For more than 25 years, Rev. Jeffrey Brown has dedicated himself to reducing violence in cities and helping communities grow. So when he wanted to find a better way to share best practices for community building, he turned to the ever-expanding world of podcasts.
The Boston-based reverend didn’t actually know what podcasts were when a colleague suggested he explore the medium. But after his adult children recommended he listen to the hit show “Serial,” Brown was hooked. “I fell in love with the genre itself,” he said.
Almost a year later, Brown has recorded 12 studio-quality episodes for his own podcast, “The Courage to Listen,” and it probably wouldn’t have been possible without the Podcast Garage, an affordable podcasting studio and community space in Allston that is celebrating its first birthday on Wednesday.
The Podcast Garage was started last year by Public Radio Exchange, the Cambridge nonprofit better known as PRX that distributes popular shows like “This American Life” and “The Moth.” Within a short period, the Garage has become an important hub for the creation of new podcasts like Brown’s, a community center for podcast fans and a place for people to learn the craft of making audio. To date, the Garage has launched 17 podcasts, organized over 80 workshops and classes, hosted 2,100 attendees and partnered with a number of organizations, including MIT and other universities, as well as public radio station WGBH.
With its initial bout of success, PRX has extended the Garage’s lease for another three years, and it’s exploring the possibility of expanding the Garage’s community-centered, affordable studio model to other cities, Kerri Hoffman, PRX’s president, told BostInno.
“The decision to make it so accessible has really paid off.”
“The decision to make it so accessible has really paid off,” Hoffman said. “We have really just grown into a local community that we have not had before.”
While PRX hasn’t had much of a public presence until the Garage opened last year, the nonprofit has been active in building communities around public radio and podcasts since its founding in 2003. Besides distributing some of the most popular shows on NPR, as well as hit podcasts like “Serial” and “S-Town,” PRX operates a network of podcasts called Radiotopia that supports independently made shows like “99% Invisible” and “Criminal.” It also spun out a podcast software startup last year called RadioPublic and co-founded Matter Ventures, a San Francisco-based media startup accelerator.
Aside from Brown’s “The Courage to Listen,” there are 13 other shows currently being produced at the Garage. They include “Teaching While White,” “Caught Up: a Podcast from Southie” and “.future,” a show made in a partnership between Microsoft and the branded podcasting arm of New York podcast startup Gimlet Media. For members who pay $35 a month, they get discounted access to the Garage’s four-person studio and all of its professional recording equipment (members pay $45 an hour while non-members pay $60). They also get to use the Garage’s coworking space and receive discounts from Garage partners, including the Association of Independents in Radio.
Brown said he was surprised to learn that a studio loaded with equipment from companies like Sennheiser could be so inexpensive.
“What really motivated me to engage in podcasting was the Garage itself and the fact that you had this accessible studio that was professionally done and professionally run,” Brown said. “That an ordinary person like myself could access this is fantastic.”
While the Garage has been a magnet for up-and-comers in the podcasting world, it has also attracted some well-known talent. Special guests from well-known podcasts have spoken at events, including Roman Mars of “99% Invisible” and Hrishi Hirway of “Sound Exploder.” The studio has been used by Maximum Fun’s “Judge John Hodgman” and “Bullseye with Jesse Thorn” for recording sessions or tape syncs. “Criminal,” another popular podcast on PRX’s Radiotopia network, has also used the studio.
Another important aspect of the Garage are the workshops and classes that have been offered, and Hoffman said PRX will be expanding its programming, thanks to a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Classes in the future will focus on audio drama, critical listening, sound design, narrative and audio editing, and marketing and digital strategy.
One of the bigger training programs PRX has held at the Garage so far is Project Catapult, a seven-week seminar for employees at public radio stations across the country that resulted in seven new or re-tooled podcasts.
“The thing about the garage I’ve personally found so rewarding is it gives PRX a boots-on-the-ground, real sense of the burgeoning podcast community,” Hoffman said.
Feature image provided by PRX.