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While most of the world in 2020 was shut down, stuck inside and struggling to communicate, a handful of people used the time to get creative. In the midst of challenges brought by the year, these Arkansas podcasters developed an opportunity to expand their business or connect with their customers and audience in a new way.
Check out these five podcasts, launched during a pandemic while growing our exposures to new areas and Arkansas stories.
Photo provided by The Ouachita Podcasts Media Group
The Ouachita Chronicles podcast launched in November 2020 to uncover the stories of people who originate from the Ouachita Mountain region. While many might anticipate the opening music to include two dueling banjos, listeners are instead welcomed by two hosts who banter like sisters. They have a way of digging in, rather quickly, with their guests to uncover passions born in childhood and that have grown into adulthood manifestations of those dreams.
The Ouachita Chronicles are part of The Ouachita Podcasts media. Hosts Ashley Smith and Jeri Pearson bring unique perspectives to the conversation. Smith is a former advertising and promotion professional from Polk County and most recently served as an advertising specialist with CJRW in Bentonville and the Arkansas Tourism Department. Pearson grew up visiting her grandparents who lived in Polk county and dreamt of the day she live there herself. As the current news editor for The Pulse Network out of Mena, she gets to spend her days telling stories of the places she fell in love with as a child.
Together, Smith and Pearson have built a laundry list of guests that range from country music singers to bull riders to a local banker turned theater star and a permaculture design consultant.
After listening, their audience is more intrigued to visit the western part of Arkansas and come back each week for a sip of what’s being offered by these two at the countertop.
Photo provided by The Ouachita Podcasts Media Group
Another Arkansas podcast recently launched by The Ouachita Podcasts is The Ouachita Bushcraft and Survival Show. Host Steve Stillwell focuses on “tips and tricks for staying alive in the great outdoors.” Unafraid to ask experts for answers, he came out of the starting gates with his guests: the co-host of the show “Dual Survivor” and three stars from the History Channel show, “Alone,” where strangers are dropped in the wilderness together and have to come out alive.
This podcast aims to share real-life stories and tips for listeners to implement when they find themselves in similar situations. A Saturday in the Ouachita Mountains, rowing the Cossatot River, mountain biking in Madison County, or climbing to Hawksbill Craig: these situations can can quickly shift from a pleasant outdoor activity to time spent treading water and tending to animal bites.
This podcast is a ride-or-die listen for the extremists, naturalists and extreme sports connoisseurs.
Photo provided by The Ouachita Alumni office
As the in-person learning experience shifted in spring 2020, and in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ouachita Baptist University Alumni Director, Jon Merryman, found himself with a lot more time on his hands and a desire to chase a new project on his “someday” list. Usually, the alumni department’s spring semester involves planning several graduating senior celebration events, a spring student festival, and a reunion for alumni who graduated more than 50 years ago. All of these in-person events were canceled, and as new plans were made to make some of them virtual, Merryman found himself with time to chase a “takeaway” from a conference the previous year.
As the podcast platform has grown, it seemed like the perfect time to connect graduates and university friends to the stories of people who attended and graduated over the years. Often a university will tell the same handful of alumni stories as part of recruitment and donor connection. But with a nearly 135-year history, and with many more alumni doing incredible things in their local communities, it was time to start telling these stories. Insert, the Tiger For Life podcast.
Some early guests included a meteorologist broadcasting daily from her basement; the director of a food pantry; nurses navigating COVID-19 day in and out; an NFL player; musician Barrett Baber (pictured) and Chewbacca Mom, Candace Payne. During the hard days of the pandemic, Merryman found himself receiving suggestions for new guests and updates about alumni all over the world.
While most people listen to a podcast on their own or while commuting, the university found the medium to be a great way to keep alumni connected in a time defined by isolation.
Three years ago, two Arkansas regions were awarded a grant as part of CREATE Bridges. The inaugural program aims to support small businesses in the Cossatot and Ozark regions through resource development, tourism business support services, and strategies to build thriving communities. The planning and steering committees are sharing their learned knowledge and business stories of success through a podcast that launched in the late fall called CREATE Bridges: Small Business – Big Rural Impact.
Create Bridges stands for celebrating retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment by building rural innovations and developing growth economies. The initiative focuses on businesses in the tourism industry, but these stories of success export formulas that can be used in local business models across the state. Some of the features include:
— How a local barbecue restaurant in Ashdown leveraged social media to expand business in the early months of the pandemic shutdown.
— The ways the Nashville Parks and Recreation department have used their grounds to develop outdoor spaces for every member of their community and leverage those facilities to add economic value to the community.
— How a mayor has crossed connections from his professional role and civic responsibilities to increase his hometown’s exposure and opportunity.
The team’s goal behind the podcast is to develop a resource for other communities by sharing the hidden stories of success and the continued growth and expansion in these regions.
Photo courtesy of Ashel Photography
Jo Ellis, executive director of Make.Do., and Madison Hale, kids’ program director, had an interesting start to the pandemic. Make.Do. is a non-profit organization in Searcy that’s mission is to use creativity as a way to encourage connection and compassion. That usually takes the form of in-person classes like sewing, quilting, painting, weaving and much more.
When it became clear that Covid-19 would not allow in-person classes, they pivoted to a Spring Break program called Quarantine Craft Camp. Then they turned to making masks for the community and have produced over 3,000 so far!
Ellis said, “Madison and I spent a lot of time together making masks at the beginning of the pandemic. We had really great conversations about lessons we’ve learned about ourselves and the world through our “relationship” with creativity. We wanted to find a way to share those conversations outside of the studio. So we started the Be Createfull podcast in August 2020 as a way to share the power of creativity, establish more connection, and encourage self-compassion.”
“The conversations we have on the podcast are often an extension of things we talk about with participants in a class. We know not everyone is interested or able to take a class in the studio, but we still think that everyone can benefit from being createfull.”
“Creativity gives us an interesting lens to discuss things that affect everyone, like being held back by a fear of failure, struggling to find unity in the midst of social tension, feeling like an imposter or struggling with busyness. We transfer the lessons we learn from sewing a quilt or trying to watercolor for the first time to help us deal with bigger issues in our lives.”
With episodes like How to Be a Good Beginner (Ep. 3), Creativity and Social Tension (Ep. 7), Overcoming the Fear of Failure (Ep. 23), and Dealing with Imposter Syndrome (Ep. 27), Jo and Madison prove that everyone benefits from creativity.
Tell us your favorite Arkansas podcast in the comments!
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