For a time, we were living in the golden age of TV. This was in the early 2010s, when Game of Thrones made its debut, Breaking Bad was affirming its position as king of all shows, and Netflix was laying the groundwork for its entertainment empire. The greatest stories of our time were to be found on television. Certainly things have changed.
Now we're entering a kind of podcast renaissance. It might have started with that one friend zealously endorsing Serial, or the loudness of Welcome to Night Vale's fandom. And there was always the ever-present National Public Radio, or NPR, the gold standard of audio productions involving charistmatic, culture-savvy hosts. In the Philippines, individual productions like Diego Castillo's Foaming at the Mouth have been holding the fort, and multiple publications and institutions have been jumping on the podcast bandwagon for those sweet, sweet hits.
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For the most part, local media has basically been finding its footing with this new form. But one local podcast platform is setting the bar with its shows, hosts, infrastructure, and production value. Enter: PumaPodcast.
PumaPodcast has been in operation since January, and in less than a year, they've already put out seven shows, and are quickly proving themselves to be the thing to listen to during your commute. And while PumaPodcast has a lot of features that make it a formidable competitor against existing entertainment giants, let's start with the people behind the mic.
There's Go Hard Girls, which discusses the intersection between sports and gender; What's AP, which has takes on Philippine history you won't find in your textbook; Project Vanity, for all things beauty; PumaPodcast Headlines and Huli Sa Balita, which keep you up to date on the news better than most FM radio jocks.
The hosts with the most
“We don't just want people who turn on the mic and go," says Carl Javier, COO of PumaPodcast and the team’s self-appointed suit. “We want people who know what they're talking about. We want the people who are also great communicators and can connect with an audience and explain these varied concepts." If that was the goal then they're right on the money.
PumaPodcast's hosts come from a mix of professional backgrounds—although many of them, it must be said, are from journalism—that play a part in their work to some degree.
Ceej Tantengco, for example, is a sports journalist, has experience in courtside reporting, and even hosted an independent pod of her own. Now she hosts Go Hard Girls (GHG). The show recently concluded a three-ep arc about the NU Lady Bulldogs, whose impressive yet criminally underreported win streak blows even Ateneo and La Salle out of the water. We don't hear those kinds of stories, but Ceej has made it her personal mission with GHG to give women in sports their long overdue spotlight and teach people something new.
"One of the things I like most about podcasts is when I have that aha moment, where you're listening and you're like, oh my gosh I've never thought of it that way, or this is brand new information!" Ceej tells me. "If we can give that to our listeners, then we're doing our job."
Showing people the way out of Plato's cave is kind of a consistent thing for PumaPodcast shows. Sab Schnabel is a historian with a performing arts background, and she brings her charm and scholarship to What's AP, a history show that tells you all the stuff they don't put in the textbooks. Like how we were the first responders to the Korean War, or the spy thriller-esque chicanery that allowed Ninoy Aquino to come back to the Philippines before his assassination.
There are also hosts who got their start in blogging before going into podcasting, finding a new medium for work they've been doing a long time. Now former bloggers Liz Lanuzo and Maien Vital, respectively, host Project Vanity, the intellectual authority for all things beauty, and Usapang Econ, an educational pod which makes economic issues more interesting and accessible to the layman.
And we haven't even gotten to the most decorated names on the list. Human rights lawyer and former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te hosts Te Talks, a show about the legal side of what's going on in the news. And in Conversations With Randy David, the famed sociologist show interviews other brilliant minds on the country's most pressing issues.
Certainly PumaPodcast is working with a powerful roster. It also bears mentioning that most of these shows were pitched by the hosts themselves, and you can tell that each episode is treated like a passion project.
Don't call it a radio station
Let's talk briefly about radio, a mode of entertainment that was king in the pre-streaming era, and today still remains relevant in many cars that ply the nation’s streets. You've got FM with their assembly line of young jocks, trained to talk about music and the pop culture buzz. And there's AM with those sad slow jams that play in the taxi you're only riding because you tried booking a Grab for 30 minutes and nobody bit. These forms of entertainment are far cries from anyone's experience of a podcast, even though both are audio experiences.
"Whenever I hear radio locally, it's getting thrown at you. And it's not an intimate experience. It's a public setting. It sounds like somebody on a soapbox, yelling things at you, or they're calling somebody up and they're yelling things at each other. If it's late, you get in a cab, and then it's somebody na may pinapagalitan for the caller’s romantic misfortune! The podcast experience, I believe, is a more intimate experience."
Kat Ventura, the producer of Te Talks, knows full well that part of her job is exercising a greater degree of control that you can't find in live broadcasts. "Although podcasting is not the same as radio, it's a lot more organic, and a lot more, I think, produced than radio is." Which means the product entails script writing, script editing, audio cleanup, putting in sound effects, and research and investigation.
Still, it's not a far jump from radio to podcasts, and it isn't ridiculous for radio's nation-wide audience to migrate from one platform to another—we're already used to other modes of entertainment like live-streaming and radio dramas. "We are one of the biggest consumers of video content in the world," Liz tells me. "We are one of the biggest users of Facebook and Instagram as well. Filipinos are very social media savvy." So why isn’t podcasting as big as we think it should be?
The building blocks of the operation
"Podcasting is still a fairly new space for us here in the Philippines. Like in the US, you have all these established podcasts," Liz says. "It's really part of media na, y'know?"
But what's missing is the infrastructure. DIY, individual podcast productions have been and always will be a thing, and to paraphrase Javier, the barrier of entry doesn't exist as long as you have a recording device. But to put it simply, we don't have our own NPR. "Here in the Philippines, it's not yet explored with a network."
But it could be. Maien notes that technological developments have made podcasts easier to listen to, what with smartphones getting cheaper, even though fast internet still isn't exactly easy to find around these parts. There's also the challenge of PumaPodcast’s target audiences still entirely devoted to old platforms. "I don't wanna generalize but, it's just that, it's mainly Facebook and other social media [platforms] that people are still more accustomed to. It will take some time before more people start using platforms like Spotify, because we still have our own traditional radio."
So how is it that PumaPodcast has been able to take off and shows no signs of stopping? It is, one could argue, the first platform of its kind in the country to approach the genre in the organized, systemic way that it does. "What we have been doing is providing a more structured approach and actually providing an infrastructure for potential podcasts," Carl says. That makes things a lot easier for creators like Ceej, who recalls that her past pod gig worked her to the bone, requiring her to take care of writing, editing, hosting, marketing. "The burnout factor can really get you when you're doing that much. I remember staying up till 4am to transcribe an interview and then having to edit it just the next day," she says. Now she has the backup of audio engineers and transcribers. Or, to put it simply, the help of a whole team.
The future of the medium
The shows under PumaPodcast's belt—including Huli Sa Balita, the token pod dedicated to updating you on current events—are just the beginning. The group is currently conceptualizing more shows, courting more patrons for bigger productions, and even working on making grants happen for those interested in entering the podcasting world.
For Carl, if good feedback from listeners is any indication, there's a lot of momentum for PumaPodcast to work with. "Everywhere I go, someone says, 'Y'know there should be a podcast about... whatever'. So far: 'There should be a podcast about Philippine history!' We have that. 'There should be a podcast about economics! We have that.' And so whenever there's a 'There should be a podcast about blank,' more likely than not, we're already thinking about it, because everybody just has suggestions. So we have a lot in the pipeline."
Go Hard Girls recently raised their money goal for a crowdfunding campaign for the show; they promised not just rewards for backers but also ten episodes worth of quality sports journalism. Te Talks look like it isn’t going to run out of steam because, according to Kat, “As long as magulo ang Pilipinas, there’s always something Te can talk about.” Usapang Econ has some fresh ideas lined up as well. Maien gives us a sneak peek: future episodes on the water crisis, traffic hell, and contractualization.
PumaPodcast is an operation with a lot of moving parts, but as with most things run by a team of extremely passionate people, it is going to snowball into something greater. This could spell a new era in Philippine entertainment, in which everybody realizes that the barrier of entry is low enough for anybody to have a go at this beautiful thing called podcasting. Aspiring hosts and storytellers better step up their game. As Kat puts it, "Everyone can be a podcaster, pero 'di lahat PumaPodcast."
You can listen to PumaPodcast’s shows on Spotify.
Photographs by Telle Ramos