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Super Freqs: How To Start A Daily Podcast During A Pandemic

Screenshot from a Zoom meeting with two cohosts wearing headphones.
Zoom screenshot
Henry Epp and Anna Van Dine collaborate from a distance.

The Frequency is Vermont's daily news podcast from VPR. Mitch Wertlieb spoke to cohosts Henry Epp and Anna Van Dine about the process of putting the podcast together, and what it's been like to launch during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mitch: So when somebody subscribes to The Frequency, what kind of content are they going to get?

Henry: They're gonna hear a lot of the same things that you hear on the VPR broadcast, but it's packaged a little differently. But basically, the meat and potatoes of it is feature content from our reporters, like Nina Keck and Peter Hirschfeld and Liam Elder-Connors — all those folks, as well as some interviews with newsmakers around the region, and headlines all packaged together in something that sounds a little bit different from what's normally on the VPR broadcast.

Mitch: Anna, I'm curious about how you decide what goes into The Frequency, given the enormous amount of news these days and how fast the stories seem to change. How do you and Henry go about deciding what goes into each episode?

Anna: We sit down every afternoon to write a script for the next morning's episode, and we sort of take the most important things that are going on and put them into our headline section. And then we take some of the strongest features that you might hear on broadcast and we put those in as well. So it's kind of like the cream of the crop, the most important things, some of the best stuff that is being produced in the newsroom, and we put all that together.

Mitch: It is quite a time to be launching a podcast like this. I mean, what is it like producing the frequency in the midst of an historic pandemic when we're all in this self-isolation mode? What are the challenges associated with that?

Anna: I'm currently in a closet surrounded by some blankets to muffle the sound a little bit. And this is where I record the frequency everyday on a Zoom call with Henry. So, I mean, that's a little strange. But like Henry was saying, we have a lot to work with and that helps a lot. I mean, we started the show under these circumstances and this is kind of just how it's been. And you know, I have to say, it's been working out pretty well, considering!

Mitch: You know, coronavirus news is obviously going to be such a huge component of The Frequency for the foreseeable future. Is there any space for non-COVID news?

Henry: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think we're always going to be looking to incorporate whatever stories we're doing in the VPR newsroom. And hopefully we'll get to a point where there are more stories that have less to do with it COVID-19. We had one episode — maybe some folks heard this feature on the air as well — a story about an author in Rutland who has just published. It's this guy who's also a primary care doctor, and just published his first novel after years of trying. And that was one of the first stories recently where it's like: oh, this doesn't really have anything to do with coronavirus. And that was a nice, nice break.

Mitch: Anna, when you hear The Frequency, what is it about it that's going to sound a little bit different? What are some of things that you and Henry are maybe experimenting with a little bit?

Anna: We take some of the stuff that you might hear on broadcast, but like Henry was saying, it's not broadcast. It's a podcast. So we're able to do some different kinds of things. For example, in an episode this past week, we were talking about Jeb Spaulding's resignation as chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges. And we went back and we found some archival tape from Spaulding's appearances on VPR from the past six years. And we used all of that tape in the podcast. So you you heard little clips of things from the past rather than just the update that was happening. We can sort of break down different stories that reporters have done. We can bring reporters on to talk with us. And we can we have a little twist on everything and we can also include some fun stuff as well. So there's always something in the podcast that you haven't heard on the radio and probably won't hear on the radio. So that's the thing that makes it special as well.

Henry: I would just add that we started this pretty quickly and got it on its feet and out into people's podcast feeds. And so we've been trying different things. And I think, you know, the sound of the podcast will keep evolving and changing. And we're excited to keep, you know, trying different methods of sharing the news every day and telling stories that folks want to hear.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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