Radiotopia is two years old, which makes it at least a growing adolescent in podcast network years. With a slate of 13 shows — ranging from Criminal to 99% Invisible to Song Exploder — PRX’s podcast network will be putting out an open call in April for fresh show ideas and will choose three podcasters with whom Radiotopia will work intimately to produce pilot episodes. Ultimately, one show will join the collective.
Radiotopia executive producer Julie Shapiro announced the pilot fund — dubbed Podquest — during a birthday celebration for the network in Boston last night, where Radiotopia supporters, familiar local radio faces (voices), and superfans of the Criminal podcast’s host Phoebe Judge and producer Lauren Spohrer mingled and nerded out over their favorite audio shows.
“We’re not just picking an idea, granting some money, and then saying, ‘Here’s your podcast,'” Shapiro told me. “We’re saying there’s more to making a Radiotopia podcast than that. We’re going to really think about the process, and help these three podcasts that we hope will be quite different from each other develop editorially, offering marketing wisdom, workshops, and access to the Radiotopia producers.”
PRX is also opening a podcasting studio around the time of this search for (and development of) another Radiotopia show in Boston within walking distance from Harvard Square, which will serve as a sort of hub for local podcasters and other interested members of the community. The studio will be a sort of “co-working space with more community involvement: it’ll have places for people to mingle, it’ll have studio space, it’ll be a place to gather, it’ll offer training,” according to PRX COO Kerri Hoffman. The podcasts involved in the Podquest will have these new studios at their disposal.
“We’re really trying to do things differently from other contests,” Hoffman said. “In order to really create diverse content, it has to be wrapped in a support structure, a support network, that isn’t just financial only: It’s about creating colleagues, creating community, and developing a feedback loop. The intent here is to be much more hands on than just regranting money to do a podcast. It’s a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of effort.”In the fall, PRX/Radiotopia received 20,097 donations to its wildly successful fall fundraising campaign, with 82 percent of donors opting to make recurring monthly contributions. 98 donors contributed at a level that offered them the chance “to play an active role on our committee that evaluates the pilots”; those people will be able to participate in the Podquest process. Last year, the Knight Foundation granted Radiotopia $1 million over two years to, among other things, develop infrastructure, hire Shapiro, and also support the Podquest. More details about Radiotopia’s open call and how to participate will likely come mid-March. Shapiro and Hoffman emphasize that while this is all about diversifying the network’s offerings, the ideas they are looking for need to fit well with the Radiotopia oeuvre — “designed to have high production values and strong storytelling,” and less something along the lines of a straight, short conversation between a couple of people.
“But for Podquest, it’s not just about the idea — it’s about how you develop the sustainability of something as well,” Shapiro said. “What’s that spark that can be built around and supported that, by the end, you have a sustainable show?”