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Local podcasters add their voices to a growing trend

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    ‘Toledo Matters’ podcast audio engineer Nathan Lewis records an episode in their studio.

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    Sam Melden is the host of a new podcast, “A Call From...”

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There are so many buttons.

Push one toward the bottom, and a crowd boos. Push another: claps and cheers.

Danny Woodcock has a new favorite toy to use during interviews with guests on the Toledo Matters podcast.

Woodcock, 24, is a co-host on the relatively new podcast, produced by three Toledoans including Woodcock, Bob Tucker, 32, and Nathan Lewis, 33. The show, with a new episode released every other Thursday, started last August. Episode 0 introduced listeners to the trio and their mission in bringing Toledo-minded individuals and information to their audience.

“This is going to be a podcast about Toledo and Toledoans and interesting things they’ve done and are doing in town,” Tucker said during the introductory episode.

While Toledo Matters isn’t the first podcast to be produced in town, it’s one of a growing number as the popularity of podcasts — listening and producing — grows.

As of 2016, 21 percent of Americans 12 or older say they’ve listened to a podcast within the last month, up from the 12 percent who said the same in 2013, according to a survey by Edison Research. The same survey states that 36 percent of Americans have, at least once, listened to a podcast.

The numbers are relatively small but, considering only half of Americans have ever heard of a podcast, not bad.

The most-popular podcast to date, Serial, became a near household name in 2014 when reporter Sarah Koenig kicked off a multi-series show re-examining the 1999 murder of Maryland teenager Hae Min Lee, whose former boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of the crime. That show, a spin-off of WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life, had millions of listeners.

Toledo podcasting is less popular, but the audiences the shows target are pretty niche. Toledo Matters and A Call From … both focus on the local community, so the audience is generally limited to people with an interest in what's happening in the Toledo area.

The Of10Podcast, produced by Will Lucas, 36, of Toledo, focuses on minorities who are successful in technology, so his audience is most likely to be people interested in the tech industry.

“Tech is less than 10 percent of the content,” Lucas said. “There’s a lot of business and success story-type dialogue.”

Toledo Matters averages about 200 listens per episode; Of10 episodes are played 5,000 to 7,000 times. A Call From …, the newest podcast on the local scene, has averaged 100 listeners an episode since it launched at the end of May.

Podcast production is growing, in part, due to ease.

Sam Melden, 32, of Toledo, the one-man-band behind A Call From ..., started podcasting for that very reason. Most of his show — each episode is 15 to 20 minutes long — is produced with his iPhone. He purchased a $10 app that records his phone conversations; he uploads the file to Google Drive, records a short introduction, and does some post-production work in Garage Band before uploading the finished product to Sound Cloud.

“It’s part experiment, part that it’s so easy for me,” said Melden, of Leadership Toledo.

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Sam Melden is the host of a new podcast, “A Call From...”

THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
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Melden’s idea for a podcast came from simply having conversations about issues, most with local implications, that interest him.

“I want to have that conversation, so why not record it and let other people listen?” he said.

Episodes, so far, have touched on bicycle culture, local businesses, politics, and gun control.

“Why am I so interested in that? I think the reason is that my hobby is the common good,” he said. “I want to know people's stories. What are they doing to push for or propel the common good, and I want to reverse engineer that out and say, ‘How did that happen for you?’

“Each episode, ‘Tell me the big, huge lofty things you think about the world and then why is that so meaningful to you,’” Melden said.

Each episode is born out of a more-in depth conversation he’s had with his guest, so he’s able to compress a major issue into a brief show. He skips a lot of what he calls the “fluff” — a person's background and where they come from, unless it's relevant — to go “straight to the scene of the crime, straight to that issue, and I end with ‘How do we move forward?’”

Lucas’s Of10 podcast has recorded three 10-episode seasons, exactly two seasons more than he ever expected.

He started the podcast, he said, as a way to increase interest in technology among minority children. During a conversation about drawing more kids into the industry, he said, “Kids need someone who looks like them. They need a black Mark Zuckerberg. After that conversation I kicked myself, because I realized we have those people but they’re not household names.”

The series was born; he reached out to major players in tech who also happen to be minorities. He asks them what they do, but more importantly, he said, how they got to that point.

“I want to hear the story of how they realized tech is not only possible but possible for them,” said Lucas, who has a growing reputation of his own in the tech industry.

The podcast, he said, is making a difference.

“Will’s mission to highlight Black heroes in the tech industry is so important and so welcome,” wrote one reviewer. “When we see that it’s possible, we can believe that it’s possible.”

Another review on iTunes dubbed Lucas “the Male Oprah of Podcasting.”

The men behind Toledo Matters said they hope their podcast is a bit of boosterism for Toledo, showcasing people and places.

“I’m not from here, but everyone [talks badly about] this city,” Woodcock said. “I was sick and tired of hearing people talk about the negative, so let’s talk about the positive. There’s a lot of great stuff in this city.”

Tucker, a lawyer at RCO Law, said he’s an avid podcast listener and kicked around the idea of starting one. (Starting another one, really. He and Lewis hosted a podcast together about a decade ago.) During an EPIC Toledo breakfast, in which Joe Napoli, president and general manager of the Toledo Mud Hens and Toledo Walleye, suggested someone should start a podcast about Toledo, lightbulbs illuminated for Tucker and Woodcock.

They’ve since had Napoli on the show to talk about Hensville.

Each of the podcasts can be downloaded on iTunes or streamed on the shows’ websites: of10podcast.com, toledomatters.com, and samuelmelden.com/​acallfrom.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.

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