Anne Hailes: In pod we trust

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Podcasts have exploded in popularity
Podcasts have exploded in popularity

FOR generations farmers throughout Ireland sowed seed by hand, scattering it from a bag slung over their shoulder. Then someone developed the 'fiddle', streamlining the job by using a contraption where a spinning disc activated by a bow would fling the seed outward from the shoulder bag.

I have watched this in Donegal where farmers were spreading mainly grass and clover seed for cattle to graze in the summer and realised that both methods were casting the seed over a broad area. Then in the 1920s the agricultural term was transferred to radio and 'broadcasting' became what we know it as today, sending out the seeds of information far and wide.

Even the more modern term has changed. When it comes to radio we have progressed from the crystal set to the transistor to programmes on our smartphones and the increasingly popular podcasts.

What is a podcast? It's a new type of broadcasting, which has been described as an audio newspaper, somewhere you can dip in and out and hear every subject under the sun being discussed, sometimes by experts and professionals, sometimes by interesting amateurs and sometimes by people who are fulfilling a vanity project (though these particular podcasts don't last and soon go 'off air').

I get a bit frightened with terminology - for instance, does 'subscribe' mean paying money? No. In this case it means you are a regular listener, perhaps to BBC podcasts, where there are hundreds of subjects to choose from on the corporation's Sounds network. One of the most relevant at the moment is The Martin Lewis Podcast, which deals with the economy and personal finances.

It's worth listening to some of these before planning your own podcast, just to get an idea of format.

Derek West runs JohnsonWest Co (, a production company which specialises in all thing media, be it video tours for estate agents, advertising, event management or print and publications, but they also work with people wanting to advertise themselves on a podcast. Derek reckons these are like like books in a a bookshop where you can browse, then select and open it up to enjoy the contents.


Derek explained that with personal podcasts, where people like you and me can make a programme and stream it on a specific platform, there usually is no charge to the listener. The most basic way to record your podcast is on a smartphone but the quality isn't always perfect; the best quality is attained using a computer or setting up your own simple sound studio. When downloading and editing you do need a rough knowledge of the technology - or a grandson... Or get professional help. And as with all things, there are quite a few easy-to-follow sites to consult on the internet.

Derek and his partner David Johnson work with organisations, companies and individuals who favour podcasting. One such is Vine to Dine, in which local sommelier David Burke gives regular advice on matching food with the perfect wine.

Choosing your subject is important - grab the listener in the first few sentences, know what you're talking about and you'll keep them hooked. Subjects can be anything from fashion and fishing to gardening and cooking - and even politics.

It might be you on your own talking directly to your listener, or working with a co-host to chat 'on air'; some light-hearted banter is a good idea, or perhaps a serious discussion involving one or two others who have knowledge of your subject.

You can say what you like up to a point; no-one regulates podcasting but it's not entirely free speech - absolutely nothing racist must be included nor hate speech, you can express an opinion but be careful that you don't libel someone on this public platform or you could be breaking the law and end up in big trouble.

Derek explained that most podcasts last around 30 minutes especially if you do invite others to join you in your 'studio' - as quiet a room as you can find with no traffic thundering past the window or children playing in the next room. If writing a script, allow around 4,500 words to fill the time, don't rush your speech and make sure you talk in pictures to allow the listener to visualise what your are talking about.

If you consult a company such as Derek's they will talk through what you want to do, check copyright where necessary, provide voice- over artists from a stable of well-known professional broadcasters, make your recording, add music and edit and send it on its way to the listener.

The only way you can make money is though sponsorship. If you can prove you have something like 5,000 listeners a month then you can go to a supplier or an interested party and gain their support. That mainly applies to people selling a product. However, if you are so fascinating that hundreds of people want to tune in on a regular basis to listen to your dulcet tones and like the content, sponsorship is a possibility.


Here you can express your own personality and interests. There are no auditions, no interview process to go through - as Derek says, the worst that can happen is that no-one listens.

At the moment this creative couple are completing a virtual town tour video of Holywood, the first town in the UK to produce such a cutting edge programme. It's for Holywood Chamber of Commerce to sell the attractions of the town for both commercial ventures and tourism.

Using a portable studio, cameras and drone technology, this is the most ambitious project Derek and David have undertaken in the 18 months their company has been running.

Both men have worked in the media for years - at Q Radio, City Beat, U105, Downtown, Cool FM and Ulster Television. They have all the experience at their fingertips and when it comes to podcasting this is something they feel has a big future.