Women journalists break the sound barrier by streaming directly to audiences through the Internet
Last week, a Nepal Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Dubai diverted to Delhi because a passenger fell ill. Capt Vijay Lama’s voice came on the Net immediately to explain what happened, and the steps a passenger with medical condition should take when flying.
Capt Lama wasn’t calling Air Traffic Control, he wasn’t making an announcement to passengers from the cockpit. His first-hand account was transmitted through an independent Nepali podcast channel called Sabscast on which 16,000 users streamed the pilot's message.
“Audio is the fastest medium to disseminate information,” says Sabeena Karki, former RJ and founder of Sabscast, who sees a vibrant future for the channel with the spread of smartphones and mobile Internet.
Unlike radio, podcasts are transmitted digitally via the Internet and listeners can either stream it online or download it to their mobiles and laptops. With ease of listening on the go, curated content and opportunities to monetise, the niche medium is gaining a loyal listenership in Nepal.
“Unlike radio where if you miss something, it’s gone, podcast allows you to listen over and over again whenever and wherever you want,” adds Karki, who quit her job at Kantipur FM to strike off on her own.
Listen to Sabeena Karki talk about the challenges and opportunities of online audio
Sabscast has programs ranging from storytelling, entertainment to news and politics. One of the most popular episodes was a chat with Kusum Shrestha, the vegetable girl whose photograph went viral on the Internet last year to score 40,000 streams on Sabscast.
Karki was initially worried whether she would get appointments and interviews as a freelancer. But after her popular podcast of a chat with former King Gyanendra (pictured above, right) there was no looking back. In less than a year, Sabscast has regular listeners in Nepal, the US and the Gulf.
She has sponsors for her show ‘Yo maya bhanne chij khai kasto kasto’ and advertising has started flooding in. Karki says she did not get into podcasting to earn money, and was only following her passion and experimenting with a new medium.
“The beauty of podcasting is that you don’t require fancy equipment, just a basic recording device and knowledge of audio editing,” Karki explains.
Bhrikuti Rai and Itisha Giri (above, left) are also podcast hosts of BojuBajai, which has a light-hearted take on serious issues of gender. In a studio in Jawalakhel, Rai sets up her laptop and connects via Skype to her co-host Giri in Spain to record their episodes.
Nine months since the launch BojuBajai has been gaining popularity, and their first episode ‘Bears and Whores’ has been streamed more than 8,000 times on the channel’s SoundCloud account.
“Podcast is a very liberating medium, there are no other distractions. Also not being affiliated to any organisation, we have complete control over our content and we can change our format and style depending on what the pressing issue is, allowing us to use our individuality to shape and spark a conversation that we think is important,” says Giri.
The pair have podcast about how media represents women, and trivialises issues of gender-based violence. All this is done in colloquial bilingual Nepali-English that is popular with young listeners.
“We went into it without any expectations but the response has been huge. We don’t just get instantaneous feedback, but listeners suggest issues they think we should cover,” says Rai.
Karki, Rai and Giri all agree that their main challenge is technical know-how of listeners, or the lack of it. Says Rai, “We still have to explain what podcast is and how people can listen to it. But with time I am sure the medium will grow given the love Nepalis have for audio.”
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