By Debbie Gardner
It’s a simple setup. Three boom mics, a mixing board, a laptop and a set of headphones for the sound engineer. That’s all it takes to convert a small conference room at East Longmeadow’s Pleasant View Senior Center into a professional-level podcast studio.
The transformation happens every Friday morning around 9 a.m. That’s when a handful of center attendees who’ve decided to give this new medium a whirl gather to prep for and record that week’s interview. Within a few hours it’s polished, processed and up on the center’s YouTube channel.
What’s the show like? Think NPR’s StoryCorps, with a local focus. The idea, according to Senior Center Director Erin Koebler, is to capture – and hopefully preserve – the stories of East Longmeadow residents, and the senior center seemed the perfect place to make that happen.
An idea is born
“I started [doing podcasts] at the high school and I had a conversation with Erin to see if she was interested in setting up something similar at the Senior Center,” Don Maki, director of East Longmeadow’s Community Access Television (ELCAT) explained to Prime about the origins of the podcast program. “The idea was to set up the equipment and provide an opportunity for anyone to try podcasting.”
Koebler said she saw promise in Maki’s proposal and decided to offer podcast training to interested members of the senior center last fall. The first training session took place on Oct. 28, 2022. The session, which turned into a discussion of what the program was hoping to accomplish, was turned into the group’s inaugural podcast, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPl3QKyfbO8&t=40s
“The idea was two-fold, to teach people [at the center] what a podcast was, and for people who wanted to use the equipment, to show them how,” Koebler explained.
One of the first senior center members Koebler approached with the podcasting idea was Eric Elmendorf. “We knew Eric had some radio experience and thought it was something he could help us out with,” Koebler said. “Then we opened it up to people who were interested.”
Elmendorf, who called Koebler the “executive producer” of their production, confirmed for Prime that he was in on the podcasting project “from the beginning.”
“I heard about it and said to Erin, ‘maybe I could help out,’” Elmendorf explained.
When Koebler and Pleasant View Activities Coordinator Alicia Smith then publicized the idea to members of the center, Koebler said a handful of people signed up for the information sessions.
Among the early adopters was Edward Fitzgerald. “I heard about [the podcast program] and it sounded interesting,” Fitzgerald told Prime. “My background is in technology and anything tech interests me.”
Fitzgerald, who has already published two books of his own stories of growing up, said his interest was actually two-fold. He also saw the idea of podcasting as something that could help his brother, who now lives in Portland, ME., tell his stories. “He was diagnosed with something called essential tremors; using a keyboard is difficult for him. I thought if he had something verbal that would help, so he could verbalize his stories and not have to use a keyboard,” Fitzgerald, who’s been with the podcasting team since the first or second session, shared.
Mary Jenewin-Caplin wasn’t certain that podcasting was going to be for her when she decided to attend the first training session last fall.
“I was going to come in to learn [about podcasting] and sit in the back of the room and then go to the ladies’ room and not come back,” Jenewin-Caplin joked. Instead, she became part of the weekly production team. “I know people who listen to [ our podcasts] all the time,” she said.
Elmendorf said he and Koebler spotted a “natural ability” to host podcast interviews in Jenewin-Caplin and encouraged her to become part of the team.
Jeff Teden was the fourth senior center member to jump in at the beginning of the podcast project.
“I’ve always had an interest in public speaking,” Teden, who has been the member of two Toastmasters clubs shared. “When I saw the info about the podcasting program, I thought it was a natural fit for me.”
Sarah Crouser – the ELCAT intern from Minnechaug Regional High School – has been with the podcasters from the first training and rounds out the weekly production team.
The group produced its first guest-interview podcast – talking to local veterans in recognition of the Veterans Day holiday, in November 2022.
Watching it happen
The morning Prime joined the podcast crew – Fitzgerald, Jenewin-Caplin, Elmendorf, Teden and Maki –acting as sound engineer – were preparing to interview East Longmeadow resident Debra Boronski, whose “second act” is operating Quarry Pond Farm on Somers Road.
As Elemdorf and Maki worked to get the sound board and mics prepared, Jenewin-Caplin and Fitzgerald chatted about the upcoming interview and how the day’s recording would flow. Fitzgerald would do the intro and outgo, and Jenewin-Caplin was prepping to handle the interview.
“Eric, I think, wrote [the intro], I just changed it a little because I’m doing it this morning and I feel better doing it a bit different,” Fitzgerald told Prime. On a yellow legal pad Jenewin-Caplin began jotting words that she felt were associated with Boronski, whom she knew as a customer of the farm.
Those words would become the opening segue into the interview when recording started in earnest.
Boronski arrived for the interview a few minutes after the preparations were complete, bearing samples of her farm’s products – a dozen eggs – all different colors as they were laid by different varieties of chickens – and samples of her farm-produced, small batch hot honey, elderberry syrup and herb-based antibacterial spray. Ushered to the guest chair, Fitzgerald began asking her some basic questions to complete his introduction and Maki and Elmendorf worked on making her comfortable with the equipment.
“You can sit up closer, or we can move the mic closer to you, whatever you are comfortable with,” Maki said as he manipulated the boom and mic. While Maki and Elmendorf did a last-minute sound check, Jenewin-Caplin broke the ice by asking Borowski what she’d had for breakfast that morning.
“Did you have eggs,” Jenewin-Caplin asked jokingly, pointing to the box of a dozen farm-fresh eggs on the table in front of Boronski.
”No,” Boronski said a bit sheepishly. “I have more customers than I have eggs.”
Then it was mics on and the podcast recording started, with the questions and answers flowing in an almost organic way between Jenewin- Caplin and Boronski, and occasionally, Fitzgerald and Boronski.
“There’s no script” Jenewin-Caplin had told Prime earlier about how the podcasts are constructed. “They come in to tell their stories.”
Forty minutes later, Boronski was thanking the crew for the opportunity, and the experience. “This is a wonderful thing that you are doing here,” Boronski said.
The finished podcast is available on YouTube at https://youtu.be/5_f3aKe8fYA
As the show wrapped around 10:30 a.m., the East Longmeadow podcast team was packing up the mics and recording equipment and going over their schedule, checking on the status of the upcoming interviews. Noting a hole in their February calendar, Jenewin-Caplin asked “does anyone have a guest for that?”
A groundbreaking success
Koebler shared with Prime that she believes East Longmeadow’s Pleasant View Senior Center is the only one in the area to have ventured into podcasting at this point.
And she’s very glad that the dedicated team of podcasters has taken on the task.
“We put the idea out there and look … they’ve made it their own, and that’s what you want with any program at a senior center,” Koebler said. “I love that it has taken on a life of its own.”
Jenewin-Caplin shared with Prime that the senior center seemed the perfect place to launch this kind of programming.
“There are so many stories here, and every one is different,” Jenewin-Caplin said. “Every guest brings a flavor of their own.”
All of the Pleasant View Senior Center podcasts recorded to date are available on the ELCAT01028 YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLp26WjLCI0G2aioRjfUkloqvEstog1u01