A municipal employee walks into a podcast studio…

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A partnership between the city and a podcast entrepreneur has led to new ear candy for the Piedmont Triad.

Editor’s note: Next City covers solutions and challenges in Greensboro ahead of hosting our 2020 Vanguard conference in the city. Applications are now open.

Podcasts have become ubiquitous, and Josh Sherrick, the city’s superintendent of arts and events and self-proclaimed “podcast-o-phile,” thought they could help the city of Greensboro, North Carolina. Sherrick saw podcasts as a different way to engage with Greensboro art and culture fans as well as a new way to use the city Cultural Center, a city-owned building that houses 16 local organizations focused on the visual and performing arts. Sherrick hooked up with entrepreneur Brody Cohen-Glaze, who was already planning to start a podcast production studio, and the pair brokered a deal that allowed Greensboro to carve out its own space in the podcasting world.

In 2017, Cohen-Glaze built a wall in the cultural center and took over the area used to house the vending machines to build Press play studio, which offers space and technical support for people who want to record a podcast. While Cohen-Glaze was responsible for renovating the space to hold the studio, he also received a break on rent. Sherrick allowed the studio to operate rent-free for the first three months.

“I’m not quite sure [that] …our ability to produce podcasts and do what we do would be possible” without the agreement between the city and Cohen-Glaze, Sherrick says. Cohen-Glaze says that because he had a full-time job when the deal was made, he was able to pay for the renovations without taking out a loan. Today, Cohen-Glaze’s podcast studio is still paying rent “well below market value,” Sherrick says. In return, the studio offers podcasting services at reduced rates to city agencies and free services to associations in the cultural center.

Most groups at the cultural center were slow to take advantage of the podcasting offering, but a few city agencies did. Two shows that illustrate the potential of the medium are Gate City chatterwhich focuses on arts and cultural events in the Greensboro area, and History Notesof Greensboro History Museum.

Sherrick says the Gate City Chatter podcast has over 500 episodes. “We have well over 5,000 downloads/plays,” says Sherrick. The average listenership per episode number is between 300 and 400, he says. “We’re a very local podcast, talking about creative people and cultural happenings in Greensboro,” says Sherrick.

The podcast doesn’t attract tens of thousands of listeners, but Sherrick says other similar local podcasts garner a few dozen downloads. “We’re doing really, really well in this space that we’re in,” he says. “The engagement we get from our audience is really important to us,” says Sherrick. He notes that there are people from various parts of the United States listening, as well as a consistent listener, for some reason, in Ireland.

Rodney Dawson is the curator of education at the Greensboro History Museum, and he says he saw the podcast as a way to fill a need for area teachers. “Coming from teaching, one of the things that wasn’t one of my favorite things was developing lesson plans,” Dawson says. “So I was looking for tools that a teacher could use to develop a lesson plan.” Dawson’s History Notes podcast began airing at the start of this school year. The first season will consist of 20 episodes.

One episode Dawson highlights features a local educator who brought aerospace education to the district. “In the ’80s, they had an educational space program,” Dawson says. “He was a person who went to NASA and was trained, and he helped bring the moon rock program back to Guilford County schools in the mid-1980s,” says Dawson. This program loaned stones brought back from the moon to schools and museums for classroom lessons. The episode describes the steps this woman had to take to gain security clearance and enter the training program as well as some of the steps taken to protect moon rocks brought to schools for students to study. Another story note focuses on the integration of County Durham schools.

Another ongoing production comes from county registrar Jeff Thigpen. His office manages the county’s vital and property records. As the office receives joyous visits for marriage and birth certificates, deep emotions surround death and agony. Thigpen says that often when people come to his office for death certificates, they “fight with grief and sometimes deal with countless questions about how to resolve estates. Notify people, choose a funeral home. How much does all this cost. Veterans have questions about what resources might be there for them in terms of grief and bereavement.

These questions and issues prompted him to create the “Good Grief” podcast. “Nobody made it out of life alive,” Thigpen says. “How we talk about it is really important. I mean, you have to be serious, but the idea is to normalize [death] and saying ‘You know what? we should talk [about it] and not be ashamed or deny it. Thigpen says funeral costs shouldn’t push families out of business and says he’d like to cover alternative arrangements, such as green burials, which allow bodies to decompose naturally, in one episode.

For Sherrick, the project had to overcome challenges such as a lack of familiarity with the medium of podcasting and the idea of ​​on-demand listening. “There’s a big learning curve to get into the space,” says Sherrick, noting that different age groups and demographics have varying levels of experience with podcasts. “I think that [Cohen-Glaze] learned early on is that you can’t assume people know the value of what you do,” Sherrick says.

In his first year, Cohen-Glaze says he invested about $18,000 in running the studio that he didn’t recoup. However, because he had a full-time job, he was able to continue with the studio. Cohen-Glaze hopes that as people understand the value of podcasting, her business will grow and prosper. Meanwhile, he says, podcasts are breaking new ground for local arts organizations. “I think Greensboro is really thinking about how different organizations can help support the arts instead of these big five or six [foundations]says Cohen-Glaze.

Zoe Sullivan is a multimedia journalist and visual artist with experience on the US Gulf Coast, Argentina, Brazil and Kenya. His radio work has appeared on outlets including the BBC, Marketplace, Radio France International, Free Speech Radio News and DW. His writing has appeared in outlets such as The Guardian, Al Jazeera America and The Crisis.

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