Paola Mardo during an interview in LA’s Historic Filipinotown. Credit: Patrick Epino.

Hi. I’m Paola Mardo.

I host and produce Long Distance, a podcast about stories in the Philippine diaspora.

On the show’s first episode, I shared my “long distance story,” how I grew up in the diaspora, and how I am not alone. Like the manongs of Stockton, California also featured in that episode, Filipinos have a long history of leaving the homeland in search of opportunity in a foreign one. I made Long Distance because I wanted to find out why and how this happened and to help tell the stories of the millions of people who are part of this transnational Filipino experience.

Since Long Distance launched in October 2018, we’ve published audio tales that include a long distance love story with chapters in Manila, Saudi Arabia, and Los Angeles; how Bay Area rapper Ruby Ibarra makes music about biculturalism and colorism; and how Filipino immigrants served as LA’s original Tiki bartenders. Long Distance has been featured on Apple Podcasts’ New and Noteworthy, Spotify Podcasts, Rappler, Fast Company, Bello Collective’s 100 Outstanding Podcasts of 2018, and more. And we’ve received some truly inspiring and heartfelt messages and reviews from listeners all over the world.

As we wrap our first season and begin production on a second one, I wanted to take the time to share a couple of things I’ve learned in making Long Distance. I hope this will be helpful for people who want to make podcasts or who want to tell and/or listen to stories about the Philippine diaspora.

Telling our stories is important. But it takes time… and a lot of drafts.

Long Distance is a podcast for us and by us — F.U.B.U., as my fellow producer, Patrick Epino, says. But it took a lot of time and effort to develop the concept for the podcast, as well as the style and format of the show.

The idea for Long Distance started around 2016 when I began working on an audio project about Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown. After interviewing folks in this community, I realized that even if I didn’t grow up in LA, and I grew up in other countries, I still related to their stories because of our diasporic connection. I also found that the complexities of our community’s transnational experiences are rarely featured in mainstream media. It took a lot of iterating, but I eventually decided to make a narrative, documentary-style podcast that would help tell these stories.

In coming up with the concept for Long Distance as a podcast, I found that the best way to get this done is to write things out. I answered simple questions like: What is the podcast about? Who is it for? How will it sound? Then I produced a pilot episode to find out what worked and what didn’t. I shared this pilot episode with friends and family for feedback. It took several months and a lot of draft episodes, but eventually, I landed on a first episode that I was happy with and a podcast concept that felt right. I even had a plan for the future: while the first season of Long Distance would start with stories I had access to, subsequent seasons would evolve to cover stories across the country and around the world. (So stay tuned!)

Paola Mardo recording sounds on a beach. Credit: Patrick Epino.

Make sure your podcast sounds good.

In radio, the general goal is to make sure your programs are so good that the listener won’t change the station. On a podcast, you want to make sure your listener does not stop playing your episode, delete the episode without finishing or–even worse–remove your podcast from their feed. In my opinion, treating your listeners with respect and giving them the gift of a great sounding podcast will help avoid all of that. And it all starts with making sure you get a quality audio recording.

It sounds really basic, but good audio can make all the difference and will ease your editing process. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away–you can and will learn as you go–but it should be good enough for you and your listeners. Long Distance includes all kinds of audio: narration, voice acting, music, and on-location or field recordings. Using proper microphones and recording equipment can help with getting good sound, but so does good mic placement and technique. You do NOT have to spend thousands of dollars on audio equipment, especially when you’re just starting out. But investing in a quality mic and recorder will make all the difference, as does practicing and reading up on recording techniques. Sites like Transom.org and NPR Training provide options for equipment based on different budgets, as well as tips on recording and other radio and podcasting things.

Long Distance artwork by Celina Calma. Title design by Paola Mardo.

Make sure your podcast looks good.

Yes, podcasting is all about sound, but your podcast needs to be seen, too. How your show looks on a podcast platform feed, on social media, anywhere on the internet, and in real life can impact listenership and discoverability. The visual brand of your podcast is important and it includes your artwork, website, and marketing assets like photographs, illustrations, videos, and social media graphics. Make sure these fit together into one cohesive brand that makes sense for you and your show. The podcast landscape is growing rapidly and becoming increasingly more corporate. A good podcast visual brand can help you stand out from the over 700,000 podcasts in the marketplace.

For Long Distance, I wanted the artwork to be something that signified travel and was a subtle nod to Filipino culture. After a lot of brainstorming and sketching, I put together a minimalist balikbayan box-style logo on Photoshop and shared it with different people for feedback. Then I worked with Celina Calma, an artist I met through Instagram, to work on a more textured version of my design that would match the vibe of the show and incorporate her dope watercolor style. I added the title design and later produced different sizes and specs for various print and online needs.

Personally, I think the artwork for Long Distance is simple and its colors make it stand out in a feed. Even though a lot of folks don’t realize what it is exactly (a balikbayan box, amirite??), some totally get it and that’s cool with me.

Paola Mardo and Patrick Epino with the Little Manila After School Program in Stockton, California. Credit: LMASP.

Think audience, always.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about making Long Distance is the deeply emotional connection that listeners have told me they feel with the stories, characters, and places featured on the show. Right now, this audience is just one part of the huge Philippine diaspora, but it’s a start. Knowing who your audience is and listening to their needs is very important for both making a podcast and sustaining it.

I guess I’m sort of the target audience for Long Distance, so that helped me shape the show initially. But listening to and learning more about the show’s growing audience is helping me evolve it. I make it a point to engage with listeners on social platforms and to respond to messages when I can. We even created a listener survey and spoke with some listeners one-on-one to learn more about their needs and interests in the show. Learning from the people who listen to your show can help you figure out ways to improve your show and fix blind spots. For Long Distance, I want to make sure I serve the needs of my audience while maintaining my original goals and vision for the podcast.

What’s Next for Long Distance?

I started Long Distance on my own time and my own dime because I wanted to help tell stories of the Philippine diaspora. In January 2019, Long Distance was selected as 1 of 6 teams from over 6,000 applications and more than 100 countries to be part of the inaugural Google Podcasts creator program with PRX. We received seed funding and training to help us further develop Long Distance and begin production on a second season.

Now, we’re entering a new phase of Long Distance. And we need the support of our present and future listeners to get us through the production finish line and to make this a sustainable podcast that will last for many seasons to come. If you want to help build the future of Long Distance, please consider joining the Long Distance Radio Club Patreon. You’ll gain membership benefits like early access to episodes, online podcasting and storytelling workshops, and limited edition Long Distance swag. I talk more about all of this in the video below and on the Patreon page.

It’s been a wild journey since I began this project in 2016, but we’re just getting started. I hope some of these tips help you in your podcast or Philippine diaspora storytelling journey. I look forward to sharing more in the future and I hope you’ll consider joining me in this next chapter of Long Distance.

Listen to Long Distance on any podcast platform or at LongDistanceRadio.com. Support the Long Distance Patreon at Patreon.com/LongDistanceRadio.

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