The challenges of creating a bilingual podcast in the U.S Midwest

Given the current U.S. political environment — one that is somewhat hostile toward immigrants — we set out to tell the stories of Latinos living in the country, in a bilingual format. In this article we explain the challenges we encountered when creating ¿Qué Pasa Midwest?, a program about — and for — Latinos in a mostly English-speaking, Caucasian context, and how we reached our billenial — bilingual millennial — audience.

By Paola Marizán

When I arrived in Indiana, a state in the middle of the U.S., I began searching for ways to connect with the Latin American community. As a Latina journalist, I’d found that one way to connect with other Latinos was to tell the stories one hears so often in larger states like New York, California, and Texas. When I found that in Evansville, the city where I live, not many outlets existed for stories about Latinos’ lives, I started looking for alternatives.

First, I tried telling Latinos’ stories through the Evansville radio station. One of my objectives was for the Latino community — on whom the stories centered, and which is so affected by the national political environment — to be able to understand them. But our station is in the middle of Indiana, where the majority of the audience speaks English; the directors thought that telling the stories in Spanish would be bad for the station, and they told us we couldn’t do it.

Left to right: Maree Thomas, Paola Marizán, and Karlee Barton in the Latino Chamber Alliance Celebration 2018 at the Evansville Museum.

Nonetheless, when we told the stories in English, they were not reaching the Latin American population. Talking to people from the community, I realized that nobody had listened to the broadcast stories because they only spoke Spanish. At that point, we decided to create a podcast so that everyone could listen to these stories anywhere, anytime, and understand them. ¿Qué Pasa Midwest? covers subjects specific to Latinos, like immigration and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which is an immigration policy created to help some illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

One of the challenges we encountered was that the team that worked at the radio station didn’t know what a podcast was, or how to reach the podcast-listening audience. Nor did they know how to sustain new listeners, or how to monetize podcasts.

The solution was to create a production plan that detailed the number of people we would reach through a web-only show, the benefits of serving the Latino community, and the popularity podcasts have among young people — an audience the radio station was trying to reach through their programs.

Lydia Stevenson, guest for episode N. 3

The goal of sharing these stories is to create a strong feeling of community in the midwest for the Latinos who moved there and are missing an essential part of their culture. The stories we tell are about resilience, adaptation, and growth — stories that most Latinos identify with.

The audience has responded quite well to the bilingual format, as they can interact with the language they hear daily in the midwest, as well as with their native language.

On the other hand, the English-speaking audience has also responded very positively. Because, even though they do not speak Spanish, they can easily follow the story and understand what it is about. Many of them tell us that their children are taking Spanish classes at school and they enjoy our podcast; they get excited at being able to understand the stories. We have even found out that the audience didn’t know some of these stories were happening (like our “Parole in Place” episode) or that they had never heard anyone telling their border-crossing experience, like in Amalia’s episode. We don’t believe the podcast has changed English-speakers’ minds about Latinos, as most of our listeners support the immigrant community, but we believe that the more inclusive the conversation is, the better.

This week, ¿Qué Pasa Midwest? will beging to be broadcast over the radio (until now, it has been online only).

This text was translated and edited from it’s original publication in Spanish in the Podcaster@s bi-weekly newsletter, where we share the top news and diverse perspectives from fans and producers of podcasts in Spanish. Sign up for it here.

Paola Marizán covers local news and culture for WNIN. She is also producing the station’s first bilingual program: ¿Qué Pasa Midwest?. She graduated with a BA in journalism from the University of Southern Indiana, where she wrote for the student newspaper, The Shield. @pmarizan

Mareea Thomas is a radio host, operations manager, and co-producer of ¿Qué Pasa, Midwest? She graduated from the University of Evansville (UE) with a degree in communication. Prior to working at WNIN, she worked at UE’s student radio station as a host and producer.