Last month, Google introduced the inaugural class of their Podcast Creator program, a collaboration with the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). The program aims “to increase the diversity of voices in the industry globally and lower barriers to podcasting.” Among the six podcasts selected was Timestorm, an audio fiction series that follows Alexa and Beni, 12-year-old Puerto Rican twin siblings from New Jersey, as they travel through time to learn about Puerto Rican history and culture, as well as the island’s connection to other parts of the world. The show, which premiered this past November, is produced by Cocotazo Media, an independent production company led by the creative team of Dania Ramos and Michael Aquino. As part of the Podcast Creator program, the pair was invited to attend a weeklong boot camp at the PRX Podcast Garage in Boston. Centro Voices recently spoke with Ramos and Aquino to learn more about their experiences at the bootcamp, including what they hope to gain from the program and future plans going forward.
Centro Voices (CV): What was your initial reaction to the news that Timestorm had been selected for the program?
Michael (M): I felt amazed and thankful. The PRX Google Podcasts creator program had over 6,000 submissions from over 100 countries. The odds were small. I was waiting for someone to say, "Just kidding!" It was a bit surreal. I had made a huge leap this past summer to leave a full-time job in order to follow creative pursuits—Timestorm being one of them. The moment we found out we’d been selected was reaffirming. I felt I was following the right path.
Dania (D): When we learned had made the top 20, I had to remind myself to stay calm, that they were only selecting six creator teams, and there must have been a lot of excellent submissions to choose from. We were ecstatic when we eventually learned that we were invited to be part of the program.
CV: What do you hope to get out of the program?
M: We hope to have an exciting series and a better understanding of the industry. We also hope to learn about podcast development from people doing it day in and day out. Another amazing aspect is working alongside other podcast creators who are as passionate about their own shows. The collective energy is infectious.
D: We're looking to make a quality show for kids that parents can enjoy as well. We're hoping to get a real solid foundation about the business side of the industry so we can make Timestorm and future audio projects sustainable. We also want to maintain the supportive cohort that we're forming through this program.
CV: What does it mean to you to craft stories from a Puerto Rican perspective, in both the cultural and historical sense?
M: We both have different responsibilities in this process. Dania is crafting the story and I'm crafting how the world sounds in your ears. I'll think back to my experiences as a Puerto Rican (and Cuban) kid who grew up on the mainland and visited Puerto Rico. I'll think of the experiences of my father, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I let all of these memories influence my approach to the soundscape, music, and overall tone of the show. It's probably not very obvious on first listen. But, for me, it's present in the pace of the dialogue, the white noise of the coquis, the intensity of the rain. Urgency is a consistent theme in my design. I feel our history has always contained a sense of urgency.
D: I feel so lucky that we have the opportunity to create and share a story like Timestorm. I was born and raised in New Jersey, surrounded by Puerto Rican culture—both of my parents were very involved in the Puerto Rican community in Newark and we often visited family on the island. I saw firsthand how Puerto Rican identity looked and sounded like many different things, and that's something we want to explore in Timestorm. Alexa and Beni are New Jersey kids to the core, but they have a genuine curiosity about who and what came before them. And it’s in exploring their culture's past, that they start to take ownership over it. I think that plenty of kids (and adults) are going through or have been on a similar personal journey. (You know, minus the time portals and inter-dimensional travel.)
CV: What is your ultimate goal for Timestorm and how much does this opportunity change the scope of the project?
M: We hope that Timestorm can grow some wings. The PRX Google Podcasts creator program is a unique opportunity where we get access to amazing resources to make the best podcast possible. It's going to alter our release schedule for the first season a bit. But we are okay with that as long as we can create a sustainable model. We've received amazing feedback from our first creative review in Boston. People were very excited about the show. We'll also be soliciting listener feedback on certain aspects of the show to make it something families and kids (of all ages!) want to come back to again and again.
D: We want Timestorm to reach families across the world. We’ve actually taken steps toward this goal—we already have subscribers on the other side of the earth, which is so exciting to see! We also want to engage with our listeners in a meaningful way. This program will help us better understand how we can do this effectively and on a larger scale than we'd originally planned. Based on the feedback we received at the boot camp training week, we know we'll have to make some changes to our release schedule and expand our engagement strategy for a global audience.
CV: What made you decide to apply for the program? What do you think made your application stand out?
M: What's funny is that we were considering not applying because we were about to release our first episodes and we thought it would count against us. What swayed us to apply was the possibility of developing something even deeper if we had PRX and Google’s invaluable resources to tap into.
We feel our specificity and passion for Timestorm made our application stand out. We're very passionate about the themes expressed in the modern day storylines as much as the historical ones.
D: I was really drawn to the program's mission to “lower barriers to podcasting and increase the diversity of voices in the industry globally.” We also listen to many PRX podcasts, so the fact that they were leading the training made us perk up. We were already in production for the first five episodes at the time, and we weren't sure if they’d accept submissions from a show that had already launched. Luckily, they did!
I think having clear vision for the show and knowing our genre and target listenership helped a lot. We also communicated how we planned to incorporate recent events such as Hurricane Maria into a show about Puerto Rico's past.
CV: What advice do you have for those who may be considering applying to the program in the future?
M: If you think you have an idea—or are working on something—that is approaching a compelling question from an exciting angle, then apply. Be specific and know as much as you can about your idea. And really understand why you are the one to tell the story.
D: Know and respect the medium: it's growing and changing quickly. Listen to a wide range of podcasts and know how yours fits into the landscape. Be as clear as possible when talking about what your podcast is, who it's for, and why you're the person/people to make it. Be open to hearing honest feedback. Be ready to do your part to support other creators. Be willing to take risks.
To listen to Timestorm, visit the official website of Cocotazo Media.
Applications for the second round of the Google Podcast creator program are scheduled to open again in the Spring of this year.