Meet The Podcasters – Episode One: Dave McRae

Welcome to the first edition of Meet The Podcasters, our exciting new series showcasing the talented audio-makers around the University of Melbourne!

Our first guest is Dave McRae, co-host of the Talking Indonesia podcast.

Silvi: What is the Talking Indonesia podcast about?

Dave: It’s a fortnightly podcast that presents an in depth interview with leading experts on political and social issues in Indonesia. We aim both to go beyond the depth of coverage that you get in the mainstream media, and also to present a more diverse range of voices. For instance, we’ve been going for around two and a half years now, and around two thirds of our guests have been Indonesians and over 40% of episodes have had female guests. We really want to present first rate analyses from a diverse set of voices to an English speaking audience.

Silvi: Why did you decide to host the podcast?

Dave: I work at the Asia Institute here at Melbourne, working on Indonesian politics and foreign policy. Back in 2015, along with professor Tim Lindsey over in the law school, we established an Indonesia at Melbourne blog, again, with the idea of making academic expertise and diverse voices on Indonesia, accessible both to other academics but particularly to a mainstream audience.

As part of setting up that blog, I felt at the time there wasn’t really a podcast that did what Talking Indonesia now does. I had a background in think tanks, and had done a lot of media interviews through that think tank experience, so I had seen how effective audio could be in reaching a broad audience  — and that was kind of where Talking Indonesia came from.

audio just has a broader reach than some of the other ways that you might try to get a message out to an audience.

Silvi: Why choose audio over other mediums?

Dave: I think it’s very nice to have a conversation with other experts. Often you find yourself in a bit of a silo, and it’s nice to just get out there, learn more about other people’s work and try to have an intelligent conversation about it in a way that’s going to be interesting to a broad range of people. I think I certainly learn a lot from those conversations. It’s interesting and I think it’s often easier for guests to commit time for a conversation, rather than have to write something.

Through my think tank background, some of the communications experts I encountered there argued fairly convincingly that audio just has a broader reach than some of the other ways that you might try to get a message out to an audience. I can be catching the train home after work and listening to a podcast. That’s much easier to do than sitting and trying to read an article or watch a video or anything else.

SilviWho listens to Talking Indonesia? What audience are you aiming to reach?

Dave: Our biggest audience group is actually located in Indonesia itself. We’ve seen, both across these podcasts and the various blogs that cover Indonesian political and social issues, a real thirst for analysis of political and social trends in the country. We see our audience spread across a range of countries apart from Indonesia. Through informal feedback I know we have a lot of listeners among government, among journalists, among academics… really, the audience we’re trying to hit is: people with an interest in Indonesia who may not be academic experts on the topics that we’re discussing.

Silvi: What’s been your most successful episode to date?

Dave: Success is a difficult term to define. I think there’s many elements of success. Grappling with a difficult or unexpected topic is a success in itself, and having a guest really showcase their unique and interesting work to a broad audience is also intensely satisfying. If we did boil it straight down to numbers, the highest traffic episode was one that came just after the incumbent Jakarta governor at the time, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok, was made a suspect in a blasphemy case.

In that case, I was able to interview an academic over at Monash University who had researched controversies over religion in the previous Jakarta gubernatorial election and they provided an in depth historical background and explained some of the political interest in that case, right at the moment where public demand for that sort of analysis had peaked. That really got a fantastic response, well in excess of any episode we’d done to that point, and since then I think that’s brought a lot of new listeners to the podcast and we’ve seen our audience really grow rapidly.

we’ve produced the podcast on a shoestring so all the production is essentially done by the presenters. I think that’s been a learning process for all of us.

Silvi: What have you found most challenging or surprising about podcasting?

Dave: I think a lot of academics, myself included, have experience in being interviewed by the media for general audience. It’s quite an interesting process I think, to turn the microphone around and become good at having a relaxed conversation that’s interesting and informative, and structuring it in a way that will be accessible to the broadest possible audience. I think that has been a learning experience. We’ve produced the podcast on a shoestring so all the production is essentially done by the presenters. I think that’s been a learning process for all of us.

What I would say to people looking at creating a podcast is actually: technology and the off-the-shelf platforms to distribute a podcast that are available today really make it quite easy to do. A lot of our episodes are recorded on $150 microphones, edited on laptops and put out on SoundCloud and yet, reach a very broad audience. So I think if you really know a subject and you have any interest communicating with a broad audience, technology actually makes it easier now than it’s ever been.

Silvi: What’s been your most memorable podcasting moment?

Dave: The podcast is recorded in a wide range of locations — sometimes in person, sometimes over Skype, and so at times, that’s thrown up challenges either for the hosts or for the guests. A particular guest had to pause in the middle of recording the podcast because a snake had come into his house. He said, “Hang on a sec, let me deal with this.” Then he came back to the microphone and said, “Sorted,” and, “Let’s get on with things,” so I really had to admire his composure under pressure at that time.

Also, in Jakarta, it’s a very crowded, noisy city and finding a quiet space to record a podcast can be challenging. I can recall recording one episode and being told I could use a sound proof studio in a car park of a shopping centre. In fact, the studio was not sound proof at all, so I had to rely on the patience of the guest to pause every time a motor bike came past, until the sound of the engine had faded, and then continue on with the answer before another motor bike would go past. So that was quite a process. 

a particular guest had to pause in the middle of recording the podcast because a snake had come into his house.

Silvi: Do you have a top tip for people who are just starting out in podcasting?

Dave: Think about who your audience is and what your comparative advantage is in producing something for that audience. What is it that you want to communicate? What do people want to know about? And why are you the best person to do that? If you think about that from the beginning, you’ll learn a lot of things along the way in terms of structuring episodes, editing, production, sound quality and so on. If you start with a interesting product that’s a bit different to what’s out there, I think your listeners will show you a great degree of patience in sticking with the podcast as it evolves.

Silvi: What podcasts are you listening to at the moment?

Dave: I listen to a broad range of podcasts — I like to listen to comedy podcasts on the way home from work, just to wind down from the day. Then I guess more subject-matter related podcasts when I’ve got a spare half an hour or hour to listen to them. Everything from Policy Shop, to Ear to Asia, right through to things like Hamish and Andy.

Silvi: What’s the next episode of Talking Indonesia about?

Dave: The next one will be produced by Dr. Jemma Purdey over at Monash and it’s on being Chinese and Muslim in Indonesia. With some of the Islamist mobilisations over the past year, where we’ve seen hardliners really try to pit Chinese-Indonesian identity against Muslim-Indonesian identity, I think the guest in that episode will highlight some very interesting crossovers between Indonesians who are both Chinese and Muslim.

Thanks to Dave McRae and the Talking Indonesia team. Tune in next time!