In the age of COVID-19, everyone is feeling the effects, even the podcasting community. With stay-at-home mandates in place, people are not commuting to work or school, which was prime time for podcast listening. With a dip in traveling comes a dip in podcast listening.
According to Podtrac, a data trends source for podcast publishers and advertisers, downloads in the space have dropped about 10% since the start of March. However, not everyone is seeing that drop. Podcasting giant Acast Network reported a 7% global increase in listens from March 21-22, its biggest weekend ever.
Locally, the rise in listens has been even more significant. Brian Baltosiewich, founder of the Queen City Podcast Network, which puts out 26 Charlotte-based podcasts, says traffic has increased by more than 30% since mid-March.
In Charlotte, the podcasting community is still thriving and creating. There has been a lot of creativity coming from black podcasters in the city over the last year, since long before COVID-19 had us all holed up inside looking for new ways to put out content.
Queen City Nerve caught up with three podcasts that are doing it for the culture to see how they’re adapting — or in one case starting anew — during these trying times.
A collective of three friends — Paul Duncan, Jefe Lockhart and Gardy Swengbe — launced the Free Breakfast podcast in February 2019, interviewing Charlotte’s creative class to help inspire listeners to take steps toward doing something great. Guests have ranged from well-known Charlotte rappers like Elevator Jay and Deniro Farrar, to lesser known guests like West Charlotte High School basketball standout Patrick Williams and entrepreneurs like Rico of Sole Individual and Banks from Fat Boy Tires & Auto.
Duncan, better known as DJ Pauly Guwop, serves as engineer and co-host. He describes the podcast as an online space that provides teachable moments and champions relationship: “If we can just teach someone something or help them along their path just through them listening to this story and that story, then I feel accomplished.”
Co-host and producer Lockhart said he also views the podcast as a platform to inspire listeners to push their life journey forward while giving listeners “food for thought.” Not everyone’s creative path is the same, but he sees the podcast as a way to help inspire folks to take the first step down whatever path they choose.
This free sharing of knowledge, providing inspiration and promoting the importance of relationships drove the team to name the podcast Free Breakfast. It pushes the principles of the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for School Children program, launched at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland, California, in 1969.
“The Black Panthers used their voice and the food to help the community. I think we are just using our voice to help the community in ways to help teach them something toward their life’s journey,” Lockhardt explained. “[The podcast] is here for the people. That is how it correlates to the Black Panthers in my eyes because they were there for the people.”
Beyond teaching, the podcast is striving to share authentic relationships and show the power of building networks.
Duncan shared, “We are leveraging our relationships. It is important that we show that to our consumers so they see the importance and power of networking.”
That focus on building a network is another way they feel Free Breakfast is connected to the Black Panther Party’s principles. Duncan said the Black Panthers mastered networking along with the aspect of giving “free game.”
The name and the mission of the podcast may be on the heavier side, but the podcast is filled with levity. “It may have been a 45-minute interview and we kept you laughing for 40 of those minutes, but you may learn something in five of those minutes,” said Lockhart.
The crew films each podcast episode, of which there are now 11 since its launch, and the audio or visuals can be found on YouTube, SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts thanks to show director Swengbe, with a new episode every month.
It took a kickball game for three high school friends — David Spellmon, Ken Wabibi and Lloyd Whitfield — to recognize just how vast of a network of interesting folks they knew, and that served as the inspiration for the Jack of All Spades podcast, which launched in July 2019, with the three hosts dropping two episodes a month.
“The kickball game gave birth to the podcast because from that event we realized we were all separately connected to so many people,” Whitfield said. “We just wanted to bring all our networks and talent into one and make something bigger out of it,” said Whitfield.
That something bigger involves a goal to bring folks together by introducing the audience to the people, places and things they should know. The guys enjoy highlighting hidden gems in the crown of the Queen City.
“Some of the people we have had on our podcast may be known in their circles, but we are exposing them to a lot more people,” explained Wabibi.
With three co-hosts, one would think it would be hard for anyone else to get a word in edgewise, but they’re purposeful about giving the guest the spotlight in each of their episodes.
“When a guest comes on the show, we let them know that this is about you,” explained Spellmon. “We are just the mouthpiece to help build community.”
Jack of All Spades builds community by steeping information in hip-hop culture and relating much of the content to music in general. The result helps show black and brown youth that they can do something positive too.
“We are highlighting the positives, and hopefully a young person will listen and want to do this too,” said Spellmon. “Or, they get information where they can advance themselves.”
For new information about Charlotte’s people, places and things dripping in hip hop culture, find episodes streaming on Anchor.fm/jack-of-all-spades as well as on Spotify, YouTube and other podcast platforms.
People are hungry for coronavirus content, and plenty of folks have stepped up to fill that demand. Acast alone hosted 1,400 podcast episodes with “corona” or “COVID” in the title between Jan. 22 and March 25, with those episodes getting more than 27.5 million downloads.
Now Charlotte has its own coronavirus-inspired podcast: The Quarantine Couch. The idea was germinated in the mind of Perrine DeShield, who’s a co-host and co-producer of the podcast. She pulled in her partner Will Jenkins as co-host and co-producer to round out the show.
DeShield and Jenkins focus on day-to-day happenings related to the coronavirus, but in an entertaining fashion that’s a far cry from the constant anxiety-inducing headlines.
“We hope the podcast will bring some type of joy and normalcy each week,” said Jenkins. “Right now we are all just looking for ways to keep our day as normal as possible while we are confined to our homes.”
The two share a new episode every Tuesday and Thursday on their podcast page. They interview guests, share about life in quarantine, laugh about the latest memes, and shoutout changemakers in the nonprofit sector during the show.
DeShield said the goal is to not interrupt the peace of listeners during this time of struggle.
“The show brings positivity, peace and a bright light,” she explained.
This peace and bright light through podcasting will exist as long as the stay-at-home order is intact, the couple agreed.
“This is more specifically for what is happening right now,” Jenkins said. “It doesn’t mean we will not continue to podcast in some other way or form. Right now The Quarantine Couch is for these times to help people get an extra perspective and get some extra brightness during these trying times of being in the house and social distancing.”
With everyone (or most everyone) doing their best to follow the statewide stay-at-home order, The Quarantine Couch is not only wanting to share their perspective, they want to hear from listeners. The hosts invite listeners to email them show ideas and topics at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find episodes on Anchor.fm, Spotify, and Apple Podcast.
Charlotte has a lot of great podcasts to explore. During these times while we’re all shut in, what better excuse to dive into the local flavor of the medium?
The above podcasts are the newest from black creatives in Charlotte, but they aren’t the only ones. Be sure to check out the Catch a Vibe podcast, hosted by Glen Byrd Jr. and Melanie Roach. Also, Sharelle Burt and Sierra Tribble host Headwraps & Lipsticks. We also recommend Crafted by Cradle hosted by Keith Cradle and Here & Doing Things with David Butler. Rod & Karen Morrow The Black Guy Who Tips, one of the most renowned podcasts coming out of Charlotte.
Don’t forget Queen City Nerve hosts the Nooze Hounds podcast every two weeks, dropping on the Friday following our print issue publication. Find editor-in-chief Ryan Pitkin and publisher Justin LaFrancois discussing serious local news topics in a not-so-serious way on our website, on Spotify or at other spots where you find podcasts. You can check out the Queen City Podcast Network for more Charlotte-based podcasts.