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Pandemic productions: Western staff and students make podcasts

Topics include popular culture, movies, daily quarantine life, sports and more

Logo for Tripping on Bricks, the AS Review’s first podcast. Tripping on Bricks features student stories. // Photo by Aubrie Rice

By Sophia Pappalau

With many still quarantining due to COVID-19, several Western Washington University students and staff have used this time to develop podcasts, yielding various content for various listeners. 

AJ Barse, an instructional technologist for Western’s ATUS Department and co-host of “The Bellingham Podcast,” said podcasts have become a popular project for content creators stuck at home without a complicated recording setup. 

“COVID[-19] has kind of introduced this not-so-novel concept of doing remote calling,” Barse said. “More and more people can just hop up onto a video call or an audio call, hit the big red record button, and, voila, you have an MP3 file. Thus, you have the impetus of a podcast.”

Barse said with COVID-19, podcast listenership is also up. 

“People are hungry for content,” Barse said. “More and more people are cooped up. People want new things to listen to.”

Podcasts provide a sense of consistency during quarantine for some podcast listeners when daily routines have changed significantly. Amy Schultz, a sixth-year Western student, said podcasts provided a sense of familiarity after moving back to her parents’ house during the quarantine. 

“[I was] uprooted from a life that I built in Bellingham,” Schultz said. “With all of that free time, I definitely was spending more time listening to the [podcasts] that I really enjoy.”

If you are on the hunt for something new to listen to, here are a few podcasts hosted by Western students and staff. 

Major Motion Pictures (Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify)

“Major Motion Pictures” is a podcast dedicated to asking better questions than, “What’s your favorite movie?” The podcast’s host, Lauren Fontanilla, a third-year Western student, discusses pandemic movie-watching habits with fellow employees from the Digital Media Center. The podcast has covered whether “Twilight” holds up in 2020 and what elements make a perfect movie.

Fontanilla said she developed the podcast to continue facilitating conversations about film and media while COVID-19 restrictions barred access to the Digital Media Center. 

“I find a lot of social conversations difficult,” Fontanilla said. “And what I end up talking about and gravitating toward in big group settings is media. It's just easier to have conversations centered around a community experience like watching a television show or a movie.”

The Low with Kari & Lo (Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify)

“The Low with Kari & Lo” is a mental health podcast containing a ton of overlap with contemporary spirituality. Lauren Wallach, a third-year Western student and psychology major, started the podcast last August. Kari Perry, a second-year engineering student at Montana State University, joined the show as a co-host January 1.

“I think during this time, it’s especially quite easy to feel very lonely, and I think that podcasts are a good way to feel like you have other people around you,” Wallach said. “I wanted to create something that wasn't super niche, but was about stuff that I'm casually interested in that other people might also be casually interested in.” 

“The Low with Kari & Lo” is conversational and laid-back as Wallach and Perry discuss enneagram types, conspiracy theories and relationships. In the seventh episode, “The Birth Chart of the United States and Me!,” Wallach focuses on astrology and conducts a reading of the United States’ natal chart. 

WWU Social Distance Warriors (Listen on Spotify or Soundcloud)

Liz Stuart, sexual violence prevention outreach specialist, and Brandon Joseph, men’s resiliency specialist, are promoting resilience, wellness and joy during physical distancing with the “WWU Social Distance Warriors” podcast. 

During the podcast, the two hosts share their daily quarantine trials and interview Western staff and students about navigating living and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Joseph and Stuart make it a point to bring energy and lightheartedness to their discussions.

“It's a strategy in just health and wellness to promote joy and connection,” Stuart said. “Those are the things that keep us going through really hard times.

Tripping on Bricks (Listen on the “Tripping on Bricks” webpage, Apple Podcasts or Spotify)

Soleil de Zwart, former AS Review editor-in-chief and a fourth-year student at Western, said she wanted students to tell their stories in their voices on “Tripping on Bricks,” the AS Review’s first podcast. De Zwart and AS Review Editor-in-Chief and former copy editor for The Western Front PJ Heusted, a third-year Western student, started the podcast last April. Heusted is now the sole host.

Heusted reads submissions from students on how they are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and offers some commentary. A notable recurring segment, “How Have the Bricks Wronged You?” has guests recall wipeouts on Western’s brick-laden campus.

Viking Voices (Listen on the “Viking Voices” webpage, Apple Podcasts or Spotify)

Despite disruptions to sports schedules, Jeff Evans, director of athletic communications, keeps fans informed with the Western athletics-focused podcast “Viking Voices.” 

Evans gives an inside look into the program’s past and present with interviews with Western coaches, student-athletes and staff from all 15 of Western’s athletics programs. He plans to conduct interviews with alumni as well. 

“I also want to make sure to spread the stories of all our programs from a variety of angles, not just conduct the same interview over and over,” Evans said. 

In casual conversation, the athletes, coaches and staff share memorable athletic accomplishments and personal anecdotes. In “E11: Rowing - Jessica Smithlin,” Evans asks Smithlin, a third-year rower at Western, about rowing a 2K, her funniest teammate and her sports role model: Rocky Balboa. 

“In this time where we are not playing games, I wanted to add something that was a little different while also being informative,” Evans said. “I think fans of all kinds — students, alumni, community members — will find it fun to get to know the interview subjects in this format.”

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