Yesterday I went to Jodrell Bank for the second ever Jodcast Live event – a recording of The Jodcast in front of a live audience – to celebrate the podcast’s 10th birthday. For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Jodcast, it’s a twice-monthly astronomy podcast run by astronomers at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics. I was involved with it as a PhD student from 2009 until I left Manchester in 2012, and in particular was the Executive Producer (responsible for the overall running of the show) in 2010-12.
The current set of Jodcast-ers, led by PhD students Benjamin Shaw and Charlie Walker, did a fantastic job with Jodcast Live 2016, and it was a much more slick and polished affair than when we held the first one in 2009! Several of us former Jodcast-ers were invited back, and others sent in video messages. Naturally, being in such an environment invoked much nostalgia and story-telling of Jodcast-past, and on the drive home I came up with my top five Jodcast memories:
1. The Beginning
I often describe my introduction to Jodcast-ing as a baptism of fire! In April 2009, six months into my PhD studies, I attended the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Hatfield. The Jodcast is a regular presence at the NAM conferences but none of the core team were attending the 2009 meeting, so before the conference they emailed round the department to see if anyone else would be up for taking the kit down to do some recording.
Despite being a somewhat shy and socially-awkward person, I ended up taking charge of Jodcast-at-NAM, alongside fellow first-year PhD student Neil Young (dubbing ourselves the Jodcast Juniors). Suddenly I found myself able to approach random senior astronomers, safe in the knowledge that recording Jodcast interviews gave me a reason to do so. When we got back to Manchester, Neil and I were asked to also join in for the presenting (I don’t think I really said anything!) and the rest is history!
2. Adventures with Dave
David Ault is one of the original Jodcast members, but had already left Jodrell Bank by the time the podcast started. This meant that for my first few Jodcast recordings, Dave was a mysterious voice at the other end of a Skype call. That all changed in June 2009 when we finally found ourselves in the same place at the same time…Milan train station! Dave and I ended up recording the presenting for the July 2009 edition sitting on a patch of grass at the side of the road, and getting some extremely funny looks in the process!
Dave and I continued our international Jodcast adventures the following year in the USA, meeting up while he was on his ‘astrotour‘ of science centres, and I had finished up at the VLA summer school. I flew over to Washington DC where he was staying with his (and now my) wonderful friend M, and spent a fun few days recording the July 2010 edition on a bed (it was the best place for the acoustics), nerding out at the Air & Space Museums, and doing some stargazing with local astronomers.
3. Jodcast Live 2009
The first Jodcast Live was held in November 2009, where we recorded what ended up as the December 2009 and December 2009 Extra shows. If I’m honest, the day is a bit of a blur, but certain moments stick in my mind: meeting Chris Lintott for the first time and cramming him into my tiny car when we picked him up from the station, being slightly freaked out when we went up on stage and the audience started taking photos of us (it was the first time we realised that we were almost famous to a very small set of people!), and the feeling of achievement in the pub afterwards that we managed to pull it off!
4. Spring 1990
The Jodcast has a tradition of creating April Fool episodes, and my favourite has to be the 2010 one. For this episode, Stuart had the brilliant idea of recording the episode as if we were in Spring 1990. The level of detail that went into the planning was incredible, from adding in tape background noise (we did actually record on tape but the sound quality was horrendous!) to creating artwork for a cassette case. For my part, I made a 90s version of the theme music, and pretended I had just returned from an observing trip in the States where I had watched a new cartoon called The Simpsons…
One of the main reasons why I love this April Fool so much, is that everything in the episode is correct for the time. In my case, my PhD supervisor was genuinely involved with observations that were being done with the VLA at that time, so it was feasible that his PhD student would have been over there! In the April 2010 Extra edition, we brought everyone up to the present day and discussed how things had changed in 20 years.
5. The eMerlin Road Trip
The eMerlin road trip remains one of my favourite days of all time! One day in August 2010, we set off from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in Manchester on a mission to visit all seven telescopes in the eMerlin array in a day. Along the way we got horrendously lost trying to get to the Defford dish, joined in on our walkie talkies with some kids playing air traffic control, and I drank so much red bull that I had a headache for a week! It was absolutely exhausting but one of the most fun days I’ve ever had.
6. The Next Generation…
I know I said five, but this isn’t really a memory so bear with me. As amazing as it was to help produce The Jodcast for three years (I presented 57 audio episodes, conducted 32 interviews, featured in three videos, and edited countless pieces of audio), I think what I’m most proud of is the fact that the show is still going. A lot of what I did in my time as Executive Producer was to start putting into place procedures that meant that The Jodcast could continue year after year. Whether that was formalising the roles, writing how-to guides, or just increasing the number of people who contributed to the show, I’m genuinely pleased that my departure didn’t matter one bit.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Jodcast got me to where I am today. It was my first foray into astronomy outreach and communication, and transformed me from someone who hated giving presentations to someone who thrives on being on stage. I count my fellow Jodcast-ers as some of my closest friends, and I hope that the current and future generations get as much out of it as I did.