Everyone’s a podcaster at the UG
Hours of work for sixty streams
Tariro Muzenda spends about five hours a week listening to podcasts. Comedy, pop culture, current events: the international and European law student is open to a lot of genres, as long as the tone is light-hearted, like in her favourite podcast Cocktails and Takeaways.
Minorities and multilingualism student Ashley Arombe Obat is another avid podcast listener. She prefers true crime or self-help, like The Receipts Podcast. ‘I started listening to podcasts around four years ago’, she says. ‘At first, it was because some of them explored my areas of interest, but now it’s to understand myself more. Podcasts bring me a sense of comfort: I get to sit down, unwind and listen to the thoughts of others.’
These students are not alone in their love for podcasts. According to the 2022 Markteffect Podcast Monitor, 49 percent of Dutch people listened to podcasts one or more times in the past year. Among students, that number is 70 percent. One in four podcast listeners tune in weekly or even daily, and they spend an average of 116 minutes per week listening.
With their growing popularity comes a growing number of people who make podcasts. And it’s not just media outlets who produce them: it seems every company, school, association, or lone enthusiast has discovered the new medium and is using it to cover every topic imaginable. The UG community alone boasts at least fourteen podcasts, but likely more. There’s In Science, produced by the university itself, which interviews researchers and covers news from the academic community in Groningen. There’s professors Janka Stoker and Harry Gerretsen’s new podcast on leadership. And students are podcasting as well, like the Faculty of Science and Engineering students behind FSE Radio.
What makes us happy is when an episode strikes a chord with a listener
But while podcasting has well and truly reached the mainstream, many productions are streamed only a few times. Take Dura Lex, Sed Lex (Latin for ‘The law is tough, but it’s the law’), a Groningen-based podcast by and for students of international and European law and international relations. On average, it gets 120 streams per episode. ‘I know we don’t have too many listeners, but that doesn’t discourage us’, says Elena Kukovica, one of the hosts. ‘All four of us do this with an idea to just do something that we love. It’s cool that anybody takes the time to listen at all.’
They do have a steady and loyal audience, though, says Elena, and that’s enough for them. ‘We’re just students. What makes us happy is when an episode strikes a chord with a listener and they find ways to get involved with the topic.’ Dura Lex, Sed Lex wants to provide an unbiased, neutral perspective on global issues and conversations. ‘We want to educate, or at least start a conversation, rather than preach.’
Life Lessons with Kim, by international European law student Kimberly Chitando, gets around sixty plays per episode. But it’s a very new podcast, she says, and she’s still learning. ‘And even if only two people say, my gosh, that was such a great episode, it allows me to believe I have something to give the world and that I can have an impact.’
I want to create a medium for other people like me
She eventually hopes to monetise the show, but for now she’s focused on actively engaging with her audience and creating interesting content. ‘I feel like I have something to say and I want to create a medium for other people like me, black or African young women who are living in the same situation and have similar experiences.’
Making podcasts is popular among students because they can express themselves that way, Kim believes. ‘It’s very easy to do and it’s very accessible. You can keep it as private or as public as you want, finding your target market is easy. I feel like it’s a lot less burdensome than doing Instagram or YouTube.’
PhD candidate Amanda Brouwers, who researches podcast culture and has her own podcast producing company, PodGront, has identified a variety of reasons why people turn to podcasting. ‘Some people are interested in audio, some see it as a business opportunity. I even spoke to someone who saw it as a good excuse to meet up with his friends.’
She agrees with Kimberly, however, that its current popularity has to do with how much easier it has become to produce a podcast due to technological advancements. And of course, she says, it’s probably also a self-reinforcing mechanism: people start a podcast precisely because podcasts are popular.
Why make them when you only have a few listeners, though? ‘There is joy in the making itself’, Brouwers agrees with Elena and Kimberly. ‘Sometimes a podcast does not need to reach a big audience.’
For professor of politics and religion Erin Wilson, the satisfaction of her podcast The End of the World as We Know It? lies in its educational value. She got the idea for it when she realised students who didn’t show up to her online classes during lockdown were listening to the lecture recordings at a later moment. ‘It seemed to be a way for students to either reduce screen time during the pandemic or to multitask’, she says. So she started her podcast as ‘a slower and more relaxed version of online lectures’.
Students could bring the insights they gained from the podcast into class
She made two episodes per week, interviewing researchers from different disciplines and faculties, and the students appreciated it. Partly because it’s fun to listen to – ‘We have a bit of a laugh and we crack jokes, even though we’re talking about some very serious and quite depressing material’ – but also because they became ‘co-producers of the educational experience’, as Wilson puts it. ‘They could bring the insights they gained from the podcast into class, or the things that stuck with them or raised questions.’
So while the podcast only got a handful of listeners per episode – Wilson’s students – it was always meant for a specific, small audience. The project even earned her and her team the UG’s Best Practice in Teaching and Learning Award. ‘Students seem to enjoy podcasts, so why not bring them into the educational space?’ says Wilson.
The professor’s podcast is a great example of what a lot of podcast producers aim for, says Brouwers. ‘They don’t go for listens, they’re more concerned with whether they reach a niche audience.’ Her own podcast production company is an example of that. One of its projects, Oorverdovend (Deafening), was a combination of a podcast and an open-air theatre production, centred around the Second World War. ‘For me personally, a project is successful when it makes an impact, when I’ve reached at least a group of people with it’, she says.
As for Ashley and Tariro, they probably won’t be adding to the number of listeners that the UG community’s podcasts have. ‘The ones I listen to are British’, says Ashley. The same goes for Tariro. ‘I’ve tried to find local podcasts that talk about life here, but it’s hard to find ones in English.’