Podcasts for Families: Meet the Makers of Eleanor Amplified
January 29, 2018
Are you looking for some good podcasts for children? We’re thrilled to introduce Podcasts for Families, a new series by Carissa Christner, a youth services librarian in Madison, Wisconsin. You’ll meet the producers of some of the liveliest podcasts for kids and learn more about the craft of creating engaging audio stories that families can enjoy together.
I have two children, ages 3 and 7, and over the past year or so we have developed a pretty serious podcast habit. Every time we get into the van, my son asks if there’s a new podcast episode to listen to. I love listening on road trips and when we’re commuting around town. Podcasts are a great way to strengthen listening skills (audiobooks are also excellent, but require a longer attention span than my 3 year old is currently capable of) and since we can all listen at the same time, they’re fun to talk about as a family. We’ve tried out a bunch of different shows and have some definite favorites that I thought I’d share with you over the next few months. Our tastes lean towards serially-told storylines with lots of sound effects, excitement, and a large dose of silliness. Read on for our first podcast recommendation, along with an interview its creator, John Sheehan.
Reminiscent of an old-time radio show, but with modern conveniences like cell phones, this podcast follows news reporter Eleanor Amplified as she works to expose corruption and fights for justice. With a nod to adult listeners with characters like “Conn Seannery” and other witty asides, this show will keep everyone entertained. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.
1. Where do you make your recordings?
Thank you for asking about this! I record everything in the Fresh Air studio at WHYY. When I began making Eleanor Amplified, I was a producer on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, so it wasn’t just convenient, it was also a safe place for me to try things and experiment. I was at home in the studio, and had worked with the engineer, Audrey Bentham, for years. After EA Season 1, I changed positions at WHYY—partly to devote more energy to working on EA—but Danny Miller, Fresh Air’s executive producer, and Terry Gross still let me sneak into the studio to record. Which is amazing. Not only because it’s a great studio, but because it gives me a chance to visit with my friends at FA and an excuse to bug Danny and Terry who are two of my favorite people and incredible mentors.
2. Do you write all of your own material? How much, if any, is improv while you’re recording?
I write almost everything. Every so often in the writing process I’ll book some time with my old Fresh Air colleague, Sam Briger, and we’ll talk things out and he’ll give me feedback and push back if things I’m describing don’t make sense (which happens a lot). Once we’re recording there’s probably about 10% improv from the actors—which is sort of too bad, because they’re hilarious people and usually it’s a matter of me reeling them in so things still make sense to me story-wise. But one thing I really enjoy is that they always interpret the characters in ways that I wasn’t imagining, and that informs how I write the characters moving forward. Once everything is recorded, I usually end up cutting about 10% of the dialogue just to make things move faster.
3. How long does it take you to make one episode (all the way through from writing a script, to recording, editing and publishing)?
I get asked this a lot but it’s difficult to calculate the time to make one episode because I write, record, and produce them in big blocks. And I’m finding that the longest part of the process is the brainstorming. I write a season at a time, and have a general sense of what I want to happen, but then I have to break it down episode-by-episode to figure out the mechanics of it all. Once I have it all outlined, it takes me about a month to write, a month to record, and a month to produce. I wish I could figure out how to do it faster, but I have daily-job duties that pull me away from imagination land!
4. Do you have a favorite episode?
No… but I have a lot of favorite parts. I try to have some element in every episode (a sequence of sound effects, a montage, a jokey motif) that really stands out—I think of them as set pieces. Things like: the assembling-the-A-Team montage, crash landing the space shuttle, Bridget filming five movies simultaneously, disarming the nuclear copier—I could hear those scenes long before I recorded anything or arranged the sound effects, so putting them together was very satisfying.
5. Question from my 7 year old: You are awesome times 5! (He didn’t have a specific question, apparently he just wanted to say he loves your show.)
You’re awesome times 10! Thank you for listening, I really, really appreciate it.
Carissa Christner works as a Youth Services Librarian in Madison, Wisconsin which she likes much better than her first job in high school, working at a theme park. She and her two young children love to test out new apps together, read books and go for walks in the woods. She blogs about her library adventures at librarymakers.blogspot.com. Check out the App Fairy website and follow along on Twitter at @appfairy.