In this second installment of the Podcasts for Families series, I was thrilled to be able to interview the enthusiastic Mindy Thomas, co-host of Wow in the World, a show featuring cool science and technology. If you haven’t listened to their show yet, this interview will give you a pretty good sense of what to expect!
Although there’s not a totally contiguous storyline in this show, the big personalities of hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz—along with regular characters like Reggie the carrier pigeon and Grandma G-Force—are enough to capture the interest of both of my children. Each episode is packed with goofy, laugh-out-loud moments interwoven seamlessly with fascinating scientific news from around the world.
Where do you make your recordings?
We record in my little home studio, which is actually located in the corner of my basement guestroom. Last fall, it got a quick mention in a New York Times article about podcasts for kids, so now I tell all of our guests that they’re staying in a world famous landmark when they visit. Nobody seems to care. They still hang their wet towels on the microphone stands!
Do you write all of your own material? How much, if any, is improv that happens while you’re recording?
For the first season, we did 31 episodes, and the writing was split equally between Guy and myself. For the second season, we brought in an awesome third writer named Tom van Kalken. He’s from Australia, lives in Vancouver, Canada, and we’ve actually never even met in person! Now we split the writing three ways, and go over scripts together, making edits and punching up jokes (my favorite part). After Guy and I record, I edit the recording, and have fun getting creative with adding audio bits in post production. I have tons of funny, wild, off the cuff lines from Guy that I put together with my own lines like puzzle pieces. I’ve created entire scenes that never actually happened that way@
Where do you discover the “wow’s” you talk about on your show? Do you have a team of people reading research journals?
We [the writers] are the team! We’re constantly scouring science journals and science news sites for interesting new research to feature on the show. There’s so much fascinating stuff out there, and so much of it never even makes its way into the mainstream. As a kid, I believed that science was boring and not for me. I’m so grateful for this second chance to discover how truly WOW science can be! I know that there are kids out there who think about it the way I did, and when we’re creating the episodes, I always have them in mind.
About how long does it take you to make one episode all the way through, from finding the idea, writing a script, to recording, editing and publishing?
Roughly speaking, it takes about a week to create an episode from start to finish, though we’re always working on multiple episodes at a time. Last summer I did the math on how long it takes me to edit the recording of one episode, and it came out to an HOUR for every FIVE minutes! For our incredible sound designer Jed, it takes about an hour to create a MINUTE of the magic! It might sound like a long time, but it’s really a lot of fun to create each episode.
Do you have a favorite episode?
Oh man, I have so many moments of different episodes that I really love, but I have a particular soft spot for the Let’s Flamingle episode. It was a script that I wrote, and on the day we were set to record, Guy and I were sitting at my kitchen table doing a read through and he was all “Ohhhh no, I’m NOT dressing up like a flamingo.” (Or something like that.) Now keep in mind that before Wow in the World, he had an entire career, doing everything from covering war in the Middle East to hosting Weekend All Things Considered, not to mention the other two shows he currently hosts, The TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. In short, he’s a very respected and esteemed journalist! Which is exactly why I thought it would be funny to gently trick him into a flamingo costume, and put him in a flamingo pen at the zoo! But he was not having it. We had a friendly argument, and then agreed to revisit the episode at a later time. In the end, we reached a compromise, and he reluctantly put on the [imaginary] flamingo costume. I think he’s glad he did, though he may never actually admit it to me. Since then, he’s stepped out of his comfort zone so many times for the show, and written some of the funniest jokes and scenes. I’m so grateful to have him as my partner on this wild and sometimes ridiculous adventure.
Questions from my 7 year old:
Why did you name your bird Reggie?
You know, I’d like to know the same thing! I wish I had a better story for this, but honestly, it was just a name that popped into my head while sitting on my front porch typing out the first Reggie scene. He was never meant to be a permanent fixture on the show, but I’m so glad he decided to stick around.
Why did you name your show Wow in the World?
We knew we were creating a show about amazing new scientific discoveries, and we wanted to use those stories to better connect kids like you to the truly amazing wonders of the world around them, with stories that make you say WOW! That’s the short answer. The long answer includes hundreds of other names that didn’t make the cut.
Question from my 3 year old:
Why do kids have poopy?
That’s a really good question! And one I think about a lot. So poop or “poopy” is really just our body’s way of getting rid of all the junk and toxic stuff it doesn’t need after we eat and digest our food. If we didn’t poop, the inside of our bodies would probably look like a house full of stinky garbage. Sometimes when I’m cleaning out a messy closet, I wish that closets could poop too. It would make the whole process a lot more efficient, and I wouldn’t have to think too much about what to keep or what to toss. I should also point out that kids aren’t the only ones who ‘have poopy.’ Teachers, librarians, and even your favorite podcast hosts have poopy too! (Just try not to think too much about that last one.)
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.