Shaftesbury will be discussed on BBC Radio Four Extra on Friday. Two BBC reporters have visited our town to learn more about ThisIsAlfred.com for the national broadcaster’s weekly programme about podcasts.
“I make a programme called ‘Podcast Radio Hour’ for Radio Four Extra,” said presenter Amanda Litherland, as Alfred’s Keri Jones interviewed her in the snug of The Grosvenor Arms on Friday. Amanda had just interviewed Keri.
Townspeople got their money’s worth from the licence fee last week. A few hundred metres away, BBC Countryfile presenters were filming snowdrops in the Trinity Gardens. Amanda and colleague Greg Cochrane had come down from London to learn more about Shaftesbury’s local Alfred podcast, an online radio-style programme.
“We recommend podcasts every week and we speak to the people who make them, which is why we’re here. The hardest thing is how to find them and how to find what’s good. That’s what my programme does,” said Amanda.
Each week, Amanda and Greg’s programme follows a different theme. In a few weeks’ time, they will focus on podcasts made as a tribute to television programmes. On Valentine’s day, their broadcast features podcasts devoted to a geographic area. “Your podcast is so hyper-local. That’s what we’re focusing our episode on. And as well as you, we are listening to one from Sunderland and one from Gibraltar.”
The range of recommended podcast topics already covered on the show has been varied. “There’s comedy and true crime,” said Amanda, recalling some of the more popular categories. “But the niche ones interest me a bit more, because the big-name podcasts you can find by just going on a podcast app and seeing what’s in the top ten. Sometimes you find a lot more interesting things,” said Amanda.
I asked Amanda’s fellow presenter Greg why the team chose the Alfred podcast. “I did like the variety of stories that you cover, and it made me interested in Shaftesbury. It felt like I’d already been, despite the fact I’ve never set foot in the town until today. It gives a diverse impression of what’s going on. And so that’s why I wanted to come and talk to you about it,” he said.
Greg understands why thousands of people all over the UK and across the world listen to the Alfred podcast each week. “The people that are in the community might want to tune in for local interviews or news. Then you’ve got people that perhaps have lived locally but have moved away and who want to still get a taste of what’s going on. I can get a flavour of a place that I’ve never been to. You get immediate insight into the accents, the stories, the nature of people that are in a certain place,” said Greg.
He’s a fan of communities sharing their stories through these online audio broadcasts. “It feels very uplifting to hear these hyper-local podcasts. People get the opportunity to talk and create little mini networks that knit the community together in ways that I think is positive.”
There’s a perception that podcasts are often listened to by younger people. Greg says that doesn’t give the true picture. “There are a lot of young people listening to podcasts, but it’s not exclusively that. Podcast listening in the UK is growing very quickly. People are engaging with the format a lot more because it’s so accessible. You can listen to it on your terms, when you want to, during a drive, washing the dishes, whatever it might be. And it fits in within your schedule. I think that the demographic is changing. It’s getting a lot broader. You hear all people of all ages appearing on podcasts. I think as time goes on, that will get reflected in the listenership as well.”
The Shaftesbury episode airs at 11am and 9pm on BBC Radio Four Extra on Friday, 14th February. The programme will be available on BBC Sounds, too.
Whilst many radio broadcasters such as the BBC and LBC are producing podcasts as spin-off or supplementary programmes, Alfred has reversed that trend. The Shaftesbury-focussed podcast will become an FM radio station in 2021. Alfred has been awarded a broadcast licence by regulator Ofcom, who recognised the work undertaken to sustain the podcast.
The FM radio station will be staffed entirely by volunteers. Twins Matt and Steve Appleby have already been producing their podcasts of Shaftesbury Carnival news and information for the ThisIsAlfred.com website. Their podcast will soon be broadcast on the radio when Alfred takes to the air.
Dozens more local people have enrolled for free training in radio feature-making and interviewing skills. These volunteers will be producing items on a range of local topics – from arts to countryside matters, events to environmental issues – for broadcast and for future Alfred podcasts. If you want to join, email hello@ThisIsAlfred.com.