Amid ongoing pandemic, here are 8 eastern Iowa podcasts to listen to in 2021
The pandemic changed a lot in 2020 — including not only the media we consume but how we consume it.
The Verge reported in July that, while the number of people listening to podcasts had only seen a slight increase after 4-6 months of the pandemic, the amount of content listeners were consuming had doubled — at least on Spotify.
If those statistics have remained even close to consistent, then many regular podcast listeners are likely running short on things to listen to even as the pandemic persists. So for those who are interested in adding more local podcasts to their rotation, here are eight podcasts based out of eastern Iowa or with connections to the area to check out in 2021:
1. The Englert Theatre's 'Best Show Ever'
“I’m pretty sure it was the brainchild of Andre Perry (the Englert's executive director) and John (Schickedanz, the Englert's marketing director),” Elly Hofmaier, the Englert’s marketing engagement coordinator and the host of the "Best Show Ever," told the Press-Citizen in a recent interview. “They wanted to continue providing and acting on the Englert’s mission of inspiring and activating arts in our community.”
Of all the podcasts on this list, “Best Show Ever” is perhaps the most locally-focused. In the average 40-minute episode, Hofmaier speaks with one or more area figures about the arts scene, playing into the idea of Iowa City as "greatest small city for the arts in America."
Guests on the weekly show range from Genevieve Trainor and Matt Steele from the Little Village to North Liberty City Councilor RaQuisha Harrington and Sujit Singh, the executive director at Combined Efforts.
"It’s not just people in the arts — it’s doctors and politicians and store owners and chefs," Hofmaier explains. “The podcast is continuing through to (2021). It will be interesting to see how the conversations morph as the pandemic hopefully does come to an end."
► Listen on Spotify:"Best Show Ever"
2. The University of Iowa's 'Ethnomusicology Today'
University of Iowa music instructor Dr. Trevor Harvey has been operating "Ethnomusicology Today" since 2015, though the show has only averaged two episodes per year that have run 15- to 40-minutes long.
Each episode examines music from a variety of cultures and backgrounds by viewing the music of a given culture as a social process. The most recent episode examines Latin American brass bands, while past episodes have taken on topics like Indian film music and Japanese chindon-ya.
Though Harvey has been producing the show for the latter half of the last decade, the primary driving force behind it has been UI undergraduate music students. Harvey reads and records the script and publishes the podcast, but it's the students who do most of the preparation.
“(We're encouraging) an awareness of the vital importance of music, and musical expression is part of humanity and this is a global phenomenon," Harvey told the Press-Citizen in 2019. "Music is not just entertainment, it’s not just a pastime, but it plays a really critical role ... (around the world in) social, political, religious, economic life."
► Listen on Spotify:"Ethnomusicology Today"
Despite FilmScene not hosting any public screenings in the latter half of 2020, those who have become familiar with the Iowa City nonprofit's crew from frequent visits will likely find comfort in this podcast.
Launched early in the year, after the pandemic, the biweekly podcast has episodes under an hour-long that often speak to the films featured in FilmScene's virtual theater.
“That’s sort of our north star," FilmScene programming director Rebecca Fons tells the Press-Citizen, "but we’ve had different guests who come in and talk about their five favorite scary movies or cult classics."
The project began when UI associate professor Nathan Platte, who teaches music and film history, approached FilmScene about the possibility of doing a podcast. Already a fan of the organization and having worked with the local theater in the past, he pitched the show as one way to continue to speak to the community.
“It’s a way of being able to speak to the people who would normally be going to FilmScene," said Platte, who edits the podcast and co-hosts the episodes with Fons. "Here’s a way of connecting with the FilmScene in a time that we feel so divided.”
BONUS PODCAST: Platte is also in the final stages of producing “Sounding Cinema,” a podcast he's co-creating with UI student Anastasia Scholze that focuses on sound in film. The first episode focuses on "West Side Story" and is expected to be released early this year.
► Listen on Spotify: "FilmCastPodScene"
4. Hancher Auditorium's'Hancher Presents'
Much like FilmScene, Hancher Auditorium was largely closed to visitors over the course of 2020, but “Hancher Presents” predates COVID-19.
Hosted by the auditorium's staff, the show talks to various out-of-town artists who are collaborating with Hancher or performing at the auditorium, as well as eastern Iowa creators like Garth Greenwell or Miriam Alarcón Avila.
As the pandemic took hold this year, the show pivoted to conversations with creators about making art in a world where audiences can't gather. Episodes typically run about 40 minutes, though they range a bit from 30 minutes to just over an hour.
► Listen on Spotify:"Hancher Presents"
5. Dreamwell Theatre's'The House is Open'
As the pandemic kept local theaters from staging live theater events through much of 2020, too, Iowa City theatre troupe Dreamwell Theatre launched "The House is Open."
"As a writer, I’m always trying to edit my stuff and get the best; to do that, it helps me have the play be read by actors," Colin Mattox, the podcast's creator, told the Press-Citizen in November of bringing the idea to Dreamwell. "With a few notable exceptions in the area, there’s not a lot of platforms for playwrights — (live theater) is a very specific medium if that’s what you write for."
The show, which premiered in December, tags local playwrights for original scripts to be read and performed by Dreamwell Theatre performers. Each episode, which producers hope to release monthly, focuses on a new script, the first of which is "Bigfoot Takes a Walk," from UI student Liv Schnieder.
Each standard episode is followed by a talkback with Dreamwell Theatre director Madona Smith and Melissa Kaska, the theater's board's secretary alongside the actors and playwright.
► Listen on Spotify:"The House is Open"
6. 'Sex with Ghosts'
Though not based out of eastern Iowa, "Sex with Ghosts" is a new podcast from comedian Bridget Flaherty and her friend Mollie McBreen, Iowa natives who met as students at the University of Iowa.
"If we start at the very beginning of conception, (the creation of the podcast) would have been two nights before Mollie’s wedding, when she suggested we should do a podcast together," Flaherty told the Press-Citizen. "It took a pandemic to get the idea really in motion."
The weekly podcast released its first episode in August, with each typically about an hour in length. The show covers a menagerie of topics from the Gaelic origins of Halloween to discussion of "the Superman curse." Each episode sees McBreen researching a topic Flaherty likes to talk about as the two unpack it over the course of the show.
"Our relationship is built around being able to talk about anything," McBreen said of the show and the duo's dynamic.
► Listen on Spotify:"Sex with Ghosts"
7. 'Thread the Needle'
The Press-Citizen first introduced readers to "Thread the Needle,” a podcast from UI graduate Donna Cleveland, in December 2019. Cleveland describes the program as "a monthly podcast that explores the meeting place between feminist ideals and the realities of women’s lives."
Since then, Cleveland's published new episodes and concluded the show's first season in late November with the episode “The Only Black Man in Town.”
“I happened to read a headline from the Des Moines Register that the Midwest is one of the worst places to live if you're Black," Cleveland recalled from the second half of 2020, a portion of the year marked by protests for racial justice and an end for police brutality.
The episode opens with former Burlington resident Zone Cashus sharing his experience running the only Black-owned restaurant in town. From there, Cleveland speaks to experts on the history and race theory pertaining to the Midwest.
“I think what struck me about (Chaus') story was he had the contrast of living in Chicago and then living in small-town Iowa," Cleveland told the Press-Citizen. "They’re both the Midwest, but he had different experiences living in both of those places."
Cleveland said she intends to release the next 8- or 10-episode season in March. When the show does return for its second season, Cleveland said it will be a part of Lipstick and Vynal, a feminist podcast network that features dozens of other shows.
“I think my overall mission with the podcast is to take an issue where people might have ideals and how it matches up with reality,” she says. “I think this episode, at least all the Midwesterners I know, have this intention to be nice and neighborly and then to look at the reality of what everyone’s experience is working in the Midwest.”
► Listen on Spotify:"Thread the Needle"
8. 'Unapologetic Perspective'
Carlos Honore is a one-time West High football star who made his way back to Iowa City in recent years and found his way onto the Press-Citizen's list of People to Watch in 2021.
On this list, Honore's is the only podcast that isn't available on iTunes, Spotify or other traditional streaming services. Rather, Honore and his wife, Tatum, publish their show via Facebook.
The show evolved out of the "He Gets It" podcast on the same network and was rebranded as "Unapologetic Perspective" for its second season. The new season launched in December and has seen the couple take on topics ranging from general health tips to issues that are more Iowa City-specific.
► Listen on Facebook: "Unapologetic Perspective"
► A Person to Watch in 2021: Carlos Honore finds opportunity amid pandemic to reinvent Fifth Ward Saints