How to start a podcast at UC Berkeley

Updated: Aug. 25, 2021

Anne interviewing Gemma in a courtyard

That’s me interviewing Gemma Givens for our podcast, Berkeley Voices. (UC Berkeley photo by Brittany Hosea-Small)

Hi, my name is Anne Brice. I’m a podcast producer and writer for Berkeley News in UC Berkeley’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs. I write, report and produce Berkeley Voices, about the people who make UC Berkeley the creative, quirky, world-changing place that it is. And I manage Berkeley Talks, a podcast that features lectures and conversations at Berkeley.

This is what I’ve learned along the way, and resources that have been useful to me. I am sure some of the things I do won’t work for you and probably aren’t the most efficient way, but it’s worked for me to this point. Resources are always changing and I’m discovering better ways of doing things all the time, so I will be sure to keep this updated as I learn more.

I have begun tightening up the theme and structure of Berkeley Voices and have found this step-by-step guide by Buzzsprout about how to start your own podcast to be helpful. And this guide by RSS.com has some great tips, too.

If you have suggestions or questions, email me at abrice@berkeley.edu.

*NOTE: Some of these tips aren’t relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e. anything that involves in-person recording. I have begun to update the guide with remote alternatives and will continue to provide more options as I learn about them.


Getting started


1) Resources

Having the resources to produce a podcast is a big question here at Berkeley. Many of us are managing tight budgets, so figuring out if you have enough human power in your office or department to produce a podcast is something to consider.

Here are a few questions that might be useful to ask yourself:

  • Who will produce your podcast? Producing a podcast takes time and there should be at least one person who manages your podcast. They don’t necessarily have to be doing all the work, but they should be the point person and coordinator for the podcast. 
  • Are there students who want to be involved? I know some of the podcasts on campus have students taking the lead in interviewing and production. It’s a great way for students to gain experience, and if you can provide credit or an internship or even a stipend, that would be an added incentive for them to dedicate their time to the project. 
  • Do the people working on the podcast already have experience producing podcasts or will they have to learn? Knowing the workflow of podcast production is important, and also having the technical knowledge it takes to record and edit a podcast.
  • Do you have funds to hire outside support? I know a lot of us at Berkeley probably don’t have a lot of extra funds to put toward podcasting, but if you do, it’s always helpful and could be used for editorial support or editing or to promote your podcast.

2) Theme

Next, figure out what subject areas are you exploring in your podcast. Your theme should be focused, but open enough that you don’t feel constrained. To crystallize your theme, you could develop a tagline, which most podcasts have. A couple examples of good taglines: 

  • Criminal: Criminal is an award-winning podcast about true crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.
  • This American Life: This American Life is a weekly public radio program and podcast. Each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme.

And, what will you name your podcast? Ideally, your podcast name is simple, easy to remember and connects to the theme of the podcast and to your office or department or mission in some way. 

  • Some good Berkeley podcast names: The Science of Happiness podcast from the Greater Good Science Center and Talk Policy to Me from the Goldman School of Public Policy.

3) Release schedule

Figuring out how often and when you will release your podcast is another thing to to think about. Consistency is important when building and keeping your audience, but at Berkeley, many of us don’t have time to consistently release new podcast episodes on a schedule. 

I think a good option is to have seasons. You could produce a series of episodes — it could even be just six episodes — and release one episode every two weeks. Then, take a break to produce more, then run the next series of episodes in season two. We’re going to be doing this for our podcast starting in fall 2021. 

Another option is to have occasional episodes that you release when you have the time. It’s harder to build an audience this way, but we all have to figure out what is manageable and works best.

Just try not to make promises that are difficult to keep. We might have the intention of having a specific schedule, then then just can’t make it happen. So, if you’re not sure you can deliver, don’t promise it. Listeners want to know what to expect. 

4) Format

There are several podcast styles you could explore, but try to keep it pretty consistent. You can always combine styles and mix it up from time to time, but people generally like to know what they’re going to get when they listen to your podcast.

Different formats take more or less time to produce, and you might have a specific style you like the best, so those are factors to consider when deciding which one to use.

Here are a few formats you could explore. (I know there are tons more that I haven’t listed, too.)

  • Scripted narrative with interviews, narration and music. This is more time-intensive.
  • One guest telling a story. This takes less time, but can require more editing.
  • Interview with a guest, plus an intro and outro. Can include more than one host and/or more than one guest.
  • Lecture or conversation on campus. This is what we do for Berkeley Talks. We run a short intro, the talk, then a short outro telling listeners how to find us and asking them to subscribe.
  • Two or more hosts talking about a subject without a guest. A good example of this is Stuff You Should Know. I think for this to work well, you have to have a good conversational partner and be as inclusive as you can with listeners.
  • Get creative! Maybe your podcast is someone reading an excerpt from a book they wrote or two people acting out a play or something. There are a lot of different podcast formats out there that you could experiment with.

Recording interviews and events


1) Do-it-yourself

A) Equipment:

B) In-person recording techniques:

  • Always use earphones, mount and a windscreen.
  • Go someplace quiet. Put your headphones on, press record, turn up the volume and listen. If you hear whirring or humming, try to turn off whatever is making the noise. If you hear street noise or someone talking, move to a quieter spot if you can or at least point your recorder away from the source. You can edit out some background sound in post if it’s consistent, like a low hum, but it’s good to try to get clean audio because all editing causes audio distortion to some degree.
  • Ask the interviewee or interviewees to avoid touching the table, tapping a pen or playing with their keys. Some interviews are conducted in the field or outside. In these cases, try to decrease background noise as much as possible and pause the interview during loud disturbances.
  • Buzzsprout offers great advice for microphone recording techniques.
  • Record room sound or normal background noise where you do interviews to use during editing if needed.
  • Recording natural sound is a nice way to set the scene or give an example of something you mention in your story, eg. frogs ribbiting, flute music, peregrine falcon cakking, fire crackling, people chatting, Campanile chiming … you get the point.

C) Recording remotely:

  • There are many ways to record audio from an interview or webinar so that it’s useable for your podcast. Some capture better audio than others. Here’s a running list that come recommended by podcasters.
  • TIPS:
    • Headphones are not required, but are highly recommended to decrease echo and other background sound. When the audio jack has three rings, it means it has a microphone. If you’re using the mic on your headphones/earbuds, be sure to hold the mic close to your mouth so your guest can hear your voice clearly.
    • External mics are not needed, but are recommended as well. I use the USB condenser microphone by Fifine and have used my H4n Zoom recorder as a USB mic — both sound good.
    • Close all computer programs and browser tabs, and turn off notifications, to eliminate unwanted audio interruptions.
  • Use a web app: All of these record multiple tracks, are easy to use and record high-quality audio. Zencastr and Cleanfeed have free options. Here’s what Buzzsprout recommends for recording long-distance podcasts.
    • Zencastr: This is really easy to use and sounds great — the host sends a link to guests and receives a separate audio track per guest. You can generate and share the link whenever you’d like — it won’t expire — and just schedule a time to meet up for the interview. Zencastr now includes a video option. It is not compatible with smartphones.
    • Squadcast: This can record up to four people at a time — one host and three guests. It has a video option that can be turned on or off, so you can see your guests during the interview, but doesn’t record video right now. It is also compatible with Android smartphones. I really like its interface and being able to see the people I’m talking with, plus it sounds great. The one downside is there isn’t a free option.
    • Cleanfeed. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve heard good things and there is a free option. It is compatible with several browsers and works with tablets and smartphones.
    • Riverside.fm
  • Audio Hijack is another option. Once you download it, you can use it to record any audio on MacOS. You have to spend some time learning how it works, but it’s very versatile.
  • Use the record function within web conferencing/chat programs: It’s not always the best-sounding, but recording separate audio files for each participant and using headphones and an external mic bumps up the quality. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts all have a record function. Here’s an article in Wirecutter about how to pull off a professional video call from home. And here are some tips on improving your on-camera presence by UC Berkeley’s Advanced Media Institute.
    • Zoom: To record all participants’ audio streams as separate audio files, open the Zoom client and click “settings,” the “recording” tab, then enable “record a separate audio file for each participant.” Learn more about how to record multiple audio files in Zoom.
    • Skype: Recorder for Skype can record up to four separate video tracks with the multi-track recording option. To do this ensure that “multi-track” is selected in your call recorder settings.
  • Ask speakers to record themselves with a phone app: They can do this either during the interview or on their own time, if you send them questions to answer. I’ve mostly just sent questions for them to look over and answer on their own, and it’s worked quite well. Voice Record Pro is a great app, but there are others that work well, too. Here’s a list of other audio recording apps for Android and audio recording apps for iPhone.
  • Here are steps to follow when using a phone app to record. First, if you’re recording during the interview, you should set up your portable audio recorder to record your voice. Then, ask interviewee to:
    • Download the app to their smartphone.
    • Put their phone on airplane mode.
    • Find a walk-in closet or a quiet, non-echoey room to record in. The less reverb, the better.
    • Set the phone at mouth level, either with a tripod or on another surface, like a stack of books. Have the mic angled toward their mouth about six to 12 inches away. They can hold it if they need to.
    • Angle their phone’s mic away from anything that hums or buzzes (a/c units, coolers, engines, etc). Often even small shifts in mic angle can make a big difference.
    • Launch the app and push record.
    • If recording during the interview, call them on their computer using a web conferencing/chat program, like Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or Google Hangouts. You should also record within the program as a backup.
    • Once they’re done recording, they can email or text you the audio file from the app.

D) Locations on campus to record (for free!):

  • The environmental design library has a recording room (Wurster Hall, 210D) that is open to UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty with a Cal 1 card. The room is acoustically designed for recording audio or video on your own equipment. Seats up to five.
  • The Berkeley Publications and Media Center offers registered student media organizations its office (MLK Student Union, Rm 177) for meetings and an adjoining studio for recording sound or filming. Media equipment is available for checkout from the Berkeley Publications and Media Center.
  • Students enrolled in media production classes (who pay a $60 lab fee for expendables) and graduate students in art practice can reserve a space in the Digital Media Lab. Kroeber Hall Kr 295 is set up as a digital editing lab, with an independent sound recording booth. 24-hour access.
  • DIY Media Service supports instructors who want to add video to their teaching techniques. Although this isn’t specifically for podcasting, it’s a good resource that I thought I should include.
    • This service includes studios in Dwinelle Hall and Berkeley Way West. Each studio is equipped with HD cameras, professional lighting, multiple backdrops, pen tablets and a variety of screen capture and video software; DIY media workstations (with audio editing software); staff to provide a basic orientation on the available tools and resources for learning on your own and consultation for those who need guidance on video strategy, workflow development, etc.

2) Hiring a technician

A) Recording and producing webinars (virtual):

B) Lectures and events (in-person):

  • Educational Technology Services (ETS) is available to hire. Rates vary, so contact ETS for an exact quote. ETS provides a transcript and has speakers sign media release forms. Email Airdri Stoddart at airdri@berkeley.edu to request an audio or video recording of a lecture or event on campus.
  • The Berkeley Language Center is also available to record audio of events — lectures and panel discussions — for $80/hour. They don’t get media releases or provide transcripts. To inquire about hiring the BLC for this service, contact Keith Hernandez at kah@berkeley.edu.

C) Recording in a studio:

  • The graduate journalism school has a studio available to reserve, along with an audio technician who can record an interview. You can submit a radio request online or call the North Cate Studio Manager at (510) 501-7713 for more info about the studio, rates, to schedule a tour or for your broadcast needs.
    • The radio studio rate is $140/hr with a one-hour minimum. After the first hour, additional time is billed in 30-minute increments ($70/half hour). Client requested connection tests (ISDN, etc) and client pre-scheduled connecting/dialing in early are billed as an additional one-quarter hour ($35).
      • For off-hours bookings between 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Pacific time, there is an additional $50 off-hours fee (per booking occurrence; NOT per hour). Off-hours also includes ALL bookings scheduled for Saturdays, Sundays and U.S. Federal Holidays. There is a 24-hour cancellation policy.
  • The Berkeley Language Center studio offers recording services available to the entire UC Berkeley campus. Technicians will record for $80/hour. The studio space is not available to rent. It’s open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. A 24-hour cancellation notice is appreciated.

Recording narration


I don’t have the best setup for recording narration. Ideally, you’d have a soundproof studio available where you can record. But many of us need a do-it-yourself solution.

Here’s what I do when I’m recording at home:

Here’s what I did when I recorded in the office pre-COVID:

TIPS:

  • When recording, always wear headphones. Find a quiet room without an echo, avoid empty or expansive spaces with lots of windows.
  • Try to turn off all background noise, like ac units, humming computers, etc. If you can hear people talking, stop recording until they are quiet or ask them to take their conversation farther away from your recording space.
  • If you don’t have a quiet, non-echoey room to record in, you might consider recording in a closet using a headlamp. It’s not glamorous, but it works!

Podcast production


LinkedIn Learning offers tutorials, available to the campus community at no cost, on how to produce your own podcast. It covers how to identify your audience, choose a title, format and length, record and edit, publish and promote, as well as which equipment and software to use.


Media releases


It’s a good idea to get media releases from people you record — speakers and interviewees. Here is a podcast release form, where you name the podcast that the interview will be featured on.

  • Remember: The podcast release form only gives permission for you to share the content on the specific podcast listed. Here is a broader media release form.

Editing


  • Adobe Audition, which is what I use to edit my audio, is free for everyone on the UC Berkeley campus. Here’s more info about how to use Adobe Creative Cloud applications at UC Berkeley.
    • To learn more about editing in Adobe Audition, the campus community can take free online tutorials at LinkedIn Learning (formerly lynda.com).
  • Leave a second or two of silence in the beginning and end of each episode.
  • It’s hard to know what file format to use when exporting your podcast. I noticed that my podcast episodes were sounding lower quality than others I was listening to, so now I follow these podcast exporting guidelines by Podcasting Pro. My podcasts have been sounding a lot better since I began following the guidelines.
  • Spext ($10-$21/hour) is another option for editing audio. I haven’t used it, but it comes recommended by UC Berkeley’s Advanced Media Institute. It’s an all-in-one platform for voice conversations that offers automatic transcription, voice editing and repurposing.

Music


Free Music Archive. Be sure to follow the requirements given by each contributing artist. Creative Commons licenses are the most common kind of license on their site. Read their license guide.

I usually use instrumental music by an artist called Blue Dot Sessions — they have their own website where you can download their music. You can use any of their music for free as long as you aren’t making any money from your podcasts. If you are, then you need to buy a license with them.



When you open your hosting account, be sure to include a logo for your podcast and follow your podcast host’s specifications. We recommend that you follow UC Berkeley brand guidelines.


Hosting


We started off using Pippa. The hosting platform has since been acquired by Acast and is hosted on Acast Open, and still offers great support, advanced analytics and unlimited episodes. Rates start at $14.99/month if paid annually and $25/month if paid monthly. At Berkeley, we qualify for 20% discount for the lifetime of an account, so to host one podcast, it’s about $180/year. (Those who started with Pippa before the shift to Acast Open will retain their original rates — for now, at least — which began at $12/month or $115/year.)

There are a couple free options that I know of: Anchor and SoundCloud.

  • Anchor is a one-stop shop for podcasting — you can do all your recording, editing and hosting with the service. It offers unlimited free hosting and is best suited for hobbyists and podcasters looking to test the waters before investing in a paid service. For best results, podcasters suggest using an external mic and editing in another program. Here’s a review of Anchor, so you can decide if it’s a good option for your podcasting needs. Most agree you shouldn’t use Anchor long-term.
  • LaunchpadOne is a new, free podcast host that includes PayPal donations, a learning center and the opportunity to get discovered. I haven’t used it, but it’s worth looking into for a free option.
  • For SoundCloud, there is a limit to how many minutes you can upload, but it’s an option if you don’t have the funds to pay for hosting and you’re only uploading a limited number of podcast episodes. You can upgrade to a paid tier, but I don’t recommend it. Most other hosting platforms offer better services and are more reliable than SoundCloud.
  • JustCast isn’t free, but its personal and starter plans are inexpensive, at $5/month and $9/month. It enables you to turn your DropBox into podcast hosting.

There are so many places to host your podcast. You should find one that works best for you. Here is a complete list of other hosting platforms you might consider.


Transcripts


To meet federal ADA regulations for accessibility, we need to provide a written transcript of each podcast episode. In my stories for Berkeley Voices, I provide a written version of the transcript with photos below the audio player — it’s the same content, but written in the style of an article. Here’s an example of a Berkeley Voices story. For Berkeley Talks, I publish the transcript in a separate post on WordPress, then link to it from the main post. Here’s an example of a Berkeley Talks post.

Transcription services:

  • I use Trint (starts at $48/month) to transcribe my interviews for Berkeley Voices. It’s pretty accurate, has time stamps, allows multiple team members to join and makes it easy to find specific phrases when I’m writing a script.
    • There are several other services that provide AI-generated transcripts, including Temi and Otter.
    • Spext ($10-$21/hour) is another option. I haven’t used it, but it comes recommended by UC Berkeley’s Advanced Media Institute. It’s an all-in-one platform for voice conversations that offers automatic transcription, voice editing and repurposing.
  • I use Rev ($1.25/minute) to create transcripts for Berkeley Talks. I post the entire 30-minute to two-hour lecture transcript, so I need these to be highly accurate. I also don’t need to interact with the transcript, like I do when I’m writing a script for Berkeley Voices.
  • It’s also an option to use 3PlayMedia ($2.25/minute or lower, if you buy a bigger package) to have audio and video transcribed. It’s a UC-wide captioning vendor.

Submitting to podcast directories


Here are some of the directories to which I’ve submitted Berkeley Voices and Berkeley Talks. Our podcasts are on many more directories, but I like these because they refresh RSS feeds the most frequently, and they look and work the best. Most hosting sites also automatically submit your podcast to certain directories.

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Overcast
  • Spotify
  • Google Podcasts
  • iHeartRadio
  • Stitcher
  • Pandora
  • Podchaser

Promotion


I am the first to admit, I struggle at promoting our podcasts. It’s tricky, especially when there are so many podcasts out there. But here’s some advice that I heard recently that I plan to follow:

1) Get mentioned in other people’s podcasts

People find their podcasts organically. They want recommendations from podcasters they trust and enjoy listening to. So, instead of spending money and time on marketing campaigns on Facebook or other social platforms, focus on having other podcasts with similar content and audiences to yours mention your podcast. In return, you could promote their podcast on yours. Or, you could pay for them to promote yours, if you have the funds.

Go on as a guest onto other people’s podcasts, like actors do when they’re promoting a new movie. You don’t necessarily even need to talk in detail about your podcast, but mentioning might peak listeners’ curiosity and get them to do a quick search and follow you. If they end up liking it, you have gained a listener!

And here’s what I have done that has worked well so far:

2) Share with your audiences and across campus

If you already have an audience, share your podcast content with them. Put it in your newsletter, on your website and on your social media channels. Also, connect with other offices and departments on campus — like us, at Communications and Public Affairs or UDAR — who might want to share your content.

We have experimented with creating audiograms to share on social using Headliner. It’s easy and helps to pull people into the episode. Our social team has said it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, but it’s a nice way to promote on social if you have the time.