Czech Radio has just launched Zhasni!, or Turn the Lights Out!, the station’s first dedicated podcast series. The move is aimed at boosting Czech listeners’ usage of podcasts, a delivery system particularly popular in the US via which subscribers automatically receive audio files – including, of course, radio shows – on their smartphones or other devices. To find out more about this drive I spoke to Edita Kudláčová and Robert Candra from Czech Radio’s Creative Hub group. My first question: What is Zhasni! and how did it come about?
“By podcast we mean that we distribute it online and to mobile devices, so it’s not meant for broadcasting, at least not as the primary source of distribution.
“It is really something that has been projected and developed as online audio content.
“And it came about because we wanted to try that. Because so far what we are used to doing, and what we do usually, is we put pieces of our broadcasting online as well.
“But we wanted to respond or to react slightly to the podcast trend or maybe bubble – we don’t know yet – and to create something that’s specifically for the online environment and see how people respond to that – if they like it, if they share it, if they download it.”
RC: “These are nine, roughly 20-minute episodes and they are something between a documentary and an art or experimental piece.
“They’ve been made by a group of various authors, young documentarians, most of whom have experience in audio-vision, in film documentaries. So it was a first for them, as well.”
The podcast format allows for more freedom than radio. You can have shows of different length. Also you can be explicit in terms of language. I listened to the first episode of Zhasni! and it is quite explicit. Could you have broadcast that on the radio? Even on Radio Wave, which is a youth station?
EK: “Actually Radio Wave’s editors plan to probably broadcast it later on, after it has been online – the premiere is always on line.
“So it might actually appear in its broadcasting.
“I think it is very explicit, but the idea is not to shock or only to be explicit.
“What we focus on is the real story of a person.
“It means we don’t have to deliver any news, we don’t have to reveal any facts – we just want to let a person talk, and talk very intimately about maybe secret sometimes experiences or ideas. Something they might not be even able to share with their friends.
RC: “In my opinion it can be easily broadcast after 10 o’clock, just like different radio plays on different radio stations sometimes contain strong language.
“It’s a matter of artistic expression, so I don’t think it’s a problem.”
Almost all podcasts I know that are produced by radio stations are first broadcast on the air as radio programmes and then made available as podcasts. Why have you done it the other way round with this programme?
RC: “I guess we just wanted to try this way out. We are very curious about how people will respond to it. And as Edita mentioned, the programme will be broadcast later in the year.”
About five years ago an American friend of mine, who works in radio and who speaks Czech because his mother was from here, contacted me saying, Tell me, what are good Czech podcasts? And I looked into it, I asked some friends, and I couldn’t find any. Why is podcasting only coming here now?
EK: “I’m not actually sure if it is coming here. We have podcasts and we have always had podcasts for the last eight or 10 years.
“But that was mostly the audio archive.
“I think, putting it very simply, that a podcast is an MP3 audio file that you can share, you can download and you can use whenever you want, on any device.
“So in these terms, it’s not new.
“What I think is new, especially with the trend coming from the US, is the amount of independent production and the coverage of all the topics that you can have.
“We as Czech Radio will always have the audio archive. I don’t think we will ever restrict the content that we put online.
“The question is why any independent producers haven’t started podcasting yet, and I think that the target group of people who would listen is still rather small.
“I think it’s very difficult to make any profit on it, any money – to sell advertisements, to find sponsors. Not just to do it in your free time but to actually earn some money so you can sponsor your other pieces.”
But for me a podcast isn’t simply audio that’s available in an archive – it’s something I can subscribe to. I can go to my phone and click, I want this, and I automatically get it every time it comes out. Are there many of those that are available already from Czech Radio?
RC: “You can subscribe to your favourite programmes – so that’s a podcast, in that sense.”
My impression is that a lot of people in this country, even people working in the media, don’t know what podcasts actually are. How are you going about explaining the concept? To me it’s simple, but many people don’t seem to get it. How are you explaining it?
“As you said, it’s a thing you can subscribe to and you get notified whenever new parts come out. And you can listen to it whenever and wherever you feel like.
EK: “What we have faced is that certain smartphones or mobile devices are very easy to use, because they have their own applications and it’s very easy and user friendly to download any kind of series or audio piece.
“But with certain, especially older, smartphones it’s quite difficult. You have to copy and paste different website pages or links.
“And we’re trying to find a way to make it easier for users.
“That means that at this very early stage we are looking at our own Czech Radio apps, our own website, how it actually communicates with the end consumer or listener.
“And we are trying to keep it as simple as possible. We don’t feel you should be reading some instructions.
“It should be very user friendly and through intuition of the words and how they guide you to it. You should be just able to click two or three times and it should be all set up for you.”
Does Czech Radio have a lot of programmes that are suitable for podcasting? It seems to me that a lot of Czech Radio, at least Radiožurnál, has a lot of traffic news and music – which is complicated when it comes to podcasting – during the day.
RC: “I would definitely say so. But it depends on the station. Radiožurnál is quite a quick news service and as such is not really suitable for podcasting.
“But many other stations produce all kinds of shows that could be easily be podcasted.”
With some of the podcasts I listen to my sense is that they started as independent productions, or they were part of some media organisation, and then they were taken on by radio stations in the States. They went from being irregular in terms of duration to being regular, they started having breaks and so on. This is very abstract because they probably aren’t made much here, but could you imagine Czech Radio taking outside produced podcasts and broadcasting them as radio programmes?
EK: “At the BBC they have in their Royal Charter that they have to outsource, I think 25 or 30 percent – they have to take independent production and buy the content.
“And when I was talking to BBC producers and I asked them how they secured the quality they told me that a lot of people who used to work at the BBC started their own brands or podcasts or whatever. So the quality is actually achieved.
“I’m not so sure whether there is quality content production in audio in the case of independent producers in our country.
“I think that if there was healthy competition and good quality, there is absolutely no reason why not to cooperate with independent producers.
“I think it’s sometimes even refreshing for our programmes. Because they bring in new ideas and they are definitely more inspired to do something new than us who sit here and do a lot of things every day.
“But I’m not sure if there is this quality production in our country just yet. Maybe it’s coming with the young generation – I hope so. But I wouldn’t say so at the moment.”
When you guys look to other radio stations around the world, are there any examples that you’ve seen of the ideal way to do podcasts and to get them across to people?
EK: “From radio stations, especially public radio stations, I think the BBC communicates their podcasts very nicely.
“I think it’s very user friendly and also the offer that they have online… they start with children at, I think, the age six.
“They go by genres, whatever you’re interested in, through drama production, pieces on cooking, whatever. So I think their online offer is quite rich.
“And I agree with Robert that any station that produces content that’s not limited to a certain time or certain event can easily distribute it as podcasts.”
Sometimes it seems to me it’s almost like TV, where there are just too many good series. There are so many podcasts – how do you choose which ones to go for?
RC: “Yes, there are so many of them – it’s rather frustrating at a point. You can never listen to all the stuff you would like to, so I have to choose.
“Sometimes I let my friends recommend stuff, which is how I got to what I’m listening to these days.
“I’m very fond of a rather small independent called Alice Isn’t Dead. It’s made by the production company Night Vale Presents.
“It’s rather bleak, almost horror, fiction, a story about a truck driver driving across the US looking for his dead wife.
“It has a lot of elements that I like. It’s very simple, the website is very simple – it has a very strong logo, a direct graphic element and not much around it. It’s put out in a simple way.”
Have you got any favourite programmes, Edita?
EK: “I listen to independent productions mostly. I don’t know why, but I just like when it’s raw and people are very honest.’
When do you yourselves consume podcasts? I listen when I’m running, when I’m walking to work, and sometimes I’ll use my phone like a player and I carry it when I’m doing the cleaning or whatever. How do you consume podcasts? Or when?
RC: “My way to work is not too long, so that’s not an option for me. I don’t run, so that’s not an option either.
“I mostly listen late evenings, when I’m lying in bed, just before I go to sleep. I like to fall asleep listening to podcasts.”
EK: “I’m definitely a morning listener. I like listening when I’m going to work. I travel by underground for half an hour, so even the amount of time is perfect for it, I think.
“I listen a lot on trains or buses, when I travel around either the Czech Republic or abroad.
“I love listening on the plane, when you switch off everything and you can listen for two or 10 hours, depending on where you’re going.
“So I usually prepare by downloading a couple of series I haven’t listened to for a longer time and then I really enjoy catching up on the content.”
Getting back to your own podcast production, I know Zhasni! has only just begun, but after it are you planning to do other podcast only or podcast mainly productions?
RC: “Well, it’s a matter of discussion. Zhasni! is a sort of a case study for this kind of approach and there will surely be a discussion about how we produce this kind of material and how we distribute it.
“I certainly would very much for Czech Radio to continue on this path, of course.”
EK: “I think for us the pilot or the case study with Zhasni! was a way to check whether our applications work and make sure the online way of communication with users or listeners is all updated and correct.
“That was one of the reasons why we actually launched it now.
“With all the other content, or at least that which our team will be producing, I would say it won’t be specifically podcast only content, but it will definitely be a way of distribution.
“It means whatever we don’t won’t be limited by a time perspective or anything else.
“We will focus more probably on the story or other technology – but the content itself should be distributed as a podcast as well.”
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