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Insider: February 19, 2021 — Acast acquires RadioPublic, And I’m Your Host… Stacey Vanek Smith


Acast has acquired RadioPublic.

with the press releaselike PodPass

Terms of the deal were not disclosed… though, frankly, it’s probably safe to assume that it’s somewhat modest. And as a reminder, the company strung together quite a list of investors since its 2016 launch, including: Project 11, The New York Times, TechNexus, Automattic, Bose, WGBH, American Public Media, PRX, and the Knight Foundation. The press release also notes the app will continue operating and “remain functional without change,” despite the acquisition. Also, as part of the deal, RadioPublic Chief Technology Officer Chris Quamme Rhoden and Chief Product Officer Matt MacDonald, both co-founders of the app, will join the Acast team.

I don’t see this as a particularly big or game-changing deal; it feels additive to Acast’s ongoing efforts to keep pace with the emerging Spotify-iHeartMedia-SiriusXM nexus. And I can’t say this outcome is surprising for RadioPublic, particularly since the other other co-founder, Jake Shapiro, left the company a while back to join the Apple Podcasts team. Furthermore, it never felt like the app was able to gain much traction in its bid to provide an alternative point of podcast listening designed to be in sync with the potentialities of the open podcast ecosystem. For what it’s worth, when I look at the company from the outside — particularly squinting at the investor’s list, which includes public media organizations like WGBH, PRX, and American Public Media — my instinct is that the best possible outcome for RadioPublic would’ve been like what we saw with Pocket Casts being acquired by a consortium of public media organizations. Then again, seeing as how that consortium never ended up doing very much with that app and is now reportedly looking to sell it off, maybe that type of gambit was always doomed from the start.

Anyway, perhaps RadioPublic’s pro-open-ecosystem efforts will be furthered under its new management by Acast. We’ll see.

Apple rolls out original podcast that is, as expected, a companion to its original TV series, For All Mankind. This news bite is for all your Apple Podcast observers out there. For more details, hit up this Hollywood Reporter write-up, which also has this line: “Apple’s original podcast efforts coincide with a larger plan to enhance its Podcast app, which is facing competition from audio offerings from Spotify and Amazon.” A larger plan to enhance its Podcast app? I think this is the first time I’m seeing that in print elsewhere.

Anyway, I haven’t watched For All Mankind yet. Is it good? I have, however, watched Ted Lasso, which is the best, and The Morning Show, the season finale of which I found incredibly reprehensible.

Hillary Frank is working on a fiction podcast series? The creator of The Longest Shortest Time announced as such on Twitter this week, noting that it’s been in development for a year and a half and will be released with Lemonada Media. It’s said to be scheduled for a fall drop. I’m intrigued!

Okay, on to Aria…And I’m Your Host… Stacey Vanek Smith. In The Indicator, Planet Money’s efficiently structured podcast spinoff, ledes, jokes, and takeaways are tightly scripted, ostensibly to pack as much as possible into the bite-sized episodes, which clock in around 10 minutes. The result? Learning enough to talk about the specific focus of the day (e.g., surging egg prices) as well as how to talk about it — namely, excitedly.

Co-host Stacey Vanek Smith is part of this effect.

As you might assume by her sixteen-years-plus commitment to steeping in talk about money and economics, she is enthused about what she covers and wants you to be, too; and lest you not be convinced by her or co-host Cardiff Garcia alone, she interviews so strategically as to ensure that such enthusiasm can be heard from sources, as ordinarily stoic as they may be. Such behind-the-scenes care is precisely what makes the show.

Hot Pod: What’s a question you always find yourself asking sources that feels unique to your approach to telling a story?

Stacey Vanek Smith: How did you feel when you found that out/heard that/that happened?

This sounds painfully basic. And it is! But that’s why I like it. As an interviewer, it’s tempting to get fancy and show off how much you know or that you’ve read their book or are familiar with some study… but those show-off questions rarely yield great answers. If I could only ask one question in every interview, this would be it every time. There are a couple things I really like about it.

First, it lets people speak for themselves. People tend to pick up wording, so if I ask, “Were you freaked out?” they will often reply, “Yes, I was freaked out…” Second, this question stops me from assuming I understand what people are experiencing.

Sometimes this will feel too obvious to ask (e.g., “How did you feel when your boss said you were fired?”). But the answer is almost never what I expect: “Honestly, I was relieved. I couldn’t work in that place anymore.” or “I was so angry, I thought I might hit him.” Sometimes people chafe a little at the idea of “feel.” In that case, I will follow up with: “What went through your head when you heard that/that happened?” That gets at the same thing but will often relax people who aren’t so keen on talking about their feelings or who might be feeling a little defensive. (I almost always default to this version when interviewing economists.)

HP: If someone asked you that same question, how would you answer it?

SVS: How did I feel when I got this question? Excited to talk about this, because I believe it so deeply, and I feel like I often hear interviewers trying to show off or make themselves look smart or be the star of the interview (I do this, too, in my less admirable moments) and I really believe simple questions and genuine curiosity are the true keys to a great interview. I’m also a little worried that it won’t translate into text. So much of an audio interview is about connecting with someone. People can ALWAYS tell if you are listening to them, and if you are, they will often open up in ways that are truly extraordinary. I believe in giving people a space to speak and to tell you what they believe and how they feel, and this space is something that can be hard to come by in the world. I have realized how rare it is for people to ask the very basic questions like, “How did you feel when… ?” or even “How are you doing?” and to actually listen to the answer.

HP: Which story that you’ve reported have you been the most attached to?

SVS: “Cow Noir” is the piece that I am most attached to. It was the first piece I reported at Planet Money — I’d come from Marketplace, where I had been reporting for 10 years (mostly three- to four-minute pieces), and this was my first attempt at longform. I went to Oklahoma with the great and amazing Zoe Chace, and we rode around with a cattle cop for a couple of days and even caught two cattle rustlers red handed (well, we were there when the rustlers were caught). The whole experience was magic — the people were amazing talkers, the tape we got was astonishingly great, and I learned so much from Zoe about… all things audio. It was also SO much fun. I remember being in a truck with Jerry Flowers (that was the name of the cattle cop) driving down a red dirt road to a ranch in rural Oklahoma, and Zoe and I were both holding microphones and trying to avoid all of the millions of rifles that were also in the truck and listening to Jerry spin these amazing tales. I couldn’t believe I was doing my job at that moment. I fell in love with longform storytelling on the spot.

HP: Who’s made you the most nervous to interview?

SVS: Ben Bernanke. No contest. I interviewed him about his book when I was at Planet Money. I was at Marketplace when he was Federal Reserve chair and the housing crisis began. I was hosting the Marketplace Morning Report at that time, and I would come in every morning at 1 a.m., and some new catastrophe would have happened — the stock market dropped in half, banks were going under, millions of people were losing their homes… and every morning Ben Bernanke would be trying some radical new monetary policy to try and rescue the economy, and I had to figure out what he had done and what it meant and translate it for radio.

The overnight shift always made me very emotional. Ben Bernanke seemed like this economic superhero, and we were all counting on him, and he was trying everything he could think of to rescue the global economy. And he did! (I realize this is my overwrought interpretation of events, but it was such a scary, confusing, and drastic time; I was very emotional about it.) When I saw him in person, I could barely speak. It was a really hard interview for me to do. (Also, he’s quite intimidating and serious.) I felt like I was interviewing a very stern Superman. My mind kept going blank, and I couldn’t really focus. I kept feeling like I was going to cry. I think he probably thought I was a deeply strange and awkward person. But it was very, very memorable to me.

HP: Ask yourself one question that you want to be asked. Then answer it.

SVS: I started at Marketplace in 2004, so I’ve been in audio for awhile, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. When I first started out, it was a dying industry (there were almost no jobs) and you only chose to go into radio if you felt a weird and inexplicable devotion to the medium (which I did). The question I have thought a lot about is: What are the best and worst things about how audio has changed?

Best: The amazing influx of talent into audio has been awesome to see. The world of audio and audio talent has just exploded. There is so much great and innovative stuff being made right now — it’s an inspiring and exhilarating time to work in audio — [that] it’s attracting so many truly creative and amazing people. The rise of podcasts has totally transformed the industry in the best way. It’s exciting, and I feel like audio is taking its rightful place among art forms like literature, film, etc.

Worst: Audio is ridiculously labor intensive, and with so many startups happening, I see chronic understaffing everywhere. So many people that are new to audio are creating podcasts with a host, a producer and… nothing else. Great audio requires an investment, and I think the dream of a shoestring podcast making millions has shaped the employment situation in audio in ways I don’t love.


Stacey Vanek Smith is a longtime public radio reporter and host. She currently hosts NPR’s The Indicator from Planet Money, a daily podcast covering business and economics. She has also served as a correspondent and host for Planet Money and Marketplace. A native of Idaho, Stacey holds a MS in journalism from Columbia University. She enjoys cooking, eating, reading, rock climbing, and spending hours in her broom-closet recording studio, doing interviews and writing next to a Swiffer.Revolving Door. Got a new job? Tell me — would love to Let The People Know.