Pioneer Podcasting

Lewis & Clark alumni amplify their voices on the internet.

As a reporter for NBC Sports, Maddie Lee BA ’15 gives her spin on Chicago baseball for a freewheeling podcast called Cubs Talk, aimed at one of the most passionate fandoms in sports.

A softball player and Pioneer Log sports editor in her student days at Lewis&Clark, Lee provides expert analysis alongside a colorful cast of commentators on the weekly podcast as part of her job covering the Cubs.

Maddie Lee BA '15

It’s very different from my work as a sportswriter—you get to show much more of your own personality. The podcast conversation can go wherever you want, and the best stuff comes out of that give-and-take.

Maddie Lee BA ’15

“It’s very different from my work as a sportswriter—you get to show much more of your own personality,” she says. “The podcast conversation can go wherever you want, and the best stuff comes out of that give-and-take.”

Cubs Talk offers fans a chance to eavesdrop on a lively discussion among insiders dissecting the team’s prospects, from the latest wins and losses to potential player trades to the rivalry with the crosstown White Sox. On occasion, Lee also gets to opine on more serious topics; for example, she recently hosted a roundtable discussion on women in sports journalism that focused on issues such as sexual discrimination and harassment.

“As a journalist, I see podcasts as a way to provide news analysis and explore issues and ideas in a cool new medium,” she says. “At the heart of what we do is storytelling, and podcasting is a great way to deliver news.”

Podcasts are going through a boom time, and Lewis & Clark alumni are right where you would expect them to be— in the middle of the action, making their voices heard whether they’re in front of the microphone or behind the scenes.

A little context …

Podcasts, originally called audioblogs, started in the early 2000s and surged in popularity with the proliferation of smartphones. Today, more than half of Americans over age 12 have listened to a podcast, with an estimated 24 percent (68 million people) listening at least weekly, according to media analysts at Edison Research.

Not surprisingly, podcasting has become a big business. Traditional media organizations from the BBC to National Public Radio produce a panoply of original podcasts; major platforms Apple and Spotify vie for market share; big names from Bill Gates to Michelle Obama to Prince Harry have launched their own podcasts in just the past year.

The range of podcast offerings is remarkably expansive, with shows dedicated to a dizzying array of subjects and interests, connecting to massive audiences as well as to more idiosyncratic, niche followings.

Lewis & Clark alumni are well represented among the ranks of podcast creators, from Jaiya John BA ’89, whose I Will Read for You podcast features his soulful meditations and reflections, to Nicole Calande BA ’16, whose Monsters Out of the Closet, a podcast presenting LGBTQ-themed horror fiction, recently wrapped up a three-year run.

Charlotte Powers BA '21 Charlotte Powers BA ’21
Credit: Nina Johnson

Closer to home, Charlotte Powers BA ’21 delivers campus news reports and interviews as The PioPod, an audio extension of the Pioneer Log student newspaper. Posting biweekly during the school year, the NPR news-style podcast helps listeners “stay connected with the ideas, projects, humans, and events that make up Lewis & Clark College.”

A recent half-hour episode of the The PioPod did just that, packing in something for everyone, including a recap of a recent Zoom talk by famed psychologist Philip Zimbardo; a feature on the Third Culture Kids Symposium; an interview with the co-chairs of the Gender Studies Symposium; and recommendations for YouTube fitness videos.

“I knew I wanted to have an eclectic podcast,” says Powers, who had only listened to podcasts before being tapped to revamp the student newspaper’s podcast. She serves not only as the program host, but also as its producer and editor. This year, due to COVID, she has had the additional challenge of working remotely from her off-campus apartment.

“My goal,” she says, “is to bring substance and diversity of voice to every episode.”

A very different Lewis & Clark–based podcast venture was launched in 2020 by Watzek Library: an oral history series called Vietnamese Portland about the immigrant experience.

The project began in 2017, when Watzek Library started an oral history archive documenting the Vietnamese community in Portland. The city had seen an influx of immigrants from Southeast Asia in the 1970s in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

The library received grants from the State Library of Oregon and the Council of Independent Colleges that allowed the library to hire Azen Jaffe BA ’19 to help conduct interviews and Hanna Merzbach BA ’20 and Bryan Miller BA ’20 to turn that rich material into a podcast.

Going back to the original recordings, Merzbach and Miller crafted a series consisting of five 20-40 minute episodes, each built around a theme: Coming to America, Home in Portland, Language and Education, Making a Living, and Leadership and Activism in the Vietnamese Community.

“Doing a podcast seemed to be an opportunity to put these fascinating stories out there in a way that was more digestible,” says E.J. Carter, Watzek’s special collections and archives librarian who coordinated the project.

Bryan Miller BA '20 and Hanna Merzbach BA '20 Bryan Miller BA ’20 and Hanna Merzbach BA ’20

Podcasting is democratic—it doesn’t take much bandwidth or resources for a creator to put something out there. It’s also a very personal medium—when you have someone talking in your ear, you get the sense you’re in the room with them.

Jonah Geil-Neufeld BA ’11

The students were given responsibility for crafting the narrative arc of the series, as they edited the audio of wide-ranging interviews and created the scripts that tell a larger story about the Vietnamese-American experience. They worked closely with faculty advisor Susan Glosser, associate professor of history and program director of Asian Studies, and Vân Truong, a board member with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.

“It was a challenge because the individual stories were so different,” says Merzbach.

While Merzbach focused on writing scripts, Miller concentrated on some of the more technical aspects of the project and also composed music for the series. Because both students were new to the subject, Miller notes, “getting to learn about the Vietnamese community and its culture was a major part of the experience.”

The yearlong project took the students more time than they anticipated at the start, but they were determined to see it through. When COVID hit, they finished the series at their homes, recording in closets for better sound and editing on laptops. Both parlayed the experience into career development opportunities—Merzbach with National Public Radio and Miller with XRAY.FM. Miller has also edited two podcasts about mass prison incarceration: The Exiled Voice and Walled In.

Podcasters will be the first to say there’s more going on behind the scenes of a podcast than meets the ear. Although anyone with a computer can record a podcast on the cheap, creating a good one is not always so simple.

Sam Peers Nitzberg BA '19, Jonah Geil-Neufeld BA '11, and Annie Fassler BA '11 Sam Peers Nitzberg BA ’19, Jonah Geil-Neufeld BA ’11, and Annie Fassler BA ’11

With a decade of podcasting experience since graduating from college, Jonah Geil-Neufeld BA ’11 and Annie Fassler BA ’11 are veterans in the industry. As co-owners of their own podcasting company, Puddle Creative, they work with clients such as outdoor company REI and the Bank of Montreal to produce branded podcasts.

“For the most part, our clients bring the subject matter expertise, and we do everything else, such as recording, editing, and even hosting,” says Geil-Neufeld. Based in Portland, Puddle has kept growing as podcasting has increased in popularity, with the company hiring recent graduate Sam Peers Nitzberg BA ’19 as a producer.

“When we started, we had to explain to our grandparents what we did, but now everybody knows what a podcast is,” says Geil-Neufeld. “Now it seems like everybody wants a podcast because they see everyone else doing it, too.”

And while the industry’s evolution is hard to forecast, podcasts offer something unique. “Podcasting is democratic—it doesn’t take much bandwidth or resources for a creator to put something out there,” Geil-Neufeld says. “It’s also a very personal medium—when you have someone talking in your ear, you get the sense you’re in the room with them.”

Making that connection with listeners is what guides Sam Ozer-Staton BA ’17 in his job as an editorial producer with the acclaimed current affairs podcast, Stay Tuned with Preet.

Hosted by Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney infamously fired by President Donald Trump, the weekly podcast features in-depth discussions of law and politics. Ozer-Staton develops ideas for podcast episodes, books guests, and prepares research for Bharara; when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, he scrambled to help put out an “emergency show” the same day.

Bharara’s thoughtful news commentary stands in contrast to much of the noisy, nasty punditry in the media, getting more than 2 million downloads per month.

“The listenership is very dedicated,” says Ozer-Staton, “It may sound corny, but our listeners really do form an incredibly intimate relationship with Preet as someone who is calm and collected and can be trusted to speak truth.”

And his take on the future of the medium?

“I never predicted I’d go into media, and I’m certainly not qualified to give a business answer about the future of the industry,” Ozer-Staton says. “But I’m very proud of the content we put out there. The power of podcasting is real.”

Sam Ozer-Staton BA '17

I never predicted I’d go into media. But I’m very proud of the content we put out there. The power of podcasting is real.

Sam Ozer-Staton BA ’17

That power is what Maddie Lee hopes to harness as she launches her own regular podcast, More Than a White Man’s Game, which focuses on the stories of women and people of color in baseball. She is producing the podcast on her own time because she is committed to empowering diverse perspectives in a deeper conversation on issues at the intersection of sports and society.

“We need to do a better job of talking about these issues,” says Lee, who released her pilot episode in February featuring an interview with Claire Smith, a pioneering baseball journalist.

Lee says, “I want these voices, these points of view, to be heard. And starting a podcast is a great way to do that.”

—Romel Hernandez is a freelance writer in Portland.

Check out the podcasts referenced in this article by visiting their websites or streaming them on an app, such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify:

Cubs Talk—Lively sports banter featuring news and interviews about the Chicago Cubs

I Will Read for You—Reflections written and read by an inspirational author and speaker

Monsters Out of the Closet—Spine-tingling stories and other creative content from LGBTQ+ voices

The PioPod—An audio extension of the Pioneer Log student newspaper

Vietnamese Portland—An oral history series about the immigrant experience

The Exiled Voice and Walled In—Stories about personal experiences inside the prison system

Wild Ideas Worth Living—Conversations with adventure-seekers and risk-takers (REI podcast produced by Puddle Creative)

Stay Tuned with Preet—Insights on politics, power, and justice

More Than a White Man’s Game—Baseball from the perspectives of women and people of color (new episodes updated biweekly in the House of L podcast feed)