A show of hands those of you who listen to podcasts while stuck in traffic.

Podcast is gradually gaining in popularity in Malaysia as more and more are realising how much control they have when it comes to what they listen compared to radio stations. Thanks to apps such as Spotify, Castbox, SoundCloud, and more there are thousands of podcasts to choose from. The topics covered are diverse: From personal finance to art to even dental hacks.

Recently, we came across a podcast that just blew us away. Not only was it well made, there was so much of thought put into the creation of the content. Meet, The KITA! Podcast.

Produced by the good folks from Renegade Radio, the show showcases artistic pieces including poetry, short fiction, music, audio dramas, personal monologues, and more from Malaysian artists and writers. We got in touch with one of the creative director of The KITA! Podcast, Lim Jack Kin, who also doubles as a poet and freelance writer. The 23-year-old was more than happy to share with us what led him to start this project.

Hey there, Jack! I enjoyed the podcast immensely. It was so refreshing and uniquely different. What inspired you to come up with such a concept?

The main motivation for me to start this podcast was a growing awareness of podcasting as an artistic medium. Narrative podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale have been doing it for years; mixing sound design, musical scoring, good writing, and solid performances from voice actors to tell an interesting story. Nonfiction shows like Radiolab do the same thing but with the aim to educate. I was particularly inspired by this one podcast from CBC Radio, Love Me—billed as a podcast “about the messiness of human connection”, Love Me does amazing work in telling its stories, with a charismatic and engaging host, amazing production quality, and stories that always lingered in my heart for a little while.

I’d been listening to all these podcasts for years, and I knew that there was a lot of good literary work in Malaysia, including poetry, prose, music, and probably things in genres I’ve never even heard of. I wanted to share that work with a wider audience in an accessible way, but I also wanted an opportunity to use the sharing process to create my own art.

I guess all these thoughts and desires were percolating in my head, and at a certain point I thought, “Well, you know what, I need to start doing this!” Cut to me doing absolutely nothing for six months while I finished up my last semester of university. In June, after I had sent in all my papers, I thought about it again, put together a group of like-minded folks, and now we’re here!

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Could you share how and what the conceptual stage to production was like for this podcast? 

As I thought about the show and what I wanted it to be, the first thing that came to mind was the title, actually! “Kita”, as we know, is the listener-inclusive form of “we”; it indicates that the speaker and the listener are part of the same community. Every time some big hot-button political issue popped up, I found myself reading social media posts and tweets and comments from people who would refer to “tanah kita” or “negara kita”, or “bangsa kita”. And I would think, “Hmm… as a Malaysian-Chinese guy, I don’t think they’re talking about me…” So, in a sense, naming this podcast KITA! was a way of reclaiming the word, to assert the idea that the stories we feature are about all of us, regardless of race, class, gender identity, or orientation.

That said, the conceptual stage was tough, particularly because in a lot of ways, it’s still ongoing! I kept trying to analogise the KITA! podcast in my head, or when I’d talk about it. “Oh, it’s like a short-story collection in audio form,” I’d tell people, or “Think of it as a literary magazine, or a film, or a digital open mic.” Nothing came close to really describing what I wanted to do with it. In the end, the closest high-concept pitch I could come up with was that KITA! is an “arts-anthology” show, featuring all sorts of work in an eclectic mix of genres. I’m still looking to expand that definition, and the KITA! team very much wants to deliver a new and refreshing experience every week.

I realised that a show like this would be pretty unique, especially by Malaysian standards. I started posting on Twitter about what I wanted to do, and my posts got a lot of traction online. Soon enough, I was recruiting people into a team.

And what a team it is! Nadya Zahirah is our operations manager and keeps us organized and running smoothly. She also serves with me on the editorial board, and together we go through submissions and source different pieces. Russell Sim is a musician who serves as our in-house composer, coming up with unique soundtracks for each of the pieces. Sylvia Wong, Samwise Mui, and Ben Chong are our sound editors; they attend recording sessions and work with us to edit the readings of our contributor’s work. Russell and Sylvia also mix and master the edited audio in post-production. Finally, Kimberly Wong designs all our publicity materials.

Around the time I was finalising my team, I was contacted by Kelvin Tay, founder of Renegade Radio, who offered us a place in their network!

Suddenly we had a place to record, technical guidance, and friends who could help us with distribution; we got to work on an open call for submissions to the podcast, applications for grant funding, design collaterals, you name it! Our call for submissions had a great response, and we set out to contact our selected contributors—as well as other contributors whose work we thought would be a good fit for the show—to schedule recording sessions. Once they were recorded, I’d work with our in-house composer to devise a soundtrack for each and every piece.

And voila! A dozen recording sessions, two successful grant applications, a ton of writing, scoring, editing, composing, and a lot of love later, and we’ve launched our first episode. We’re still looking for material to fill out the season; as it stands, we have half the season recorded and in post-production at the moment, and we can’t wait to see what we find out there!

Could you break down the workflow that goes in for an episode? How long does this take on average?

I’ve been thinking about the concept for quite a while, but the closest thing to an official start-date we have was June, so from mid-June to the release of our first episode in mid-October, the process took about four months.

We don’t work on episodes sequentially; rather, we record material for the season as a whole and then arrange that material into episodes. That said, our average workflow breaks down like this: Nadya and I go through our submissions to find pieces for the podcast (or otherwise solicit them from featured artists). Once we decide on which contributors we want, we book recording sessions at the Renegade Radio studio (generally two a week), contact the contributors, and arrange for them to come down to the studio. If they’re not available or prefer not to read their work in person, we arrange for a voice actor to read their work.

During the recording session, we provide creative guidance for the reading itself; a lot of readers may be nervous in front of the microphone, or may not have performed their work before. We record their work, double-check everything, make a few notes, and send the audio to our sound-editors and Russell for cutting, scoring, and post-production.

While the audio is in post-production, Nadya and I decide how to structure and arrange our episodes, and then I write the scripts and credits for those episodes, record them at the studio, send those for post-production, and submit the finished files to the network for distribution.

What was the most difficult part about producing this podcast series?

All of it, haha! But for real, as KITA!’s creative director, my biggest challenge was directing all the disparate creative and technical elements that go into making the show—there’s the contributor’s work (which takes focus), curated by Nadya and myself, as well my own writing, the sound editing, Russell’s score, and his mixing and mastering of all the recorded material into a unified whole. Each element has to be distinct, unique, and good, but they can’t clash or overpower each other, and each element serves to amplify the effect of the others. It’s a pretty tight balancing act, and when you factor in grant applications, social media management, and public relations (with the help of Kimberly’s designs), it suddenly feels like we’re juggling chainsaws on a tightrope.

Apart from that, organising a podcast with 35-40 guests over the course of a whole season is a real tough job! As we embarked on the journey of producing a show whose every episode has three to four unique contributors, each presenting work that has to be individually recorded, produced, and scored, the KITA! team began to realize why a lot of podcasts simply don’t have guests, or only have one or two per episode.

Finally, it needs to be said: Getting funding is a real struggle. People deserve to be paid for their creative labour, and I’ve said it many times before that paying our contributors is one of our core values. We lose out on a lot of great work if the only people who can come onto our show are people who can afford to take the time to travel to our studio. Besides that, the whole team puts in hundreds of hours of work to make this show a reality, at some cost to our personal and professional lives. In that regard, we’re incredibly blessed and grateful to have the support of the INXO Arts and Culture Foundation and the Krishen Jit Fund.

Podcasts are certainly gaining traction in recent years. Many businesses are using them as a platform to market their products. Were you guys over at The KITA! Podcast able to convince companies to sponsor one or two episodes?

Considering I just went on a whole spiel on the importance of funding and compensation, I have to say that yes, we definitely considered it. That said, KITA! has a specific set of values, and our first priority with sponsorships is to find companies whose values regarding inclusivity, accessibility, and justice align with ours.

That said, we maaaay have been in talks with certain folks which may or may not pan out, but we can’t say anything definitive! For now, our main source of income has been the generous grant funding we’ve received.

Tell us more about Renegade Radio. I realised there are three to four more titles including The KITA! Podcast under its belt.

Renegade Radio is, in my personal opinion, amazing! Kelvin Tay, its founder and CEO, reached out to me on Twitter, and I ignored everything my parents told me about talking to strangers on the internet to open his message. He told me that he was excited by the idea I was tweeting about and would like to offer to help make KITA! a reality, and it’s been a happy partnership ever since.

Renegade Radio is an independent Malaysian podcast network, founded in 2018 by, in his own words, “four friends who wished to improve the podcasting scene here in Malaysia.” They’ve always got their ear to the ground, on the lookout for different creators with ideas.

The other titles they have on their network are worth checking out! Two Book Nerds Talking is a literary discussion and review podcast that’s one of my personal favourites (pssst, you might hear my voice on one of the upcoming episodes…), but among their lineup, there’s also Seram, a horror-storytelling show that’s in production, and 青春抛物线 / Qīng Chūn Pāo Wù Xiàn (translated to The Pillars of Youth), a Chinese podcast that was recently nominated for a regional award.

What are some tips you can share to budding podcasters out there? Any tips and tricks and possibly techniques?

There are so many ways to do a podcast that I don’t know how helpful this advice would be, but I would say that one good tip would be to hone your artistic senses! I listen to a lot of really really good podcasts, and I would say that half of what I do at KITA! is just thinking “Hm, what would I like to listen to?”

From writing to cooking to podcasting, one general rule of thumb that follows all creative art is that your artistic senses will get better and better with every good book, good meal, or good podcast that you consume and enjoy.

Another thing I’d suggest is to learn how to work together with a team! The wonderful people that I started KITA! with have filled in so many dead-zones in my knowledge, talent, and skill that I can’t imagine ever having started this show without them! Be nice to each other, have open, honest communication, don’t set fire to their lawn, that sort of thing.

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How many episodes are there per-season and how long is a season? 

We have ten episodes this season! With episodes dropping every two weeks, and including a short mid-season break, we hope to conclude Season 1 by early March next year! 🙂

Sweet! One last question: Why does storytelling matters to you?

Storytelling matters to me because, at the risk of sounding simplistic, good stories make you a better person. They help us understand other people, they help us heal, they help us feel our emotions in a healthy, cathartic way, and they help us cope with the pressures of the world. They’re a conduit of love, fear, dread, joy, and peace, and I think we all need to feel a little more.

As for next season, our only plan right now is to have one!

*** All images by The KITA! Podcast.

Hey guys, you can check out The KITA! Podcast on Spotify. Follow them on Facebook. If you’re keen on being part of the show by either submitting your poems or short stories, you can do so here. Lastly, be sure to give the podcast a listen and spread the word around on its existence. Here’s another post you might enjoy reading!

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