Podcasts are quickly becoming one of the country’s favorite forms of entertainment. Studies have shown that at least 55 percent of Americans – that’s 155 million! – have listened to one and that number continues to grow
If you’re not familiar with the format, you may be thinking, what is a podcast? The concept is actually quite simple. A podcast is a series of spoken-word audio files that you can stream or download from the Internet. Some tell stories, both real and fictional, in a serialized manner, similar to a TV show. Others mimic talk radio, with stand-alone episodes on literally almost any topic you can imagine.
For those of you craving a local connection in your podcast subscription feed, here’s a digital entertainment roundup featuring creators with ties to the Greater Johnstown region.
This show started as a project of four locals who were taking part in the Cambria Regional Chamber’s John B. Gunter Leadership Initiative. One of the requirements for participants is that they form a team to work on a project to benefit the community.
“We discussed a variety of ideas, but as we began exploring the idea of creating a podcast dedicated to connecting, inspiring, and celebrating the region, we all became pretty excited, despite having no previous experience or know how in actually starting a podcast,” says James Tucker, who works as a supply-chain manager and recently moved back to Johnstown after living outside the region for a number of years.
Tucker and Will Brett, a fourth-generation staffer at the Brett Insurance Agency in Johnstown, co-host and produce the show (two original team members have since left the project). Episodes have featured business owners, politicians, high school athletes, nonprofit leaders, historians, veterans and community volunteers.
“Will and I both have a lot of admiration, interest and curiosity for people who have found success … or (are) aspiring to make a positive impact.” says Tucker.
“We also want to celebrate our area’s rich history by interviewing guests that can inspire the next leaders,” Brett says.
Essential Episode: Brett recommends Episode 9, “159 Inclined Meets Patrick Quinn and Dan Neville” from the Center for Metal Arts. He thinks this episode “really captured our original idea for the podcast.
“In a long-form interview, we were able to learn much more about their school’s mission than you could from a traditional article or news feature. We learned what brought (them) to Johns-town and about (their) lifelong passion for metalsmithing and blacksmithing.”
Choosing a single episode is harder for Tucker. “Each time that I sat through a conversation with our guests, I’ve been fascinated, inspired and humbled,” he says. “Because of that, I’d recommend starting from the first episode and listening to them all!”
Find Out More: @159Inclined on Facebook.
While urban planning may not be a topic that immediately comes to mind when considering entertainment options, the “Alleghenies Ahead” podcast tackles the subject in a way that’s interesting, engaging and accessible.
“Alleghenies Ahead is a collaborative effort to develop and implement strategies that will increase the region’s chances to create jobs, increase the region’s capacity to compete for households who have choices and become a region of stronger and more vital communities,” explains Ethan Imhoff, one of the leaders of the initiative in his role as executive director of the Cambria County Planning Commission.
The comprehensive plan covers the six-county Southern Alleghenies region – Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset – and looks to understand the challenges related to community, economic and workforce development and how they can be overcome in the future.
Not everyone will sit down and read the 139-page plan. So, according to Imhoff, creating a podcast was the perfect way to not only engage those people, but also continue the conversation.
“We were inspired by the people we encountered during the planning process,” he says. “Usually when a planning process comes to a close, it fades. We wanted to do the opposite, to increase awareness. The guests on the show detail their struggles to overcome the region’s demographic and capacity challenges, but more importantly, their successes in creating new economies, places and visions of the future.”
Imhoff depends on a unique partnership to create the show. It’s recorded by communication department students at Mount Aloysius College in an on-campus studio, called the Digital Grotto, and students also handle the post-production audio editing. The show “simply wouldn’t have been possible without Mount Aloysius College,” he says.
Essential Episode: In “What is Alleghenies Ahead?” listeners are given a five-minute introduction to the plan and the process behind its creation.
Find Out More: allegheniesahead.com/alleghenies-ahead-podcast
An avid podcast listener, Kristy Baxter wanted to unite her two favorite genres, true crime and history. And what better way to do it than with the perfect title?
“I (came) up with the idea and the title in the shower,” the East Taylor Township resident says. “The majority of true crime podcasts focus on fairly recent cases. They might throw an ‘old timey’ case at you from time to time, but it’s pretty rare. I really wanted to dig deep into history. And I find myself drawn to those older cases because they tell us so much about our history, about how things were so different and yet, in some ways, haven’t really changed.”
She enlisted long-time friend Scott Mort, of Woodvale, to co-host. “I fell in love with the idea immediately,” he says. (A third friend, Amber Gaunt of Richland Township, became a part of the team after she appeared as a guest on episode 44.)
Each installment focuses on a true crime case that happened before 1950, presented with extensive research and a healthy dose of black humor.
“I generally take the lead on most cases, so I probably average about eight hours per topic,” Baxter says. “I like to dig deep into primary sources, old newspapers and contemporary accounts, and it can be a challenge sometimes to find something that’s informative, reliable and readable.”
Mort thinks the show pulls back the curtain and reveals the hidden dark truth of history. “All this stuff about today being so horrible and how wonderful life was in the ‘good old days’? It’s all total lies. People murder people they claim to love for money, they lie, they kill for the joy of killing, and the authorities look the other way just as much 200 years ago as they do today.”
True crime aficionados love the podcast format and “Old Timey Crimey” is no exception. In October they hit a huge milestone – over 20,000 downloads. And they have bigger plans for the future, including planning live shows and tackling some of their biggest cases ever.
“I want to get into some more cases that challenge us … big, sprawling cases,” says Baxter. “We’ve got a lot to choose from – our list of potential show topics has well over 200 entries.”
Essential Episode: Baxter suggests episode 23 on Eugene Francois Vidocq, a French criminal turned criminalist “who basically invented the undercover detective.” Gaunt loves 73, “The Lawson Family Murders - Raisins are the Real Crime,” which features an especially heated take from Mort.
“Everyone needs to hear Scott’s raisin rant,” she says. Mort himself prefers episode 59 on the Hinterkaifeck murders, a creepy German case from the 1920s. “A lot of people know the broad strokes but are unaware of the minutiae of the case that really takes the strangeness to another level.”
DETECTIVES BY THE DECADE
Her work on “Old Timey Crimey” left Kristy Baxter wanting to learn more about the history of crime, namely how forensic science progressed through the ages.
“We sometimes get to see forensic developments on ‘Old Timey Crimey,’ but because we’re jumping around through the centuries, it’s anything but chronological,” she explains. “I became really interested in how different forensic disciplines developed over time, and I thought it would be fascinating to examine that.”
A consummate researcher, she took thorough steps to prepare for the show.
“My first step was to read several books about the history of forensics, and while I did that I made a spreadsheet where I organized every case they discussed in chronological order.
“Of course, for each case that I found while reading, I found four more while looking into whether the first case was viable. But I’m mostly following a straight timeline, so whatever is next on the list is my topic for the next episode.”
Coming up in the new year, Baxter is excited to cover topics ranging from “the first female detective, the rise of crime scene photography and finally, fingerprints! It’s going to be a really fun and fascinating year on the show.”
Essential Episode: Season 1, Episode 14, “Forensics in Antiquity,” is a fun romp through some of the earliest examples of various disciplines going back to ancient times, such as blood spatter analysis and forensic dentistry.
“The first recorded use of forensic entomology – using insects to help solve a crime – was documented in 1235 in China” Baxter explains. “When we think of forensic science developments, our minds go straight to things like fingerprints in the late nineteenth century, but there was plenty going on before that.”
When encouraged to create a podcast, Johnstown-based yogi, musician, healer and activist Rachel Allen had no idea where to start. Luckily, one of her yoga students, Owen Standley, had the equipment and knowledge to help make “814 Grounded” a reality.
The podcast was first released in January 2018 as a limited series aimed at giving social justice activists tools for sustainability, resilience and relationship building.
“I have always been drawn to linking spiritual and somatic-based practice with activism,” Allen explains. “The language of the body is sensation. Gaining an understanding of how we carry feelings and emotions in our bodies and how they impact how we engage with one another is paramount to healthy relationships.”
While not created to address current events, Allen believes the topics addressed can be especially helpful to deal with the unexpected challenges of 2020. “The pandemic has shown us we are all in the same ocean, but while a few of us are in yachts, many of us are paddling hard and most of us are barely treading water,” she says. “We are in, no doubt, an extended period of chaos. And the other side of that is … the beautiful story of our individual and collective resilience. This is what we get to share with those that have yet to arrive here. The story of how we showed up for each other, for justice, for the common good.”
Essential Episode: Episode 7, “Lamentation: Practice of Grief for our Time.” According to Allen, “Giving voice to collective lament and grief is necessary to the healing process.”
Find Out More: yogasong.net.
UNVEIL YOUR VOICE
Johnstown native Kristine Irwin started her nonprofit organization Voices of Hope in 2015 as a way to end the stigma that surrounds trauma specific to sexual violence, domestic violence and abuse. A survivor of sexual violence, Irwin, who now lives in Pittsburgh, found that speaking about her experience not only helped others, but provided her with an incredible healing opportunity. She launched the “Unveil Your Voice” podcast earlier this year to continue this effort.
“I realized there are so many ways to continue to heal and help move forward that I don’t even know about, and I feel many survivors feel the same way,” she says. “So I wanted to be able to not only interview resources but also (provide) tips for healing. During each interview, I speak with the individual to help listeners understand exactly what they do and how the guest could help them and their healing.”
Episodes feature survivor stories and also interviews with experts, such as social workers and wellness coaches, many of them Irwin already had a connection to through her own advocacy work.
Because the show does deal with sensitive topics, it can be triggering for some, so Irwin advises that listeners use discretion. “I always give a disclaimer on every show. I remind listeners (that they can) pause at any moment if they need a break,” she says. “I know from personal experience that if you aren’t ready to try something or listen to something, don’t force yourself.”
But for those who are able to listen, the experience can be overwhelmingly positive. Says Irwin, “The reactions I have received have been incredible – even individuals who haven’t experienced sexual violence, abuse or domestic violence have told me how much they in enjoy it.”
Essential Episode: In “The Heart Advocate,” advocate Ta’lor Pinkerston shares how self-love, self-care, and self-acceptance are essential in moving forward to heal from trauma.
Find Out More: voices-of-hope.org.
WHY ARE THEY SO ANGRY?
The Black Lives Matter movement has brought discussions about systemic racism to an unprecedented level in 2020.
Dr. Carol François, a lifelong educator and Johnstown native now living in Dallas, was inspired to create Why Are They So Angry? earlier this year as a way to give people the tools to not only examine racism, but to actively become anti-racist. What began as a private Facebook group that quickly amassed more than 300 members has developed into a whole host of educational tools surrounding the history of systemic racism in America, including a monthly Zoom live chat, blog, online course and podcast.
Along with her niece, Kourtney Square, also originally from the area and now living in Connecticut, François tackles the problem at its source – by examining little-known aspects of our nation’s history and the often untold experiences of black people.
“By revealing history rarely taught in school, (we) examine how systemic racism is steeped into every institution of American life – from education, business/labor, health care, housing, religion, criminal justice, pop culture, and politics,” says François. “The end goal is to arm listeners to dismantle systemic racism – see it, say it, confront it.”
François views this education as a vital way to move the county forward.
“We believe if people seriously want to put America on a path of healing, reconciliation and equality, acknowledging the truth about this country’s inherent systemic racism is the way to do that,” she says. “Our podcast is all about revealing that truth because, as the old saying goes, the truth will set you free. It’s long overdue for America to be free of the burden and high cost of systemic racism.”
Essential Episode: “Bias, Prejudice, Bigotry, Racism, What’s the Difference?” is the show’s most-downloaded episode and lays a foundation for moving forward. “This tells us listeners want to be educated about these terms because the definitions sometimes feel a bit unclear,” explains François. “When we talk about systemic racism in American institutions, it’s important to understand what our baseline and starting point is for defining what that is and how it looks.”
Find Out More: whyaretheysoangry.com.
ANYTHING BUT ROUTINE
Some people buckle under change. Some people thrive. Cheryl Gindlesperger is absolutely in the second category. In her late 40s, Gindlesperger experienced three major life changes. A self-professed city girl, she moved from her hometown of Johnstown to live with her partner on his farm in the country. She left her steady, full-time day job to start her own business and try her dream career of voice acting. And she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
So the “Anything But Routine” podcast was born – despite the fact that before starting work on it, Gindlesperger had never even listened to a podcast.
Through the show, she not only shares the story of how her life drastically changed, but also unique tales of inspiration, from a couple who founded a therapy dog nonprofit to a sassy senior dancing through her retirement to a man who spent a year performing good deeds for others.
“I was motivated to tell my story for a number of reasons,” she says. “Having just fought cancer, I was in a place where I was looking at life differently than I had before. I’d been given a second chance and my perspective was such that all I could see was the good things around me. I felt like it was – is – entirely too easy for us to focus on the bad things and I wanted to do what I could to contribute to the good stories in the world.”
The show features three seasons that wrapped up in December 2019, but Gindlesperger has plans to bring it back now that she’s accomplished a bucket-list goal, writing her first novel. “I really miss it, and there are still so many stories I’d like to put out there. Let’s find those good stories and share them with others and do what we can to lift one another up.”
Essential Episode: Season 1, Episodes 1-3 detail the big life changes that inspired Gindlesperger to start the podcast. “The pilot episode gives the overview and the second and third discuss my changing careers at midlife and my mindset while fighting cancer,” she explains.
Find Out More: anythingbutroutine.com.
When Mike Hruska and Mandy Toath first met, they quickly realized they shared a love of food – the stranger and more exotic, the better. Now married, the Hollsopple couple have traveled the world, documenting their “playful food adventures” and encouraging others to try something new themselves.
“We spent some years sharing food pictures from our adventures. Many people would say ‘I wish I was there to see more.’ So we decided that we would try to see how we could provide that experience as a more immersive capture of our experiences and the fun that we have exploring the world,” says Hruska, the president and CEO of Problem Solutions.
Since starting their YouTube channel in March 2018, they’ve documented meals as varied as crispy suckling pig at Tio Pepe in Baltimore to spicy pho at Toronto’s Pho Tien Thanh. While coronavirus has sidelined their travel schedule, including the cancellation of a 15-day Portugal trip originally scheduled for April, the pair will be releasing more content this year, including videos from a dozen past trips that have not yet been featured.
“We’ve eaten lots of things that people consider to be strange, from balut (fertilized duck egg) to lamb tongue, lamb testicles, beef heart, deer heart, chicken feet, century eggs, jellyfish and blood pudding. We’d eat them all again!” says Hruska. “Food is something we all must do every day, but it also should be an adventure. We look at every meal like a journey, whether we make it or find it, and hope that we inspire others to do so, too.”
Essential Episode: In “Gaggan - #1 Restaurant Thailand,” they document “an unbelievable 25-course meal” at one of Asia’s premier restaurants, which has since closed. Says Hruska, “It’s an extremely deep look inside a very special culinary adventure.”
Find Out More: 2gastronauts.com
THE TRAGEDY ACADEMY
When Johnstown’s Eric Presser first met Jay Hicks in Florida back in 2007, they were working at one of the worst jobs of their lives, but their shared humor helped them get through.
“It was an extremely tough gig and a poor work environment, so being able to laugh at the circumstances was crucial and a great way to bond with co-workers,” Presser explains.
Today, they continue to use laughter as a tool, one that helps them tackle difficult discussions in their show “The Tragedy Academy.” The goal is “to bridge socio-economic divides in a judgment-free zone using candor and humor to see the world from all different sides.”
“Coming up with the show was a culmination of our experiences and finding the common thread to help others, Hicks says. “Having struggled with mental health issues, I had reached a point that I felt things had to change. Mental health has had a stigma that prevents people from empathizing and coming together or seeking treatment at all. Eric and I worked together over a year to figure out how to help as best we can with our talents.”
Presser and Hicks talk candidly about anxiety, suicide, social justice, cults and medication, alongside pop culture references as varied as Barbie, Atari and Tiger King. Sometimes the discussion includes interview guests “pursuing life paths outside of the mainstream,” including a drug safety advocate and a neurolinguistic programming and hypnosis trainer.
But the focus is always to make people feel a little less isolated. “By speaking with honesty and humor, we provide a voice, allowing people to see they are not alone in their struggles,” Hicks says.
“We’re all essentially the same person regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, political affiliations and otherwise,” Presser says. “If you’re reading that statement and agree, maybe you and I came from similar world views and experiences. If you disagree with that statement, then I’d love for you to track me down and tell me why not. I’m always open to learning, and I’m wrong at least a couple of times a day!”
Essential Episode: Presser’s favorite is the Johnstown-based “Hot Skunk on a Bun.”
“I’d love for people to listen to it and see if they can figure out the location and company I’m describing. We had a lot of fun with that one, and it’s a great example of us goofing off. That’s one of our ‘detention’ short episodes. Imagine your teacher leaving the classroom and a couple of your goofy high school friends making you laugh.”
Find Out More: thetragedyacademy.com.
Tired of just reading about new technology? Would you rather find out about the latest and the greatest from a couple of your best pals? Try TechTalks! The show was created by Johnstowners Travis Michael Scott Lodolinski, founder of marketing agency Trav Media Group, and Jose Luis Otero, a business and entrepreneur specialist now working as a portfolio manager at Penn State University. They kept running into each other, finally had breakfast together and realized they had a lot in common.
“We ended up chatting for hours about AI and machine learning and that conversation led to a friendship,” Lodolinski says. “Just over three years later, we decided that we wanted to spread our own brand of technology ‘edutainment’ to help keep people in the know.”
The topic easily lends itself to the podcast format. “Technology doesn’t just impact profits, but it also impacts how people live, so we try to discuss different subject areas with technology being the center of the topic,” Otero says. “Whether it’s bringing the Internet to rural parts of Africa, highlighting allergy-friendly apps, or talking about mega changes within how our data is used in social media platforms.”
Chelsea Hull, who joined the show after meeting Otero at a wedding, says they aim to “expand the viewers’ knowledge of how technology is progressing, all while captivating the attention with humor and great debates. All three of us have a unique perspective that complements the topics we want to discuss. Plus, viewers enjoy a good laugh when we banter back and forth.”
The trio’s chemistry is working – since October, they’ve seen a nearly 17 percent increase in followers.
Essential Episode: Episode 37 is one of their most watched – the discussion focuses on SpaceX, Mario Kart, and the evolution of technological innovations in the pizza industry.
Find Out More: @TravMediaGroup on Facebook.
A LOOK AHEAD
New podcasts are constantly being launched. Here’s a few shows to look for in 2021.
WHAT’S THE JOHNSTOWN T?: Joyce Homan is a reference librarian at the Cambria County Library who focuses on teen programming, such as the Teen Xscape, a space on the library’s first floor made specifically with young people in mind. The podcast will not only focus on teen events, news, trends and community stories, but will also be written and produced by local teens. For more information – or if you’re a teen who wants to be involved – email email@example.com or send a DM on Instagram at @cclibteens.
15 MINUTE A DAY MBA: Hosted by a certified financial planner (Ethan Stewart of Centennial Financial Group) and an attorney (Colt McKelvey, owner of McKelvey Law Offices), listeners will learn as the pair teaches each other financial and business concepts. Their mission is to provide “education and resources so that the unnecessarily complex topics from the finance and legal world are more easily understood … so that you can make intelligent decisions, have productive conversations and realize when you are getting sold snake oil,” Stewart says. Keep an eye out for episodes on YouTube.
THE SPEAKEASILY WITH STEVEN J: Jerome’s Steven J. McClain was inspired to start a podcast to “create a show that people not only enjoy but one that they can relate to and hopefully take something away. When conducting my interviews, I try to talk to interesting people who inspire me.”
You can watch the trailer and first episode on YouTube at The Speakeasily with Steven J. He’s been working behind the scenes to create a catalog of episodes that should start being released on a regular schedule toward the end of 2020.