BYU students escape loneliness, boredom of quarantine through podcasts

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Podcasts are helping people stay connected during social isolation. As people are forced to stay at home and avoid most social interaction, many are turning to podcasts to explore new topics and get easy, simple entertainment. (Photo illustration by Addie Blacker)

Podcasts have allowed people to connect to each other and explore new things, especially during social isolation.

BYU English professor Gideon Burton said the current pandemic has given some people an excuse to stretch a bit.

“Some people are starting hobbies they haven’t had before,” he said. “(They’re) stretching into new areas instead of digging down into the familiar ones.”

Burton said podcast listening has steadily increased over the last few years and the current climate has allowed more people to try out the podcast they have been wanting to start.

Not only are some people listening to more podcasts, but others are creating them. Burton said its extremely inexpensive to create a podcast — some companies are even offering COVID podcasting packages that include microphone equipment and how-to books.

BYU student Sam Jacobs said quarantine has increased the amount of podcast content being generated. “I think the stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders have motivated digital content makers.”

Jacob enrolled in a podcast class at BYU during winter semester that was taught by Burton. In the class, Jacob and other students created groups to produce their own podcasts.

Jacob and his classmate Jace Einfeldt created their podcast “The Lit-Knitters” for the class and are still producing episodes even though the course ended.

The show discusses common links between pieces of classic literature and contemporary media like movies and TV shows.

One episode explores the similarities between the popular AMC television show “Breaking Bad” and the sixteenth-century play “Doctor Faustus.”

Jacob said they wanted to extend academic conversations from formal circles to a more commonplace and popular setting. “Podcasts offer that sort of setting really well.”

Another student in Burton’s class, Erika Free, spent her time in class creating “The Instant POT-Cast,” a podcast that looks at all the ways you can use an Instant Pot. The show records the banter of the hosts while they cook with an Instant Pot.

“I love cooking and food-related media, but I found relatively few podcasts that involved actual cooking,” Free said.

Not all podcasts are nonfiction and discussion-based. Some, like “Radioland,” are fictional narrative podcasts. “Radioland.” released in September of 2019, is the brainchild of BYU Media Arts students Sam Burton and Abi Hunsaker.

Hunsaker, who produces the show, described it as an experimental audio drama. The show has voice acting and foley sound effects, similar to radio shows of the 1950s and 60s.

The intention was to make something fun, new and thought-provoking, said Hunsaker.

“The idea was to give the listener ambiguity that they could interpret their own way, instead of spoon feeding them the themes we were attempting to convey,” she said.

To do so, Hunsaker and her team mixed sections of poetry, immersive soundscapes and musical interludes within the straight-forward storytelling.

No matter the genre, podcasts provide entertainment and learning to listeners easily and in a way that allows multitasking.

Listeners can also do many things, like travel, cook, clean or exercise while they tune into a podcast, something Jacob said makes podcasts approachable and popular.

Jacob and Einfeldt, along with fellow BYU student Preston Thatcher had to stop their in-person planning meetings and recordings once COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were enforced.

They use platforms like Zoom to record episodes, which have made achieving high-quality audio difficult. Despite this, Jacob said quarantine has helped them produce different types of episodes that relate to current unique living conditions.

This screenshot shows Jace Einfeldt, Sam Jacob and Preston Thatcher using Zoom to plan episodes for their podcast The Lit-Knitters. Social distancing has not stopped the three BYU students from continuing to produce their show. (Sam Jacob)

Part of these unique living conditions is social isolation and distancing. Recent BYU graduate and Orem resident Mary Wall said podcasts have helped her feel like she is with people and feel less lonely since some podcasts she listens to make her feel like she is hanging out with the hosts, who feel like friends to her. Podcast also She’s developed a routine of when she listens to certain podcasts during her day.

“It has really helped solidify some sense of normalcy during this pandemic,” she said.

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