A Perfectly Executed Podcast


Rachel Belle has been with Bonneville’s KIRO radio in Seattle for 10 years. For seven of those years she’s been a part of the station’s afternoon drive Ron & Don show, where she hosts a segment called “Ring My Belle.”

When Bonneville decided it was time to get into the podcast business, it turned to an obvious group for suggestions: employees who speak to and have a connection with the community. Rachel had an idea — and the company loved it.

Radio Ink: How did the idea for this podcast come about?
Belle: My radio station decided they wanted to start their own little podcast network because podcasts are becoming so popular and they didn’t want to get left in the dust. They decided to ask all employees to make a pilot. They had a group of people pick the best three, and mine was one of them.

I had this idea to do something about the “last meal.” Ten years ago I was researching something online and I accidentally came across a website that listed the last meal of every prisoner executed in the state of Texas. I decided to turn that into a podcast. I wanted it to reach a lot of people, so I thought we would also look into the history and culture of each dish. And we would have celebrities on and interview them about what their last meal would be.

Radio Ink: Who was your first podcast with?
Belle: My first interview was Tom Douglas, who is a Seattle chef and restaurateur, a real celebrity in this city. I knew it was going to be hard to get a national or international celebrity when I didn’t really have any credibility to back it up. Being attached to the radio station makes it easier to get guests, and I’ve interviewed celebrities before, but to get someone out of the blue to get this project going, I thought he would be an easy one to start with. He’s actually thought about this. Tom has already set money aside for his wake. He’s picked out a specific Chinese restaurant, and he has the entire menu picked out. That was kind of fun for the first episode.

Radio Ink: How many of these podcasts have you done so far? 

Belle: I started in September 2016 and have about 37 episodes. I do an episode every other week, with the exception of some holidays. I try to keep them around 30 minutes, but my mantra is “just make it what it needs to be.” Sometimes it’s shorter. I try not to stretch it just to make it half an hour if the content isn’t all good.

Radio Ink: Is there a lot of production?
Belle: There is. A couple of other people doing podcasts here say it’s not a big deal, it takes them about an hour a week. They just get in the studio and do a live show, two people talking about something. I wanted my podcast to be produced. I wanted it to be the kind of podcast I would like to listen to, and since I was conducting multiple interviews, I couldn’t do it the same way they were.

It’s not just me talking about stuff. It’s facts and interviews. There are always at least two interviews, sometimes three. All of that needs to get cut up. Then I write a skeleton script, and after we record that my producer Aaron Mason does the editing. I used to do that myself, but it’s just too much work. I had original music made for it as well. You get used to being at a radio station where you can play any music you want, but with podcasting, you don’t have the same rights. I have friends that are local musicians. I paid them to record original music. The name of the band is Prom Queen.

Radio Ink: Are you surprised by how popular the topic became?
Belle: Yes and no. It’s always surprising when something takes off. It’s not the most popular podcast in the world, but it’s doing well. What really helped me was that about three months in, somehow it ended up on the front page of iTunes’ New and Noteworthy. I have no idea how or why, but it stayed there for three weeks, and that helped get all kinds of people to click on it. I was only talking about the podcast on KIRO and using social media to get people to listen. If you want to get people around the country to listen, that’s how it will really catch on.

Radio Ink: You also make money now, which is very cool.
Belle: Yes. The podcast is now sponsored. I didn’t get paid at first, but now, with the sponsor, I do. The station decided to have one sponsor that is signed on for a year. The deal is if I get X number of downloads per month, I get X percent of the revenue. The most I can make, if I get 5,000 downloads per episode, is 30 percent of the revenue. If I don’t hit that, the next rung down is 20 percent.

Radio Ink: What is the most interesting part about this for you?
Belle: At KIRO radio I’m a featured reporter and I host a live segment called “Ring My Belle,” so every day I pick three or four stories that are “ringing my bell.” I spend a lot of time at my desk with headphones on, editing audio. I’m an extrovert, and that makes me tired. I’m supposed to be doing a creative job, so it doesn’t really fulfill me all the time.

I love getting to do these interviews. My favorite thing is food. I could talk about food all day. I read about it, I write about it, talk about it, cook it, eat it. So getting to actually do something for work that’s in a niche that I’m passionate about is really enjoyable.

Everybody wants to work in an arena with something they’re passionate about, but most people don’t get to. I have always enjoyed doing the news, but this is really fun for me because I love learning the history about these dishes. Food moves around the world because of politics and war, because of people emigrating. It’s really cool to learn all that. A lot of stuff doesn’t even make it into the podcast because I can’t fit it all in. I do learn a lot from each episode.

Radio Ink: What has been the most interesting last meal somebody wants? 

Belle: It’s hard to say. Sometimes the person is more charismatic, sometimes the food is more interesting, sometimes the history is more interesting.

Radio Ink: Is it hard to get celebrities on your podcast?

Belle: They have to be promoting something, otherwise they don’t care to be interviewed. I’m always looking around to see who’s coming to town for a book reading or a concert or someone who has a movie out. Sometimes they do come to us. It is a lot of work because there are a lot of podcasts that have multiple producers. I have a producer, but he works on all of the podcasts. I only get a fraction of his time, so I’m the one trying to track everyone down. It’s tedious, a lot of time, doing Internet research and getting pushed from one person to the next.

Radio Ink: Talk about a few of your favorite interviews and what they say their last meal would be.
Belle: One of my favorites was Chris Ballew. He’s the frontman for the band The Presidents of United States of America. Now he does children’s music; he calls himself Caspar Babypants. His last meal was one of the most plain; he just wants macaroni with butter and salt.

Nancy Pearl, a celebrity librarian, wants baked mac and cheese. The recipe she likes is from The Joy of Cooking, which is such a classic cookbook. It turns out the grandson of the original author is still writing the cookbook today, so it was cool to talk to him. Ann Wilson from Heart wants Kentucky Fried Chicken, which I was really surprised about. I interviewed KFC and got the history of Colonel Sanders. Everybody has an interesting history.

It’s fascinating. I interviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, and found out that he almost became an exotic dancer when he was in college but decided to go with science. One guy who is a vegan wanted rare steak and a martini for his last meal. A lot of these people are being interviewed constantly, but nobody really asks them about food. It’s fun for them because it’s fresh, something they don’t usually get to talk about. I’ve learned it’s not necessarily the fanciest food — nobody has ever chosen caviar. It ends up being about a memory or something from their childhood, something sentimental, comfort food.

Radio Ink: What advice do you have for others hoping to do a podcast?
Belle: I think, concept-wise, my best advice is to really narrow in on a concept. Don’t have something vague like “country music.” You have to have something to narrow in on that will make you unique and set you apart so that you know what you’re doing when you’re putting it together, so listeners will know what they are coming for.

It’s a way to reach your listeners in a new way. You can talk longer. You can talk however you want, about whatever topic you like. If you have fans and people love you already, they get more time with you, and that will ricochet back and forth between promoting your radio show and the podcast. It helps establish a stronger brand.

Radio Ink: It has to be nice to work for a station, a company, that allows you to produce something that you’re really interested in.
Belle: It is cool. It benefits them because it’s through the radio station. My radio station is really unique in that they celebrate the personalities of the people on the station. They recognize that listeners like them, so let them have some freedom. A lot of us have a lot of freedom in what we do.

In the work that I do with my feature reporting, nobody assigns me anything. I get to pick everything, which means I have to do that extra work as well, but they really trust us. That allows people to shine. If you’re working on something you’re interested in, it’s going to be interesting. My boss and co-workers are not super into food, but they see what happens when I talk about it. I get excited, and that makes it interesting. I’m not getting in the weeds, down and dirty with food. I try and keep it broad enough to capture a lot of interest.

Radio Ink: What are your favorite podcasts?
Belle: My favorite podcast is called Unorthodox. It is a Jewish podcast that comes from Tablet magazine. It’s so funny and smart. The three hosts jibe together very well. I don’t have a lot of Jewish friends even though I am Jewish. The show makes me feel so Jewish and very connected when I listen. They do a really good job of connecting a community.

I also really like Terrible, Thanks for Asking [American Public Media]. It’s about grief, but it’s not so sad. The woman who does it [Nora McInerny] is a genius. She’s never hosted a podcast, but her voice and her cadence and her storytelling is so good.

Rachele’s podcast was just nominated for a James Beard AwardReach out to Rachel to congratulate her at [email protected]


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