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Majors & Degrees

DSU students learn old storytelling in new format

February 26, 2017

Luke Reiner and Irma Martin don’t have a great deal in common.

Luke ReinerReiner is a young college student from Springfield, Minnesota, attending Dakota State University as an English for New Media major. Martin, 94, is a resident at Bethel Lutheran Homes in Madison. She has “had a good life…an interesting life,” she told Reiner during a recent interview.


Martin grew up on a farm near Madison during the Depression, then went to work on oil tankers in the shipyards of Oregon during World War II. She made 90-cents an hour as “Irma the welder,” similar to the iconic “Rosie the riveter.”

Those wages helped pay off the mortgage on the home farm, so “I saved the place where I grew up.” She returned to South Dakota towards the end of the war, and spent many years teaching in rural schools around the area. 

Despite these differences in life history, the two have something very much in common. Both generations have listened to stories through some form of a broadcast -- Martin through radio shows, Reiner’s generation through podcasts.

That was the purpose of the interviews. For an assignment in Reiner’s Publishing for New Media class, the students interviewed residents at Bethel, and made an audio recording of their conversations. With these files, they are going to make a fictional podcast.

Podcasts are “a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The word itself comes from a combination of the words “iPod” and “broadcast,” although some sources claim it is an abbreviation for “Portable on Demand,” or POD, since the listener can use a mobile device instead of a computer.

Despite the differences in transmission, podcasts are very similar to the radio shows today’s senior citizens enjoyed in their youth, broadcasts such as “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Amos and Andy,” “The Lone Ranger,” or “The Glenn Miller Show.” These shows, which were broadcast from the late 1920’s to the early 1960’s, were comedies, mysteries, detective shows, or music broadcasts.

Podcasts that the young people listen to today also focus on a range of subjects, said English professor John Nelson, from politics to horror series.

One of the first was “Daily Source Code,” by Adam Curry in August, 2004. Podcasts which are popular with the students include “Night Vale,” Nelson said. “Night Vale” is a bi-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale. It features local weather, news, sheriff’s announcements, and a touch of mystery.

“This American Life” is a weekly radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 2.2 million listeners. There is a theme to each episode, which includes journalism stories along with some comedy routines or essays. “Serial” is a spinoff of this show, a narration of a non-fiction story run over several episodes.

Since the students asked the senior citizens to tell them stories about their youth, the class will call their fictional show “The Fountain of Youth” podcast, with the sponsor being “Ponce de Leon Travel Tours.” de Leon was the Spanish explorer who supposedly searched for the mythical Fountain of Youth in Florida.

Podcasts, like the radio broadcasts before them, use sponsors as a funding method. Johnson’s Wax sponsored “Fibber McGee and Molly;” Chesterfield Cigarettes sponsored “The Glenn Miller Show.” Other financing methods for the podcasts include product sales and service, coaching, books and audiobooks, crowdfunding, or virtual summits.

Podcasts are becoming very popular. In the last 10 years, awareness of the term “podcasting” has risen from 22 percent in 2006 to 55 percent in 2016, according to a 2016 study by the Edison Research group. Also in that time frame, the number of listeners increased from 11 percent of the population to 36 percent, or about 98 million. This makes podcast production a marketable skill for the students, Nelson said.

It was also good experience with the interview process. Reiner appreciated his visit with Martin, hearing what life was like in the World War II era. “They talk about this in our history books,” he said, “but not as in-depth.”