September 30 is International Podcast Day, established in 2015 to celebrate the power of podcasts to tell stories and connect listeners around the world. Now in its fourth season, Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Hownikan Podcast uses audio reporting to reach Tribal members wherever they are with stories, issues and voices throughout CPN.
Hownikan Podcast is a production of the Tribe’s Public Information Department. Toupin and Willmet family descendant and employee Paige Willett is the show’s host and producer, and built the program from the ground up. Willett is also an alumna of the Potawatomi Leadership Program.
“The podcast sort of goes along with the newspaper that we mail to Tribal members, and it expands on some of the stories,” Willett said. “It gives some content that you do not get anywhere else in the Nation.”
In May 2022, she expanded the show’s production from monthly to bi-monthly. One episode each month is laid out like a news magazine program with several stories in one episode, Willett explained. The second monthly installment provides a deep dive into just one story, such as the June 2022 episode on the Eagle Aviary’s 10-year anniversary.
Willett joined the staff of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department in 2017, drawn by the opportunity to work for her Tribe and the invitation to spearhead the department’s expansion into audio reporting.
Getting a new podcast started was “an experience,” Willett said. “But I felt like college and other jobs had prepared me well to be able to take that on as something new.”
Everything from the introduction for the podcast, which sets the tone for what listeners can expect and gives the show a distinctive, recognizable sound, to the visual brand for the show’s marketing and web presence had to be designed from scratch.
“We have some really, really amazing people on staff, especially our graphic designers, who helped create a look for the web presence of the show,” Willett said.
She also enjoyed the challenge and opportunity of producing the introduction, a critical piece of audio that listeners hear at the beginning of every episode.
“That was a really fun thing to sort of figure out how we as a Nation wanted that to sound,” Willett said.
Behind the scenes
Something many people may not realize about podcast production is just how much time and work goes into each episode. Willett emphasized that “producing is planning.”
She starts several months in advance of an episode’s release date by “taking a look at what’s going on around the Tribe, finding out what is either coming up or figuring out what people are doing on an individual basis, or services we’re offering or things that just need to be explained more.”
Once she has decided which stories to include in upcoming episodes, Willett records interviews with key spokespeople as well as “B roll” audio — relevant ambient sounds or candid audio that will later be edited in alongside the interview and narrative material.
Then comes “taking all that audio, sort of reassessing it, and then writing.”
Willet explained, “I sit and I think about everything that I learned and everything that maybe everyone should know … and I write up a script of it and then, of course, go back through and cut all that audio up.”
After recording, cutting and editing back together the audio, Willett puts the whole episode together and prepares it for release. Even then, the work is not quite over. She still must write text to accompany the episode on streaming platforms and coordinate with the Public Information Department’s graphic designers and social media managers to get the episode in front of listeners.
“It’s a lot of work. It’s long, and sometimes its tedious,” Willett said. “But it’s a lot of fun. I can get caught up editing and look down, and I’m like, ‘Oh, okay. Two hours have gone by,’ and I think to myself, ‘Paige, drink some water.’”
The time and effort that goes into podcast production is also one of its major defining characteristics when it comes to types of audio reporting, and one that drives Willett’s creativity.
“When I was an on-air host, it was like, ‘Okay, you have 1 minute and 37 seconds to fill with news, weather and traffic,’” she said. “So it was just ‘Go, go, go, go.’”
Just as the podcast medium offers producers time to find and develop their stories in a way that daily news broadcast does not, the medium also allows for each episode or segment to run as long as it takes to tell the story.
“That’s one thing I like about streaming services, too,” Willett said. “When everything was on cable, everything had a very, very, very tight time constraint. … But (streaming) allows the flexibility to be like, ‘Okay, this episode needs to be an hour. That’s fine. This one’s only 45 minutes. That’s fine.’”
“It gives you the ability to really develop stories and flesh them out fully… (Podcasting) is really adaptable to the best way that there is to tell that specific story.”
As a student at the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, Willett found new possibilities in audio as a journalistic medium.
“I really focused on radio as much as I could during college. I fell in love with audio reporting and using audio itself to tell a story. … I’m just a big audio nerd,” she laughed.
For Willett, though, the Hownikan Podcast goes far beyond her own passion for audio and storytelling.
“For a lot of Indigenous societies, oral storytelling was how information was passed down between generations, and that goes back before writing, before a written language was created,” she said. “And I think podcasting fits that tradition very well. I think that it just totally makes sense.”
Willett believes that access to the voices of Tribal members telling their stories is an important resource for the Tribe to have.
“I love sitting around and just listening to people tell their stories. And I love writing about them, but I also love capturing people’s voices. You get a whole other dynamic to the story when you can hear someone telling it,” she said.
The voice conveys much more than just the words spoken. It also carries information about body language, inflection and facial expression, which paint a fuller picture of what the speaker means, she explained.
In the future, Willett hopes that having an archive not only of words, but of voices, helps Tribal members connect deeply to the people and stories that make up the present moment in CPN history.
“Later on, if we have an archive, people can go back and listen to people tell their stories and hear the voices of the people who were doing these things, or if they were an artist making these things or presenting at this event or whatever it may be,” she said.