BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Shelley Watkins grew up reading and discussing a wide range of topics at her family’s cottage on Lake Leelanau.
“We called it backtalk because we’d sit in the back and talk about absolutely everything,” said Shelley, describing the cottage north of Leland, a gathering place for extended family of all generations.
Now she and her daughters, Jen Watkins of Santa Fe, N.M., and Cait Watkins of Chicago, are using their conversational arts to attract listeners to their weekly podcast, the Whole Shebang. The free show is available on iTunes and their website, wholeshebang.com.
The approximately 30-minute podcasts are designed to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, said Shelley, 57, a freelance editor from Leland. Topics — three per show — range from Hannibal Lecter, panhandling and competitive laughter to minimum wage, recent scientific discoveries and Easter.
“We’re generalists, which makes it harder to find an audience. It really is three women discussing everything: science, politics, education,” she said. “It’s kind of what’s moving us at any particular time.”
The women take turns hosting the podcasts selecting the wildly diverse topics each Sunday.
“Usually I try and choose topics that will be a little controversial, that, if they saw in the heading of the podcast topics, people would think, ‘Hmm, I wonder what they’ll say,’” said Jen, 30, a software developer. “Then there are two topics that are more fun or more easily discussed without a lot of prior preparation.”
Each show wraps up with an “enrichment or engagement” segment in which all three share something from the week that either pleases or peeves them, like “Jen is enriched by the IRS commissioner’s talk about the future of taxes” or “Cait is enraged by housemate’s unattended buzzing alarm clock.”
“Cait is very cranky and some of the funniest material is when she’s cranky,” Jen said.
The mother-daughter podcast is a way of staying close and of following each other’s growth and experiences, Shelley said.
“I can tell where my girls are in their mind on anything,” she said. “I can’t wait to hear what they want to talk about and I can’t wait to hear what they’ll say. It’s really fun for a mom to hear her daughters talk about things other than the mundane.”
“We’re very close, the whole family is. We kind of live in each other’s pockets. But as your children grow and have their own lives, there’s a growth intellectually and emotionally that you don’t get to see otherwise.”
The podcast began in August, after Jen proposed it the Christmas before. It’s produced using Skype and an audio editor and recorder, then uploaded on Amazon Cloud and posted on iTunes and the website. Podcasts are automatically downloaded to subscribers’ iPods.
“What we hope to do is develop a nice community of listeners that are talking about us on iTunes and talking about the shows on our website,” said Jen, a 2001 graduate of Leland High School. “That sort of communication with listeners is more important than saying 250 people listened to our podcast this week.”
While the women are articulate, opinionated, well-informed and funny, it’s their chemistry that makes the show work, they say. Jen is pragmatic, capable and confident, Caitlin, a 27-year-old mobile experience business owner, is outgoing, creative and temperamental.
“I suppose what’s so interesting is what genetics can do,” Shelley said. “Same parents, same upbringing. In some ways they are very alike and yet they’re very different.
“When they were little I would watch them walk to the school bus and Jen would be walking along in measured paces, everything matched. Caitlin, who I let dress herself, would have on very colorful things, with these wild curls. She would be bouncing along next to Jen. That, to me, symbolizes the differences between them.
“They’re fantastic young ladies,” she said. “They’ve been a delight from day one. And I lucked out and got them.”