality podcast involves careful planning, practice, recording, and editing. In this article, we share our experience of producing the first season of a women’s health podcast in Samoa, and some important takeaways for other aspiring podcasters.

In July 2021, two members of our team – who are drawn from the National University of Samoa’s Faculty of Health Sciences and clinical practitioners – were invited to attend a series of podcasting trainings, funded by the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) through Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The online training was delivered by an experienced podcaster for a week, with participants from several Pacific island countries. It covered the basics of podcasting, including identifying the target audience, format options, storytelling, workflow, editing, and distribution.

We came up with the concept of a series of podcasts on hard-to-talk topics around women’s health in Samoa, targeting Samoan women. The trainer recommended a season format, with three or four episodes, to allow for deeper exploration of the subject. Although there are several difficult health topics to discuss in our predominantly Christian and conservative country, the topic of breast cancer was chosen as it is the most common type of cancer among women in Samoa.

The proposal for a four-episode pilot season was accepted by PACMAS, who financed the equipment and connected us with an experienced mentor from the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Unfortunately the pandemic affecting shipments, and the material did not arrive in time, so we had to improvise with what we could find.

To make the information accessible to Samoan women locally and abroad, the podcast was recorded in Samoan, although the trailer was recorded in English and Samoan. The series was named Talanoa i le afaina or le soifua maloloina or tina Samoawhich loosely translates to “Talking about Women’s Health in Samoa”.

For each episode, the script was written by a team member, then translated by a bilingual team member. It was then reviewed by the interviewer and interviewee for any translation issues. As there was no direct translation for some anatomical terms, it took time to discuss and agree on the most appropriate or accurate translation.

Recording each episode took between two and six hours. Interviews were conducted with a breast cancer survivor, a registered nurse who described the steps of breast self-examination, and a surgeon. The editing was done using REAPER software and the background music comes from Free Music Archive.

The four episodes last from five to 20 minutes. They cover breast cancer survivors, what breast cancer is and how it affects the body, how breast cancer is detected, and how breast cancer is treated.

We have uploaded the trailers and episodes, with accompanying descriptions, to the Podbean platform. They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google and other podcasting platforms. We launched the podcast on December 17, 2021. And we have a few lessons from the process that we’d like to share with interested podcasters.

Consider the purpose of your podcast and your target audience when deciding on the best format. Podcast formats can be an interview each week with a new person, an audio diary, or like ours, a season with multiple episodes. Your podcast can’t be everything for everyone, so you need to figure out your target demographic and tailor it to their needs.

Careful planning and commitment are crucial: Podcasts are not as easy to produce as they seem. Our podcast trainer stressed the importance of keeping our promise to our listeners – breaking the promise, losing the listeners. In other words, if you can’t deliver a podcast every week, don’t promise a podcast every week. After considering the time needed to design the series, write scripts, translate content, practice, record and edit, we recognized that we couldn’t upload episodes consistently on a schedule, so we decided to upload a new season every few months.

Invest time in choosing your podcast name and image. The image is like a book cover, it encourages listeners to click and listen, and so does the name. Since it was too expensive to hire a professional graphic designer, we hired one of the student nurses, an amateur artist, to do a painting for the image of the podcast.

You don’t need a credit card to create a podcast account, but you need to set up accounts on Apple Podcasts and Spotify for Podcasters. We used Podbean, a podcast host that connects to different platforms including Apple, Spotify, and Google. There is a free option with a limit on the length of audio and descriptions that can be downloaded, but it is enough for one season. As your podcast grows, you can explore paid options that allow for longer audio and description.

Basic equipment can work, so don’t be demotivated if you don’t have the latest. We had to use what we could find locally in Samoa. In our experience, the three essentials are a USB condenser microphone to record audio (we used a Samson Go Mic), a headset that connects to your computer, and a computer with audio editing software installed. .

Finding a quiet place to record is important, but ambient sounds can create authenticity. We didn’t have access to a soundproof room, so recording in silence was difficult. The barking of dogs, chickens, and cars reminded us of where we were, and eventually, we decided to keep those background noises.

Background music draws your listener in and sets the tone; consider websites that offer free music with source attribution.

As podcasts are a less used social media tool or medium for health communications, building your audience takes time. Be patient, use your social media channels to share your podcast link, prepare an accessible press kit, and keep sharing with friends and colleagues.

So far there have been 90 downloads in total, from Podbean, Apple, iTunes and Chrome. We have also shared the audio with the National University of Samoa radio station for local broadcast. Feedback from friends and colleagues who listened was positive.

The production of the podcast was difficult. The key for us was to stay focused on the purpose and the benefits the podcast would bring to Samoan women. In the end, the hurdles weren’t insurmountable for us as hobbyists, and hopefully our lessons will lower the hurdles for other budding podcasters.

We look forward to the production of our next season on sexually transmitted diseases and the support of our colleagues to produce a ‘sister’ podcast focusing on health topics that are difficult for men to discuss in Samoa.

Listen to the podcast Talanoa i le afaina o le soifua maloloina o tina Samoa.

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