In this edition of Inside Podcasting, we hear from Scott Gurian, an experienced multi-award-winning former radio journalist, now the host of a well-produced part travelogue, part documentary, where the people he meets play lead roles. As such, he has some remarkable stories to tell and some rugged road-tested equipment with which to do it. He also had to develop a clever travel workaround when the pandemic stuck him at home.
NEW YORK — I started out as a young reporter, filing freelance stories and producing programs at various public and community radio stations in places like Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. After my job in Washington ended, I was fortunate to be hired as news director at a small National Public Radio affiliate in central Oklahoma.
I was inexperienced at the time and moving to a part of the United States that was entirely new to me felt like a bit of a leap, but in retrospect, it ended up being a wonderful opportunity! I had the freedom to experiment with the craft, find my voice and produce sound-rich audio stories and documentaries on a regular basis, which I wouldn’t have been able to do as easily at a larger station in a larger city.
After that, I moved back to the east coast and spent several years doing investigative reporting for New York Public Radio (WNYC) in the aftermath of “Superstorm” Sandy, which struck in 2012. When that wound down, I eventually decided to go off on my own and launch my podcast, Far From Home.
I describe the show as part journalism, part narrative nonfiction and part fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants storytelling, where I take listeners along on my journeys to far-flung parts of the world. On past episodes, I’ve road-tripped from the United Kingdom to Mongolia and back, visited Iran as an American tourist, wandered through abandoned buildings in Chernobyl and attended a hallucinogenic ayahuasca ceremony in Peru.
In all my years as a reporter, the most fascinating experiences I’ve had have been when traveling abroad, meeting people and exploring different cultures, so that’s what I’ve chosen as the focus of my work.
Beyond radio’s limitations
Leaving behind the limitations of the traditional radio broadcast clock, I’ve found I can explore stories in much more depth in the podcast format. I love how audio forces people to use their imagination and is, in many ways, incredibly intimate.
I aim to use the podcast medium to its full potential, transporting my listeners out of their element to faraway places, all through the comfort and safety of their headphones. Instead of just talking about my adventures, I bring my audience with me, recording as much as I can out in the field. The best compliment people give me is that when they listen to one of my stories, they feel like they’re there with me, wherever I am in the world.
There are so many podcasts out there right now — both amazingly well-produced and mediocre ones — that rising above the fray and getting noticed can admittedly be challenging at times. Growing an audience, monetizing and working out a sustainable production schedule also take time to figure out. I’ve been making my show for about six years now, won a bunch of awards and appeared in The Guardian and The Washington Post, but in many ways, I’m still flying under the radar, so I’ll be the first to admit that I still have a lot to learn.
I recently faced the challenge of producing a travel podcast while stuck at home because of the pandemic. It took a bit of creativity, but I managed to keep it going by digging into my archives, going on adventures in my own neighborhood and producing a series where I had dozens of friends around the world send me audio diary recordings of what the situation with COVID-19 was like in the countries where they live.
Making the kind of program I make is a considerable amount of work. Unlike an average interview podcast, my editing sessions can often include half a dozen or more overlapping audio tracks like multiple voices, narration, music and background ambiance. I spend days assembling each episode, and then I release it into the ether, not knowing how (or if) people will receive it. So, it always means the world to me when listeners drop me a line to send me their feedback!
For recording, I use a Marantz PMD661, but sometimes a Tascam DR-40, a Zoom H1 or even just my iPhone when I need to be discreet, like while crossing boarders in authoritarian countries. I generally opt for a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic and have a zeppelin housing with a “dead cat” windsock for recording in windy environments. In addition, I recently picked up a nine-foot (2.74-meter) K-Tek KE110CCR boom pole so I could record while staying socially distant during the pandemic. I don’t use them as often, but I also own an AKG D230 ENG omnidirectional mic and a pair of cheap MS-TFB-2 in-ear binaural mics made by Sound Professionals. For editing, I use Hindenburg Journalist PRO (and on rare occasions Adobe Audition). I’m also in the process of learning Descript.
Recording: Marantz PMD661, Tascam DR-40, Zoom H1, iPhone
Editing: Hindenburg Journalist PRO, Adobe Audition, Descript
Mics: Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic, zeppelin windscreen, K-Tek KE110CCR boom pole, AKG D230 ENG omnidirectional mic, Sound Professionals MS-TFB-2 in-ear binaural mics.
Headphones: Sony MDR-7506 (and the similar MDR-V6) headphones
Audio interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Laptop: Panasonic Toughbook
Podcast Host: Public Radio Exchange
Distribution: Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify and most of the other apps and platforms
Also, since I travel a lot in unpredictable environments, and I want something reliable, I’ve always used semi-rugged Panasonic Toughbook computers, which have features like carrying handles and spill-proof keyboards.
My advice to aspiring podcasters would be to choose a subject and style for your show that makes you unique. There are already enough chatty-style programs where two guys drinking beer in an echoey garage chat about everything under the sun. What are you passionate about? What niche can you fill? Or what perspective can you offer that’s original to your experience?
The author is the host and producer of Far From Home. When he’s not traveling, he’s based in the suburbs of New York City. You can find “Far From Home” at farfromhomepodcast.org as well as Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify and most of the other apps.