One of my favorite podcasts for kids right now is Short & Curly, a production of Australia's ABC. You can read my review of the show if you'd like, but basically it's an ethics podcast for kids and families that delves into ethical issues without being ponderous. It's the product of those four people striking a pose in the picture above, giving you a sense that they're not taking themselves too seriously. The three in front are the "on-air" talent: Molly Daniels, an actor and writer; Carl Smith, a reporter for ABC TV; and Dr. Matt Beard, from Australia's The Ethics Centre.
The woman in the back is the engine that makes everything go -- she's Kyla Slaven, the producer for Short & Curly. I wanted to get some background on her, the show, and how the Australian kids podcast scene compares to the American one. (Spoiler alert: a lot of it is going to sound familiar to American podcasters and podcast listeners.)
Zooglobble: How did you get into radio/audio production?
Kyla Slaven: I got into radio accidentally. I was studying journalism at university a long time ago and the documentary film subject was so popular they balloted students for a place. My number didn’t come up, I gave radio a go, and fell in love with it.
How was Short & Curly created (e.g., where did the idea come from, how did you get ABC to support the show, etc.)?
Short & Curly has been on my mind for a few years now. I have previously worked as the producer on a philosophy show for adults at the ABC (The Philosopher’s Zone), and once made a program about studying philosophy in primary school. The kids, the ideas and questions, the whole ethos of it all in the classroom was exciting to me. So I just kept thinking that children were up for a program which appealed to their curious and interesting young minds. I didn’t study philosophy at school or university, another regret of mine, but always wanted to be a journalist or a teacher, so this kind of combines the two. I applied for a secondment [or temporary transfer] from the station I usually work at (RN at the ABC) to come to this digital first/podcast project (called First Run, which also made Science VS – now a Gimlet show) and this was one of the ideas I pitched.
I think the ABC was interested because it was a group of people not really being serviced by audio/radio at all (kids). The show is aimed at children listening with the families and also the show builds in things which are only possible in a podcast format, i.e., the pause button approach.
How long did it take you from getting the OK from ABC to having the show ready to air?
This is a bit hard to answer because I was also overseeing pilot podcasts being produced by other people in this First Run project as part of my job, but it was at least 6 months. We had to find/cast the hosts and our in-house ethicist, thinking through how it might sound, we had to find a school to be our brains trust and play around with ideas for topics and sound. I think we have already gotten better at working out how many ideas you can get into one show before it becomes unwieldy.
Our team live in different cities and come together for an intense week for production with me in Sydney, but they all have other jobs as their main gig. The hosts do scripting over a few days each (in the lead up to our week together) and our ethicists is always bouncing ideas around with us, but mostly it is just me working on the show, in all the pre- and post-production tasks. But I really love the week in the studio when I sit in the control room and watch the three of them in the studio riffing off each other and bringing the whole thing to life. There is a fair amount of fun and laughter that week though we are zonked by the end.
What were/are your goals for the series?
The goals were to help develop the culture of families listening to podcasts together (especially on car trips for holidays or stuck on traffic on the way to sports training and the like); the ABC had research showing parents were keen for non-screen based media and entertainment for children. We wanted to reach number one in the kids and family iTunes category in Australia, which we did. (Most of the programs are about parenting, though, rather than being podcasts for children.) I think we still have a lot of work to do in terms of creating a family podcast listening culture (that such podcasts exist, then how to listen to them).
What has been the response to the series in Australia? Internationally?
We have done pretty well, but not as well as some other ABC podcasts. I think some of this is about the issues in the [previous] answer. There is also so much work in getting the word out, targeting people and groups who might be interested in the broader concept or individual programs.
Did you learn anything, particularly as it relates to creating audio for kids, in the first season of the show that you incorporated into your production of the second season?
What we have learnt, and are still fumbling our way around, is to be really clear in our heads what the two or three main “stops” in the journey are for each episode. We have also tried to do more rather than less signposting of where we are heading and where we have come from. Again, it’s a work in progress but these are probably the two main things we know we have to really nail. We have also tried to amp up the silliness and the colour of each episode using [sound effects] and the host interactions to set up self-contained little worlds.
Who’s your favorite ethicist/philosopher?
I don’t have a favourite philosopher, but I realised when producing the philosophy show that the host (who WAS trained in academic philosophy) was always at his most excited when we were looking at philosophy of science and some of the more esoteric stuff (to me, at least) like about time or reality, whereas I have always been more taken with philosophy and philosophers really grounded in political and social questions, whether in ancient times, during the enlightenment or now. But like I say, I am by no means an expert on philosophy or ethics.
What’s next for the show? For you?
I’m not sure what is next for the show, given we are not even one year in. There is a lot more to explore, as well as the potential for expansion into other areas of philosophy. We are hoping to do a live show later this year, partly so we can just have the fun of being in a big room full of children who are interested in curly questions about the world. My official job is at RN, a national mostly talks-based radio station that is part of the ABC. I would love this show to continue and would love also to do more in the kids audio world, but who knows?