Summer Shepherd “Give Your Passion a Platform Through Podcasting”

“Girl, seriously. You have ONE job.” I can’t tell you how often I heard that sentiment, if not those exact words, when I was working on air in Chicago. My job was to report traffic and weather. My job was to let people know, within a 90 second window, what travel times looked like from the suburbs, to the metro, down to Indiana. I spoke fast, I annunciated, I did NOT stop my report to pray for the car accident on the 294. I did NOT rush the report so I could leave them with a Bible verse at the end. I did NOT, and yet I did. All the time. “Summer, you have one job. Leave the ministry to the programs.” Don’t get me wrong. I loved my job there. I loved my team. I was happy. However, my “one job” wasn’t fulfilling the part of me that longed to make a difference, to do ministry on the airwaves. Eventually I moved into Christian music radio and that was better. I got to encourage, I was able to talk about Jesus, but I had to be careful to not sound preachy, to be safe for the little ears that might be listening, to be real but not TOO real, ya know what I’m saying? I was happy and I loved my team, and yet there was still something missing. I knew what we were doing was making a difference, I heard the stories. But I also knew there were people who were hurting and feeling alone; there were people who needed more than we could offer them in two minute chunks between songs with kids in the car. In 2018 the topic of podcasting was broached as a way we might be more innovative as a station. When my team looked at me with invitation in their eyes my world got so much bigger. I had felt a bit like a puppy who was leashed up while a squirrel ran amok in the yard. The open door to start podcasting was as though someone had cut the tether and let me run. But what on earth was I going to talk about?

Finding Your Voice

For many the journey to podcasting stops here, before it even begins. They’re excited about the idea of podcasting, but have analysis paralysis when deciding what their show is going to be about. “What am I qualified to speak on and what do I have to say? Who am I speaking to? Why?” These are valid questions, but don’t let them scare you away. Lean into them.

What am I qualified to speak on and what do I have to say?

This step is for sure the most daunting, but can also be the most fun. Is there something you are known for by your listeners? Are there things you absolutely geek out over? Do you have special interests that you’d love the opportunity to explore? Special skills that you can put on display through podcasting?

I knew, through doing character work for my FM show, that my listeners knew me as “that hot mess mom who loves telling stories.” Ok, so I should talk about parenting? I mean, Lord knows I have a million kids. But what on earth was I qualified to talk about in that arena? I didn’t feel qualified at all. I NEEDED help, I wasn’t in a position to dole it out. Then it struck me. No one really knew what they were doing. We were all sitting in silence, afraid to let others know how unqualified we really were. “No Seriously, How Do I Do This?” was born from my willingness to be honest. I invite artists, authors, experts, and local moms on to talk about issues we all experience but don’t talk about enough, especially in the Church.

That’s me. That’s what I know (or don’t know). As you consider your topic, don’t be afraid to get niche. Are you passionate about Star Wars and coffee? Maybe your podcast is called “Java the Hut” and you have super nerdy conversations about George Lucas and Kona dark roast. Maybe your special skill is as an interviewer, like it is for Meridith Foster of “The Unfolding,” and you collect and highlight other people’s stories. Spend some time in prayer and ask God what He’s equipped you to share.

Who am I speaking to?

The fantastic thing about podcasting is that you don’t need to cast your net wide. At least not as wide as you do when on air. You can speak to the Hispanic single mom in your demo who doesn’t always feel seen by the DJs on her favorite radio station. Is there an underserved segment of your listeners that you have a heart for? Serve them. Are you hoping to expand beyond your traditional demo to reach the next generation? Podcasting is a perfect opportunity to meet new listeners and get them interested in your other platforms.

Why?

This is such an important question to ask yourself when you’re getting started. What is your why? If your why is, “my PD told me to start podcasting,” and you don’t have anything else behind your efforts, you likely won’t have the drive, appeal, or success you’re looking for. People get excited for what you’re excited about. If podcasting is a chore for you, they’ll sense it and not care about it either. Consider your passions, your audience, and your message, but more than anything else consider how your product will further His Kingdom. As Christian broadcasters, our first and foremost “why” needs to be, “Because He called me to a mission. He called me to go out and reach and teach for His glory.” Now, that is not to say every faith-based podcast needs to be a devotional, but He should always remain at the forefront of anything we put into the world.

Embracing the Freedom of On-Demand Listening

Podcasts are, at their most simplistic, chunks of audio available to listeners at their convenience. It’s like Netflix vs. cable. That being said, there are a few things that this allows for that you won’t usually find in music radio.

You can go deeper for longer

You are no longer beholden to a 60-90 second window, riding the ramps between songs. You can expand and expound and have those long form conversations that matter. Most of us in radio grew up with the “talks too much” comment on our report cards. Welcome to podcasting, friend. Now, just like in radio, you never want to ramble when an out presents itself, but your listeners are choosing to tune in and hear you out. Such fun.

You no longer have to be safe for little ears

Now I am NOT saying that you should rehearse your catalogue of four-letter-words, but I AM saying that you have the freedom to go where the ministry takes you. There have been a few episodes that I have tacked a disclaimer on out of concern for my listener, but I still aired the episode. We’ve covered sexual assault, childhood depression and suicide, and abuse. Things that I wouldn’t have been able to address during drive time.

Your content lives on

If you do start podcasting, this would be my biggest piece of advice: don’t obsess over the stats. Lord knows it’s tempting. Lord also knows that it will make you sick and depressed. You put so much work into that episode and Judy in Maryland was the only one listening? This is by far the grooviest thing about podcasting: your work lives on. You might not blow up for two years. That means that by the time you’re discovered by someone who needs to hear your message, they have two years’ worth of content to binge. God’s timing is perfect. Don’t despair.

Excellence Without Perfection

If ignoring the numbers is my number one piece of advice, here is number two: don’t over edit. I remember being tasked to track a sample hour at my first CCM station interview, and I think it took me two hours to do. I was so nervous and obsessed with getting it perfect. When we have a single minute to share our heart in between songs, we keep it tight and succinct and fairly polished, I get that. But the best podcasts feel like you’re eavesdropping. You feel like you’re listening to, and part of, a real conversation. People crave authenticity and nothing is less authentic than someone with perfect annunciation who never breathes. Listening back to my earliest episodes I cringe at how unnaturally tight and clipped everything was. If you needed permission, here it is: let your hair down a little bit. If your PD hates it, blame me.

Now, I want you to hear me on this: letting go of perfection extends beyond editing. Your podcast platform is an opportunity to show who you really are, to connect with others who yearn to feel seen. Don’t be afraid to go first and say, “Yeah, I’m a broken mess too, but we serve the God of Grace.” People who seek out niche podcasts are looking for something; perhaps it’s something that the Lord is calling you to give them. Scripture tells us that God uses the broken, shamed, weak, and foolish things of the world (thank goodness). Let us always give Him our best, and offer what is real. He will use our meager offering, given in faithfulness, to feed multitudes.


Summer Shepherd currently hails from Madison, WI, where she lives with her husband their four children, and can be heard daily as the afternoon host for Life 102.5, as the evening host for Life 96.5, and on the award-winning podcast, “No Seriously, How Do I Do This?” Whether it’s on-air, via podcast streams, through writing, or by speaking at women’s conferences, Summer seeks to use her voice to assure people that they are loved and not alone. Reach out to Summer at [email protected].

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