Shooting for the moon, in a podcast

The idea behind a 2016 Walkley Innovation Grant-funded project.

Artwork by Andrew Millist

Imagine waking up one day and looking out the window as Earth fades into the distance while you’re on the way to visit family and friends living on Mars. Or perhaps you’re going out for the day — so you hit a button in an app and your car pulls itself up right in front of your door, ready to drive you to your destination while you sit back and listen to a great podcast.

Technology is changing the world at a rapid rate. Every few months there seems to be a new idea that’s changing the way we interact with each other and the environment around us. In media we’re all well aware of the rapid rate of change facing our industry. But through all that constant change — there are some ideas that stand above all the rest. Those ideas are the ones that sit somewhere on the border of science fiction — ideas that might one day completely change the way we think about the world and humankind.

Together with Andrew Moon, who I used to work with at the ABC, we decided to create a podcast that allowed us to explore those crazy technology ideas and the people trying to make them happen. It’s also a great excuse to experiment with podcasting and see what we could do to bring an Australian angle to this technology discussions.

Moonshot is a podcast that explores those crazy, seemingly impossible ideas. Many technology companies now have “Moonshot” divisions — people dedicated to solving the impossible.

The idea was to create a short, narrative-style podcast, bridging some of the great storytelling ideas you may hear in podcasts like Reply All or Planet Money.

When I looked around the Australian podcasting space — apart from the ABC and a couple of other great podcasts such as Bowraville from The Australian — I got the feeling that there was a lot lacking in terms of local, narrative-driven audio content. Even moreso when it came to Australian voices in rapidly advancing technological pursuits.

At the start of the process, Andrew and I threw around a lot of ideas about how we would fill 17-ish minutes of audio, but we did agree on one thing very early. We didn’t want Moonshot to be just the two of us discussing advances in this tech. There are plenty of podcasts doing that! Instead, we wanted to use our connections to the start-up scenes in both Melbourne and Sydney, to ensure the topics we covered were spoken predominantly from interesting and diverse voices.

That also led us to cement our editorial focus, on short stories about about impossibly large ideas.

And even though Moonshot is our first podcast, we wanted it to have a very distinct sound from the outset. I reached out to the incredible Breakmaster Cylinder early on, who created the theme music for Reply All, and he offered to also make the theme music for Moonshot. A friend of mine, Andrew Millist, created our very distinct cover artwork — something that is vital when you’re trying to stand out from other podcasts.

One unique challenge we’ve had in producing Moonshot was that Andrew now lives and works in San Francisco. That means that instead of recording the discussion between us in one take, we have to be more deliberate in our structure and scripting, and more organised when it comes to the production and editing. The other added advantage of this co-location is the access this gives us to Australians now living in the United States — working at the likes of Facebook and Google, or leading technology research and policy development.

The funding from the innovation grants is helping us to source high quality production music, improve our editing software, and build our audience. But for me — Moonshot is really the first step in a much bigger picture.

I think Australia can, and should, be competing against emerging commercial podcasting companies like Gimlet Media, Panoply, or Pineapple Street Media — we have the talent to build something here — but we need to recognise the global market we’re competing in and make sure we’re setting ourselves up to achieve the impossible.



Learn more about the Walkley Journalism Incubator and Innovation Fund.

Subscribe to the Walkleys newsletter: Our favorite reads, plus awards and other opportunities.