Sound of Astronomy: Episode 1

Image credit: Georgine Burnett

Back in January, I posted about some “exciting things” coming up in a few months. It’s now been more than a few months – we are almost halfway through 2018 – and one of the “exciting things” is nearly due. I’ve been commissioning and editing the news section for Popular Astronomy, the magazine for the Society for Popular Astronomy, and our next issue is going to print very soon.

When I posted about the “exciting things”, I couldn’t quite believe it and wanted to be discreet. I couldn’t have imagined that I would end up working on a podcast! I’ve always been quite shy and recording myself talking to other people about science was not something I ever saw myself doing.

About a month after I wrote that post, exams had finished and I was throwing myself into my final semester while trying to contribute to Skymania at least semi-consistently. Paul Sutherland, who runs the site, had suggested that I get more involved with the SPA and maybe revive its old audio magazine, which was the 1967 equivalent of a podcast and which you can listen to here. Now, I might be shy, but I’m also curious. I figured that it was something new and I’d get some much-needed experience. Plus, I was already going to be the News Editor for Popular Astronomy and two months before that I’d helped assemble a cast, crew and creative team to put on a musical. I thought I could handle a podcast just fine.

Three weeks later, an email showed up in my inbox. It was from the president of the SPA, a veteran journalist and amateur astronomer who had worked on the first three issues of The Sound of Astronomy. It was packed full of anecdotes and tips to get me started, and all of a sudden I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about podcasting.

It would have been very easy to drop The Sound of Astronomy there and then, to say that I had no experience and didn’t feel capable of doing it, but that’s not how I would ever get better at doing anything. Besides, I wanted this and I wasn’t going to let my anxiety get in the way.

So I sent back an email explaining that I had no experience and putting forward some initial ideas. I had an idea for a 60-minute podcast every two months…and we went from there to produce the episode we have today. I quickly found that I wasn’t on my own, but in fact Paul and Robin helped greatly (and did a heroic amount of work towards the end of May when exam season started). You can listen to Episode 1 here: https://soundcloud.com/popastro/sound-of-astronomy-new-series-issue-1.

Considering I had absolutely zero experience, I’m really pleased with the way this turned out! We have a good mix of interviews showcasing current news, what amateurs can do, sciart – and even a really good link with the original series. I’m very happy we managed to get original artwork too and original music (which was composed and recorded by my partner). It’s been worth it to hold off and make sure we have more music and better audio quality.

That said, we can definitely still improve. In particular I’d like to have a better gender balance on the podcast and I think we can easily have this with more planning. In Episode 1 I think we all just wanted to show that The Sound of Astronomy could work again. That isn’t a justification, but it was definitely a contributing factor.

I fundamentally believe in improvement – that people and what we create can get better if we take the time to reflect on what we’ve done. And I believe that The Sound of Astronomy can start well and keep getting better.

Onwards to Episode 2!

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