Bangor residents Mike Elliott and Kat Walls have both had long careers on air in broadcast radio, but podcasting — radio’s upstart, all-digital younger sibling — was always something the pair wanted to give a shot.
“We always wanted to do something that was more personality-based, more open and less about, say, queuing up Toby Keith records,” said Walls, who until recently was an on-air personality for local radio stations. “It was always the dream to do a podcast.”
After more than a year’s worth of research and planning, in 2018 the pair launched “The Box of Oddities,” a bi-weekly comedy podcast about all things strange, wonderful and macabre. Nearly three years later, the podcast is just shy of its 10 millionth download.
They are just two of a number of Mainers who produce podcasts, covering a huge array of topics, both about Maine and not. Over the past decade or so, podcasts have exploded in popularity, with a 2019 study by Edison Research showing that about 73 million Americans listened to a podcast in the past month, and about 50 percent of people aged 12-34 listened to podcasts monthly. Apple Podcasts, the largest platform for podcasts, hosts more than 600,000 podcasts, and each episode of shows such as “My Favorite Murder,” “Unlocking Us with Brene Brown” and “The Joe Rogan Experience” routinely attracts millions of listeners.
Elliott and Walls, who are married, said their consistency, quality and understanding of the subject matter are keys to their success. In addition to selling advertising on the show and selling show-related merchandise, the pair also did live shows before the pandemic struck at comedy clubs all over the country.
“We’ve tried to maintain a very consistent schedule, posting twice a week, and we invested in high sound quality,” said Walls, who now works on the podcast full time. “And we really focused on making interesting, relatable content. We wanted to build a little community around our show, where people who love weird stuff and may be weirdos themselves feel at home.”
Though “Box of Oddities” has become a viable business venture for Elliott and Walls, others, like Ben Sprague, a former Bangor city councilor, have been podcasting as more of a hobby, rather than as a second or primary job. Since 2015, Sprague has hosted “The Maine Show,” a weekly podcast interviewing interesting Mainers from all walks of life.
“I’ve always loved podcasts. I remember once I typed ‘Maine’ into a search bar in my podcast app, and really, not much came up,” Sprague said. “I thought, ‘That’s a niche somebody could fill.’ It’s definitely been a labor of love, but it’s given me the chance to talk to a lot of interesting people.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic has started, Sprague has taken a few hiatuses from posting new episodes, and also has interviewed a number of health professionals and community members about the impact of the pandemic on Maine. Now that he’s no longer a city councilor, he’s planning on resuming a regular recording schedule.
Consistency has also been key for Katie Yates, public relations specialist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. About a year ago, she launched her podcast through DIF&W, “Fish and Game Changers,” which over the course of four, eight-episode seasons has told stories about Maine’s outdoors and its natural resources. The fifth season, which is all about Maine moose, will premiere next month.
“When I started with the department in 2018, I was tasked with coming up with a plan to recruit and retain new and diverse audiences, for hunting and fishing and for general outdoor recreation in Maine,” Yates said. “A podcast was really the perfect vehicle for showcasing the good work that our staff does, and educating people on the incredible natural resources of Maine. It’s my baby.”
So far, “Fish and Game Changers” is nearing 40,000 unique downloads since it launched in February 2020, a number that’s grown with each season. For Yates, as well as for Elliott and Walls, identifying a specific demographic and telling stories that appeal to that group has helped them to stand out from the crowd.
“The amazing thing about podcasts is that there is no real barrier to entry — you just need a quality microphone and an idea,” said Elliott, who still works for Bangor’s Blueberry Broadcasting, but on Box of Oddities goes by the name Jethro. “But that’s also the challenge, because anybody can do a podcast, and therefore it’s very hard to break through the noise and get noticed.”
Maine, with its wealth of unique characteristics, seems ripe for more podcasts telling the stories of its people and places — though there’s plenty of room at the table for any sort of podcast, if there’s someone who wants to listen to your stories.
“I think as long as you’re genuine in how you present yourself, and you let the subject of your episodes really drive the narrative, you’re on the right track,” Yates said. “It’s our job to tell the story.”