The Path to Podcasts

By Arleigh Rodgers '21, Marisa Thomas '22, May 13, 2022

IC alumni make their mark in the podcasting world.

The term “Pod People” might have its roots in 1950s science-fiction, but over the past decade, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was referring to your friends, co-workers, or even yourself. That’s because each year, the popularity of podcasts continues to spread across the country. According to data from Pew Research, the percentage of Americans aged 12 and older who said they listened to a podcast in the past month had increased from 12% in 2013 to 41% in 2021.

With more than two million podcasts available to listen to, it’s no surprise that there are members of the Ithaca College community who built on their experiences on South Hill to carve their niche in the podcasting world. And these alumni aren’t just the ones in front of a microphone. They’re involved with the medium in a variety of different ways, each of them bringing their talents to a growing industry

Recognize the Trend

Steven Goldstein ’79, is the founder and CEO of Amplifi Media, a strategic advisory firm that guides companies with their podcast and voice initiatives.

Steven Goldstein headshot

Steven Goldstein '79 (Photo submitted)

Before he founded Amplifi in 2015, Goldstein was a founding partner of Saga Communications, a publicly traded radio company in markets all over the country — including Ithaca. It was there, he said, that he started to notice a shift: radio was shrinking, and streaming platforms were growing.

“I started seeing the change in how people were consuming content, certainly on the TV side,” he said. “Watching Netflix and ‘House of Cards’ on demand is very different than watching ‘Grey's Anatomy’ at eight o'clock on Thursday night.”

Goldstein said his experiences and connections from his time at IC, particularly the college’s award-winning radio station WICB, was an excellent foundation. When he began working at WVOX, a commercial radio station in his hometown of New Rochelle, New York, several of the staff members were IC alumni.

“The ability to try things at the college radio station and the exposure to key people in the business was absolutely the essential platform for what I believe is my success and for many people who graduated around the same time,” he said.

Find a Niche

In her role as the founder and principal at The COOPERation, Meryl Weinsaft Cooper ’92 likes to say that she helps the communications company represent “everything that makes life worth living,” such as drinking, dining, art, travel, and yes, podcasts.

Headshot of Meryl Weinsaft Cooper

Meryl Weinsaft Cooper ’92 (Photo submitted)

“It’s such a young industry,” she said. “Over the last few years, a lot of our clientele has gone into the podcast space in some way. And as this field is getting bigger, it’s become another avenue for arts and culture institutions to expand their audience.”

One such institution is The Museum of the City of New York, which has an innovative podcast series “Your Hometown.” Hosted by historian Kevin Burke, the podcast features a mix of well-known and everyday New Yorkers sharing stories about their hometowns and how living there has shaped them.

There’s also the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Dedicated to Islamic art, Iranian art and Muslim culture, the museum also has a bi-weekly podcast called “This Being Human,” which gives artists, writers, and thinkers a chance to share thoughts on “the kaleidoscope of Muslim experience.”

Cooper’s role in helping these podcasts find their niche requires her to take nuggets of interesting information and “connect the dots” in a way that shapes narratives, highlights trends, and ultimately, amplify people’s stories. And she credits her time at Ithaca College for helping her craft that skill.

“What I really appreciated about my time at IC was that we were exposed to so many different aspects of communication technology,” she said. “We learned how to produce, write, and direct. That trained me on how to piece together a story.”

And while we’ve all heard jokes about how there’s already a podcast devoted to anything you might want to learn more about, Cooper says there’s still plenty of opportunity in the industry.

“If you’re scrappy and you’re creative and you can connect the dots, there’s still a lot of ocean to be had,” she said.

Grow the Audience

For other alumni, the path to podcast success has been less straightforward. In 2016, Jeff Umbro ’10 founded The Podglomerate, which produces everything from the food podcast “Green Eggs and Dan” to “Storybound,” which features authors and writers reading their stories in immersive sound environments. In total, it represents more than 40 podcasts that generate a combined monthly download figure of 3 million.

Jeff Umbro standing in front of equipment

Jeff Umbro ’10. (Photo submitted)

This career path is a significant departure for Umbro, who was a writing major who wanted to pursue book publishing before he broke into podcasting. His first stint in audio was “Writers Who Don’t Write,” a podcast he created with classmate Kyle Craner ’10 that featured interviews with authors about their careers.

“I was doing it because it was a lot of fun,” Umbro said of this initial endeavor. “It was an excuse to talk to these authors who I love. But I really started to see the utility and the business appeal of it.”

He took a networking approach to creating The Podglomerate — a space for smaller creators that developed quickly. The Podglomerate executes audience growth campaigns, works with clients like the Lit Hub, Andreessen Horowitz, Expedia, and CVS, and sells ads on behalf of the shows it represents.

As Umbro’s experience shows, for current students looking to break into the audio industry, adaptability is key. As it grows, the podcast industry has new tools, publishers, and audience trends to explore every day. Information and tools that might not have been available to you just a few years ago might now be at your fingertips.

Umbro urges students to be trend-setters, rather than followers.

“My advice would be to pinpoint where you see a need in the market and spend your time there,” he said. “It's entirely about creating a community that you want to be a part of.  Be a sponge and absorb whatever you can.”

Love the Subject

Of course, it’s no surprise that there are also alumni who work in front of the microphones as hosts. One of those is actor Taylor Misiak ’14, co-host of the podcast “Table Flipping” with Alyssa Litman.

Taylor Misiak ’14, co-host of the podcast “Table Flipping” with Alyssa Litman.

Taylor Misiak ’14 (left) and Alyssa Litman (Photo submitted)

The comedy-centric podcast — which is part of The Podglomerate — covers reality television shows like “The Bachelor” and “Love Island.”

Misiak said that when she and Litman first met, they bonded over their love for unscripted reality television and, when they created the podcast, named it after the time a member of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” cast flipped a table during an argument.

They also bonded over learning the technical aspects of production.

“Alyssa and I started producing without the help of a network initially," Misiak said. "It's been exciting and empowering to be able to do that stuff on our own.”

On their podcast, Misiak and Litman recap the shows they’re currently watching, and then interview a guest to dive deeper into a specific topic related to reality TV.

The ability to commiserate with other fans of the shows they discuss is a highlight for Misiak.

“[Alyssa] came to me and said that we should do this podcast because we thought it would be really fun to interview fellow writers and actors about their favorite characters and scenes in reality TV and how they have influenced their work in the scripted realm,” she said.  

Follow the Future

For some members of the IC community, their mark in the podcasting world began during their time on South Hill. Although they have since graduated, television-radio majors, Gavin Berger ‘21, Leah Ettinger ‘21 and Chris Ashe ’21 produced and created “This Strange World,” a podcast centered on oddities such as conspiracy theories, wacky laws, video games, and various other subjects.

Gavin Berger ‘21, Leah Ettinger ‘21 and Chris Ashe ’21 sitting with their award in front of them

Gavin Berger ‘21, Leah Ettinger ‘21 and Chris Ashe ’21. (Photo submitted)

The unique concept for the show caught the attention of the mainstream media when it was named an honorable mention in NPR’s College Edition of its 2021 Student Podcast Challenge.

The 6-minute, 38-second episode tackled the origin of famous phrases, such as “Close but no cigar”  which, as Ashe explained came from mid 20th-century fairground stalls that used to give out cigars as prizes; “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” a proverb that, according to Ettinger, dates back to the medieval practice of falconry; and “Take with a grain of salt,” which Berger said has references back to 77 A.D., possibly in an antidote to a poison.

The origin of the podcast itself was more straightforward: it was a final project in the trio’s Topics in Media Technology course, which they worked on with two other students. After completing the project, the three of them decided to continue to produce episodes.

“It’s crazy because usually you start something and you’re trying to decide ‘Where is it going to go?’ and then it’s become bigger than we all thought it would be,” said Ashe, who is currently a production assistant for the National Football League.

And though the group dealt with challenges as the course went from in-person to virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, they also found that, with people more isolated, their show, along with the medium in general, gained in popularity.

“It was almost surreal, to see our names on the NPR website and seeing it in the Honorable Mentions. We had just kind of thrown our thing into there to see what would happen and the reception has been terrific.”

Chris Ashe ’21

“Throughout the pandemic podcasting had blown up immensely because people couldn’t interact with each other face to face. It took our podcast to another level,” said Ettinger, who is a post-production assistant at the CW Network. 

“This Strange World,” which as of February 2021 has 64 total episodes, often brings in guest speakers, has been listened to in more than 30 countries, and its creators are proud of their national recognition.

“It was almost surreal, to see our names on the NPR website and seeing it in the Honorable Mentions,” Ashe said. “We had just kind of thrown our thing into there to see what would happen and the reception has been terrific.”

“I’m happy to say that I’ve done something good at Ithaca College, and accomplished something,” Ettinger said.

The trio hasn’t slowed down since graduating and are eager to see what lies ahead for them.

“Having recognition makes us believe that it’ll keep going,” Berger said. “We’re all interested in seeing how much bigger it gets.”