A group of children stumble upon a large bone in Taylor Park, and the bone turns out to be human. This is how Season One of the Akron Adventures podcast begins. The “kidcast” series is geared toward children ages 7 through 12 and features 6th-graders solving mysteries inspired by true Akron-area events. Season One’s “Bones in the Dark” is inspired by Schneider Park, which was once the site of the Summit County Infirmary, or poor house.
The podcast is produced by Snow Day Productions, a team comprised of authors, producers and researchers: Julie Drew, an English professor at the University of Akron, who’s a young adult and children’s fiction author; Casey Shevlin, a writer, researcher and teacher who works as the lead research analyst for Women’s Network; and Marlia Weisse, a writer, editor and producer, who is VP of content strategy and marketing for Impressive Health.
Season Two kicks off this summer. You can find Akron Adventures through iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher and anywhere else one finds podcasts. Visit www.snowdayproductions.com.
In true collaborative fashion, the team answered the interview questions as one.
How did you come up with the idea for this podcast?
We are avid readers of YA literature, and came together to write something collaboratively for a young audience. We knew almost immediately that podcasting was where we were headed, and 8- to 12-year-olds would be our first audience. And we sort of knew our mission before we knew our first content offering. We talked–a lot–and there may have been wine. We spoke of our deep commitment to writing stories that kids find wildly entertaining, but that also encourage empathy, curiosity and community. Narrative is a powerful tool, and we feel strongly that diverse voices and experiences, and the complexities of the world we share are an appropriate and necessary part of content for children’s media. Our stories would be fun and exciting, our characters likable and hilarious, and our plots purposeful.
As writers, readers and podcast listeners ourselves, we knew how much richer our story would be if the setting was deeply drawn and important enough to serve in some ways as a character itself, a generator of events and atmosphere. And our Rust Belt city is an ideal setting—Akron is filled with diversity in every sense: people, topography, an endlessly fascinating (and inspiring) mix of urban and rural, industry and arts, decay and reinvention. So our first story would be in Akron but also about Akron, in ways that would get kids thinking about their own towns, their own environments, the things that lie beneath the surface waiting to be discovered. And Akron Adventures was born.
Were there any other podcasts for children that inspired Akron Adventures?
There are several high-quality podcasts for kids (kidcasts) that we enjoy. The Unexplained Disappearance of Mars Patel, Storynory, The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian, Six Minutes, and Wow in the World, to name a few. What we like about several of these, and what makes ours a little different than most podcasts produced for kids, is serialized narration—one complete story told over an entire season—rather than one complete story told in a single episode. But while many of the story-telling kidcasts feature a large cast of voice actors, we’ve opted for a stripped-back narration, adding depth and richness with music and sound effects. Our goal is to write and tell a compelling story that listeners can immerse themselves in and return to again and again.
What has been some of the audience response to the podcast so far?
The audience response has been overwhelmingly positive—for which we couldn’t be more thankful. Family-friendly, entertaining content is hard to come by in a medium that does not require screen time, and we’re sensitive to parents’ growing concerns in that area. Our reviews appear thus far to be written by parents who love our story, our characters, and the portability of tuning in on demand without adding yet more screen time to their kids’ lives.
Are there plans for spinoff podcasts?
There aren’t any plans for spinoffs of Akron Adventures, but we do have other projects in the works that target audiences in different age ranges. What will likely be our next podcast is a story for younger children, between 5 and 8 years old, that will introduce a very different setting with all new characters and situations appropriate to that age group. We’re really excited about this new podcast, and think kids and their parents will love it.
What are some of the challenges to producing a podcast? (audience engagement, marketing, etc)?
We’re fortunate in Akron to have a welcoming, collaborative and diverse creative and entrepreneurial community, and we’re learning a lot from both diving in and asking what others’ have learned. So far, our audience is growing steadily, and we are getting the word out as best we can, across social media platforms and more.
One of the things we have found challenging is how much longer editing scripts for each season’s episodes actually takes–we are a truly collaborative writing team, and we go through multiple rounds of revision before finalizing a single episode. It’s painstaking work, but worth it–the story is so much more than the sum of its writers. What we create together is more and better than what any one of us could produce alone. Our day jobs do come knocking–loud and often–but so far we’ve been able to meet the challenge.
What are some of the benefits of the podcast format above other media?
There are so many unique benefits that podcasts offer. First and foremost, they’re extremely accessible in a number of ways. Not only are they typically free and available in a variety of styles and genres from an array of outlets, but their audio format allows listeners to engage on-the-go. You can listen in the car, on a run, before bed, while you’re cleaning, cooking, or eating–they’re essentially multi-task friendly. We think this makes kidcasts especially useful for parents. The kid-appropriate content offers the flexibility for kids to listen on their own or with their parents. And, where kids are concerned, there’s loads of research out there that suggests podcasts enable kids to comprehend and “engage with ideas that are two to three grade levels higher than their reading level would normally allow,” and they’re especially beneficial and accessible for kids who are blind, have dyslexia, struggle with reading, or for whom English is a second language. We really like that inclusivity.
Is the story mapped out for Season 2?
Yes! The entire season is written. We are finalizing the edits to the script now and will begin recording the episodes very soon. Expect to see the first episode in July. We’ve got another exciting mystery for our cast of four middle-school best friends, and they’ll tackle it while navigating new friendships, ghost stories, sleep-away camp in the Cuyahoga Valley, waaay too much snacking and much, much more.