Black iPhone and airpods placed on a tree stump, depicting podcasts.

By Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

I. Love. Podcasts. My first ever podcast love was with a comedy podcast called “Two Dope Queens”, where two black, female comedians invited comedians with lesser represented identities to perform on the show. From there, my love grew to an obsession with “My Favorite Murder”, a true crime, comedy podcast. As I received more suggestions, my library grew and grew until I had more podcasts to listen to than I had hours in the day. At this point, podcasts have replaced my desire to get my daily news updates from CBC, scream-sing Nickelback (yes, Nickelback) in the car, or binge-watch “The Office” for the hundredth time.

I can’t tell you exactly how podcasts came into my life, but they have been such a big part of my routine for so long now that I forget how new the podcast trend is. Still, it’s a phenomenon that many people have yet to hop on board with. You should hop on board though, so let me cast you that life preserver.


What Is a Podcast?

So, what even is a podcast? Literally defined, a podcast is a “digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer”. Personally, I would describe a podcast as the middle ground between a radio show and a television show. To me, it’s television that you view with your ears and, and like T.V., there are thousands of options for what you can “watch”. There are series, standalones, and documentaries, all of which vary in theme, length, and style. Do you like true crime, but also comedy? Podcasts can do that. How about interviews with world leaders in conservation? Podcasts can do that too.

Although they first came out way back in 2004, it took a while before podcasts really broke into the pop culture media scene. But by 2013 podcast popularity had grown so much that Apple announced 1 billion podcast subscribers. As of 2019, some sources say that around 165 million people have listened to a podcast. This really isn’t that hard to believe considering that there are currently more than 1 million active podcasts and more than 30 million podcast episodes. 

Photo by Jeremy Enns.

Despite the podcast’s relative infancy, topics have expanded exponentially to cover everything from self-improvement to space opera sci-fi. Clearly, the medium has more than a couple of attractive qualities.

What Makes Podcasts So Great?

So my raving enthusiasm and incredible statistics haven’t sold you yet – I get it. But podcasts have so much more going for them than my infatuation alone. Perhaps you think you there’s not enough time to try it out, or that they’re complicated, or you just don’t know where to start. I’m here to calm your qualms.

1) They’re Easily Accessible

Podcasts are a great resource for a number of reasons, but most importantly – they’re easily accessible. Although at first they were only available on iTunes, today they can be accessed on a variety of additional platforms including Spotify, Google Play, Audible, and some can be played through a designated website. Have I mentioned they’re also free? You do not need to pay anything to access podcasts. Certain streaming services do have a small price for features such as being able to download an audio file onto your device to play later without cell service. For the most part though, a couple of taps and boom, David Suzuki is coming along for your morning run.

2) You Can Take Them Anywhere
Photo by Melanie Pongratz

Podcasts are also easy to listen to while engaging in other tasks, more so than watching TV, but they are more personalized than regular radio. You can enjoy a podcast on a hike, run, walk, up a mountain, mowing the lawn, on a road trip, and even during certain work tasks – depending on your needed level of concentration. Podcasts are versatile and can complement most daily activities. You also wouldn’t be alone in your brave, new, multitasking life – a recent study showed that while 49% of podcast listening happens at home, 22% happens while driving, 11% at work, and 8% while exercising.

3) They Work With Different Learning Styles

Podcasts are also great for auditory learners. In fact, A 2016 study out of UC Berkeley concluded that listening to narrative stories (much like podcasts) can stimulate multiple parts of your brain. Podcasts are also a great way to learn something new in the “let it wash over you” fashion. You do not need to take notes on a podcast, rather you can enjoy letting new information sink in as it naturally sticks with you. The pressure is off. You are learning and engaging with information that is not going to be tested or extracted. It simply adds to your bank of “fun facts” or general knowledge.


4) They’re “Fun-Sized”

You thought halloween candy was a great mini treat, well buckle up. Podcast audio content gives listeners the ability to dive into topics without having to set aside time to read or watch a video. This is because it often comes in smaller, bite-sized chunks perfect for daily commutes or busy routines. On the flip side, if you’re settled in for a long drive, you can dig into a longer listen. Bonus points: you can eat all the Halloween candy you want while you listen because you are now a multitasking wizard.


Podcasts Help Parks Professionals

So, what does this all have to do with being a great park leader?

Podcasts can provide direction on where to search for experts and information on studies being done in a certain field. That wealth of information isn’t limited to outside of Canada, we have it here too, and our experts have a lot to say.

One of the reasons that podcasts are such a great resource for Parks Professionals in particular is windshield time. Between driving to and from site, conducting field work with long periods of downtime, or simply waiting for the next assignment, the amount of time that parks professionals are required to spend behind their windshield can be significant. It’s an opportune time to get updated on relevant happenings in your area and field.

Rain-speckled windshield with view of forested road on a cloudy day.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Because windshield time often goes hand-in-hand with lack of wifi (or cell reception), watching the news is likely out of the question. Enter – the podcast. Podcasts can be downloaded onto your devices prior to heading into service-free areas, and are generally a bit more entertaining than your average news program. This is not in small part due to the fact that given the breadth of themes and genres, your playlist is a personal podcast fingerprint. It has been developed and curated singularly by you for your interests and listening pleasure. No matter how good the news anchor, they simply cannot duplicate that kind of content.

Your playlist doesn’t have to be serious either. Even within the environmental podcast world, there are a variety of themes. There are funny environmental podcasts, uplifting environmental podcasts, and there are entrepreneurial environmental podcasts. On the days where you may be maintaining a trail, driving to site, or any solo assignment, a podcast is a great way to bring a friendly voice along for the ride.

How to Get Started With Podcasts

Why not start your journey right here at home? There are a number of environmental podcasts based in Canada that likely feature some of your favourite and familiar places.

For example, did you know that the Nature Conservancy of Canada has a podcast? Simply called “Nature Talks: Nature Conservancy of Canada”, this podcast “engages audiences about Canada’s urgent conservation topics. Led by experts, the talks bring communities together to share knowledge and enhance connections.” Each episode is about 15 minutes long, and features interviews with leading experts in their fields from across disciplines. Currently, there are only about 8 episodes, so it will be a quick one to work your way through and set up for more podcast fun. 

Canadian Mountain Podcast is another great listen. This podcast is recorded at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta and produced by the journalism students there. The episodes highlight the stories and findings from the Canadian Mountain Network, which was founded to “support the resilience and health of Canada’s mountain peoples and places through research partnerships based on Indigenous and Western ways of knowing that inform decision-making and action”. The podcast interviews people from all walks of life to bring you unique perspectives on the mountain regions in Canada and worldwide. This one is a bit fun for me too, because I get to highlight CPCIL Senior Fellow and Manager, Don Carruthers Den Hoed, who is interviewed in the episode titled Human-Wildlife Coexistence. This podcast also has only about 9 episodes at about 1 hour in length each.


What do I need to start?

1) A Device

Normally this is going to be your phone, however, you can listen to podcasts on your computer and even download them into iTunes and transfer them onto an iPod.

2) A Streaming Service

As mentioned above, there are a number of ways to stream a podcast, most of which are free. iTunes, Google Play, and limited versions of Spotify and Audible fall under this category.

3) Headphones?

Once you have the top two, you’re really set to go. Keep some headphones handy to respect your trail mates and listen away!

Now look at you, you podcast expert, out there hiking with David Attenborough, tidying up trails with Jane Goodall, saving the rainforest. Keep up the good work friends, and stay tuned for further podcast-related recommendations.


What are some of your favourite podcasts? If you have ideas for podcasts that park leaders might enjoy, enter them in the comments below!

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1 Comment

  1. Great point on letting the learning “wash over you” I definitely enjoy that aspect of podcasts! this has me wondering if maybe parks leaders should be the ones making podcasts for interpretation or visitor safety as a more modern and accessible version of the parks interpreter role… that way they can reach more people with bite sized chunks of information that will help improve their experiences in parks.

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