Over the past decade, podcasts have transformed from cumbersome audio downloads to a media mainstay for millions of listeners. In March, BuzzSpout counted an astonishing 2.4 million active podcasts. One-fourth of Americans 55 and older listen to podcasts monthly, according to Edison Research.
Some who are captivated by podcasts want to do more than listen; a growing number of people are crafting their own audio content. Notable Twin Cities podcasters range from amateurs to media veterans, covering subjects as diverse as nomadism, feminism, mental health, spirituality and rock ‘n’ roll.
Here are five Minnesota podcasters over 50 worth downloading.
‘Dr. Verna’s Virtues’
All day Verna Price looked forward to the spicy chicken curry she was cooking in her slow cooker.
But when she arrived home, instead of a fragrant ready-to-serve supper for her family, she found the meat still raw. She had forgotten to plug in her slow cooker.
“I saw the message there. You can be close to the source but if you’re not intentional, not plugged in, you’re not going to get where you need to be,” said Price, the voice of “Dr. Verna’s Virtues.”
From her Robbinsdale home, Price has recorded more than 100 motivational podcasts that range from nine to 12 minutes.
‘I stay away from the word ‘sermon.’ It’s a mini-coaching session, a lesson on how you use your power every day,” Price said. “I encourage people to understand their potential and their ability to change their life and their world.”
Born in the Bahamas, Price came to the United States at 10 and arrived in Minnesota for college in 1982. Armed with a doctorate in educational policy and leadership, she built a 30-year career as an executive coach, corporate consultant and keynote speaker.
“I’m my seasoned self now. I needed to grow up before I could share these lessons,” Price said. “Podcasting is the stage I’ve been looking for to teach people they can do better and be better.”
“Dr. Verna’s Virtues” was conceived when Price was recruited by media personality Sheletta Brundidge, who created a platform hosting podcasts by Black subject experts.
“My community wants authoritative voices like mine to be elevated,” she said. “My messages are especially powerful to people of color who need to hear one more time, day to day, they can do this thing, that success is for them.”
The author of three self-help books, Price is packaging some of her podcast parables into their own volume.
“There’s no straight line between podcasting and making money, but my podcast gives me new levels of influence and credibility. I’ve gotten consulting clients and speaking engagements because of it. They can check me out. It shares my brand, as they say .”
‘The Bob Davis Podcasts’
Two years ago, Bob Davis sold, donated or tossed everything he owned and drove off in his 20-year-old converted ambulance to “look for America.” The self-described nomad now lives in a retrofitted truck, cruising the country and producing “The Bob Davis Podcasts” from the road.
“I’ve fully let go; I have no home base. That’s what the content is about,” said Davis. “You’d be surprised what you don’t need. You only find out when you do this.”
A commercial radio veteran with almost five decades of experience, Davis arrived in the Twin Cities in the 1980s as a program director. He later hosted conservative talk shows on KSTP and KTLK.
Now that he’s off the grid, political rhetoric is off his agenda.
“I stepped back from that and won’t ever talk about that stuff again,” he said. “People are tired of the fussing and fighting. My listeners are other nomads and people interested in this life. I’m no giver advice. I don’t get into how to empty black water tanks, what kind of hitch to use. talk about the experience.”
Davis was still talking current events when he began podcasting out of his Uptown Minneapolis apartment in 2009, when “the Genius Bar at the Apple store didn’t know how to help me get it out.” Since then, he’s uploaded more than 1,000 episodes. Today he records one to three 30- to 35-minute podcasts every week, often stream-of-conscious stemwinders interspersed with occasional conversations with a fellow nomad.
“This medium is made for me and I don’t want to waste it,” Davis said.
The technical aspects of podcasting are far simpler than when he was a pioneer. With his experience, he finds composing his monologues to be effortless but warns that it’s not as easy as it sounds.
“I wouldn’t recommend starting a podcast unless you really have something to say,” he said. “When I worked in radio, we had a saying: ‘Everybody has one talk show in them. But then what?’
“Now I have so much to talk about. Out here, I’m ageless and timeless.”
Rob Hahn couldn’t find a podcast focusing on a topic he’s both curious and passionate about, so he created it himself.
“I wanted something about what I consider the halcyon days of FM radio, from the ’70s through the mid-’80s,” said Hahn, 53. “I tracked down the big DJs, rock critics and authors who’ve written about rock ‘n’ roll musicians associated with that era and recorded with them.”
Twelve episodes of Hahn’s “Rock Conversations” are available; the first episodes of Season 2 are dropping now. His one-on-ones, averaging 40 minutes, are interviews with personalities who share memories and previously untold anecdotes from their careers. He chats up eyewitnesses to behind-the-scenes touring antics by legends such as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen.
Perhaps the biggest “get” for the St. Paul communications and media relations consultant was E Street Band member and actor Steven Van Zandt.
“When he released his memoir, I checked with his publicist who said, “Not likely.” I circled back a few months later and they found me a small opening, 15 minutes with him,” said Hahn. “Once we started, he went for 30 minutes kept talking 10 minutes more. The stories were incredible.”
But that was not his most downloaded episode. That distinction goes to Hahn’s “rock conversation” with veteran New York disc jockey Dennis Elsas.
“In 1974, the heyday for the big rocker WNEW-FM, he did a two-hour interview with John Lennon. He shared lots of nuggets about that. I posted [about the episode] on the John Lennon Facebook fan page and got something like 3,000 downloads in 24 hours.”
A Winona native, Hahn got hooked on radio during boyhood trips to see his grandparents in the Chicago area, when he spent hours tuned into legendary FM stations.
“There’s a target audience, people 45 to 65, who grew up listening like I did,” he said. “I say the podcast is for them but first and foremost, it’s for me.”
‘Mental Health With Dr.’ Melissa Mork’
After being an expert guest on multiple podcasts, it wasn’t much of a stretch for Melissa Mork to launch her own.
The first episode of “Mental Health” went live last month with 20 more weekly episodes set to follow. Each features an interview with a person with a history of mental illness.
“We dive deep, sharing intimate information. I ask about their diagnosis, how their illness emerged, how they cope, what makes their symptoms better or worse, how this impacts their spiritual life as Christians,” she said.
With a doctorate in clinical psychology, Mork is a tenured professor at the University of Northwestern, St. Paul. At 54, she believes she has not only the academic knowledge and background as a psychotherapist but also the “wisdom and gravitas” to carry the podcasts, which average 45 minutes.
“I can ask the right questions in the right way. I don’t know if I could have done it earlier, but at this time in my life I have a voice and a lot to share. I teach, but there’s a larger audience that could benefit from this information without any assignments, grades and tests.”
Mork’s empathetic approach, framing mental illness as a chronic condition, is aimed at dismantling the stigma that can prevent or delay treatment.
“We’re all slightly voyeuristic, and it’s natural to be curious about the lives of others. We wonder, what’s it like to live with schizophrenia, OCD or postpartum depression?” she said. “Listeners might hear a story that resonates and identify symptoms they see in a friend or family member or even themselves.”
Mork hopes her listeners will “almost feel like eavesdroppers” on conversations that are real and sometimes raw but are ultimately hopeful, focusing on resilience and finding ways to manage mental illness.
“The pandemic left us starved for human connections. This is the medium for hearing and sharing stories now,” she said. “In small-talk conversations, when people don’t want to get into politics or current events, I hear them say, ‘What podcasts do you listen to?”
‘Island of Discarded Women’
Live: Second Sunday of every month; dinner at 5:30 pm, show at 7 pm; Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, 410 Oak Grove St.; $20.
She doesn’t do the dishes after her live dinner show, but Sue Scott has her hands in every other aspect of her podcast, “Island of Discarded Women.”
The actress, 65, produces, casts and hosts the monthly performance from the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis. She even selects the vegan entree on the menu.
“I’m learning on the fly,” said Scott, a familiar voice from her 24 years on Minnesota Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” “I don’t write everything but I guide it. I’m the decision-maker.”
Scott gathers a multiracial, intergenerational cast of female actors, spoken-word artists and musicians to “lift women’s voices” through sketch comedy, songs and storytelling. She’s recorded 24 one-hour episodes.
“When I was thinking about starting, I talked to a podcast marketing guy who was very discouraging. He told me, ‘Older women don’t listen to podcasts,'” Scott said. “And he said, ‘You’re trying to do too much, a live variety show with an interview and theme. Listeners want one or the other.'”
Undaunted, Scott pursued her vision. She was looking for a new platform after she was released from “Prairie Home” after longtime host Garrison Keillor retired in 2016.
“The creative team decided a younger woman would be better with the new young host, and that didn’t pass my smell test. I knew that as women age they get edged out, but it had never happened to me,” she said.
“Being pushed aside when I felt I was at the top of my game fired up my awareness.”
Scott chose the title of the podcast to be satirical, noting that “satire isn’t always funny.” A self-described “preacher’s kid from a social-justice family,” Scott leads as a gentle rabble-rouser for the marginalized, her sly humor ever-present.
“‘Speak out, speak up’ was my first rally cry. We heard from women overcoming obstacles and where they’ve been dismissed,” she said. “During the racial reckoning we expanded those voices. We talk about how can we learn, grow, support each other. I’m inspired and uplifted by stories from women who aren’t like me.”
She’s also settling into her role as mentor, model and mission-sharer to younger performers.
“When I was a girl we couldn’t wear pants to school. We fixed that, but we’re still beating the drum about equal pay, child care, the ERA,” she said. “Let’s make changes for this next generation of fierce women. I say, let’s roar.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based writer and broadcaster.