Writing about the deficit of podcasts for young people on public radio, Lindsay Patterson — creator of "Tumble" and a fierce advocate for children’s podcasts — noted that “Public radio’s almost-exclusive focus on adult audiences is strange, considering public television’s success with kids.”
It’s true that public radio programming focuses mainly on adults, but there are lots of programs for kids and teenagers sprinkled throughout public radio’s local stations. They’re just not easy to find.
Not all of them are available in podcast format, but you can download most onto a phone. And right now, there’s no directory that lists all of the children’s programming available in public media.
So, I decided to make my own. Below is a list of every public radio program for kids that I could find.
In addition, I reached out to my former coworker, John Sheehan, a producer at "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," who is launching "Eleanor Amplified," a serialized radio adventure series for kids this week. I wanted to find out more from John about making podcasts for kids. Our interview is at the end of this piece.
Like "All Things Considered," but for kids
Some shows, like Montana Public Radio’s "Pea Green Boat and WXPN’s "Kids Corner," which I grew up listening to, have been on the air for decades. I love these two shows, which are aimed at both kids and their parents. "Pea Green Boat" features stories, songs, poetry, and special guests — and is one of the longest-running shows on public radio (it’s been airing for over 30 years). Start with “What is a Poem?” or “All About Butterflies” for a captivating hour you can listen to with your kids.
"Kid’s Corner," hosted by Kathy O’Connell, is the longest running call-in show for kids. It features topics like gardening, cooking, music, and homework (I’m also partial to the segment on birthday cakes). There’s also a book club, and frequent discussion about movies. Each show is about 30 minutes long.
"The Children’s Hour," from KUNM out of the University of New Mexico, is hard to categorize because it covers so many different topics. Think fractals and clowns and chats with famous authors like Sherman Alexie.
"Youth Radio" trains young people in digital media and technology, and their stories air on public radio shows across the country. They function just like a national news show and divide their material by topic. I recommend the Science stream, starting with "Does Birth Order Affect Sibling Relationships." ("Radio Rookies" is a similar program out of WNYC, and I highly recommend listening to their stories, if you’re a teenager who is interested in radio journalism.)
The "Storytime Treasure Chest" from Radio NZ features a collection of children’s books you can listen to online.
NPR’s design team published a prototype for a children’s podcast that they created during a Serendipity Day.
"Classics for Kids" airs out of Cincinnati Public Radio and features shows about famous composers. Start with Gershwin, dance with Brahms and pretend you’re in a Wes Anderson movie with Benjamin Britten.
"KidStuff," out of East Tennessee's WDVX, is full of music. As they put it “Singalongs, percussion, movement and general chaos is the name of the game!” You can find the archives by going here and clicking on any Saturday on the calendar.
"The Saturday Light Brigade," one of the longest running public radio shows, broadcasts for six hours every week and features acoustic music, games, and puzzles. You can listen live on their website or on various stations.
"Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child" is an indie music show for indie kids. Hosted by Bill Childs, it airs on Austin’s KUTX and features book reviews, in-studio interviews with artists, and lots of music.
"Short and Curly" tackles ethical conundrums. Each question tackles a question, like “Should you eat your pet?” or “Is it ever OK to lie?” They’re designed to listen to alone or with your family, because each episode prompts discussion.
"But Why" from Vermont Public Radio tackles big questions. Things like “Why is the sky blue?” “How do you make paint,” and “Why do bears sleep all winter?” I love this show because it’s kid driven — all of the questions are recorded by kids and sent into the show!
If you like science, check out "Brain’s On," a science podcast produced by MPR News and Southern California Public Radio. Molly Bloom hosts the show, which is produced with Sanden Totten and Mark Sanchez. Each show tackles a science question or topic. I recommend “How do you catch a cold?” and “Living Large with the International Space Station.”
Another science podcast I love is "Tumble. Start with “The Tale of the Giant Toad” or “The Case of the Missing Brains.” Tumble has mini-episodes that play within Spare the Rock on KUTX, and its newsletter often recommends new podcasts for kids.
Shows for teens
And then there’s "Being 12," a series that aired on WNYC that was all about what it’s like to be 12. Listen to New Yorkers who are 12, and a 47-minute-long radio program on why being 12 matters so much.
Serialized adventure dramas
And then there’s WHYY’s "Eleanor Amplified," the newest addition to public radio children’s programming. A serialized adventure podcast that was created by "Fresh Air" producer John Sheehan, Eleanor launches later this week. I asked John about creating a children’s podcast and his advice for others who are interested in producing material for kids.
How did you come up with the idea for "Eleanor Amplified?"
Eleanor Amplified is a direct descendant of "Indiana Jones," "Flash Gordon" and Looney Tunes. Growing up, I loved serialized adventure stories — especially when there's a world-famous hero with their own mythology and backstory and who gets into into trouble all over globe.
Making her a radio host/reporter was a funny process. I had to think up, what should she be: would she be a doctor? A detective? I didn't know anything about those things. Then I thought, "Well, what about my job? Should I just make her a radio producer? Ha! Oh, that's actually not bad..."
What other kids podcasts have you listened to?
Specifically for kids, I've heard "Ear Snacks," "Brains On!" — there's a great new collective heating up called "Kids Listen" — they're great people.
Where are you getting your ideas?
I've watched a lot of cartoons in my life. But inspiration comes from imagining what kinds of places I can create sonically and where I can send Eleanor that'll sound interesting. And just doing this first season has taught me so much about how much audio work I need to do and where I can let kids' imaginations take over — and how sometimes it's better to let their imaginations do the work.
Why did you decided to focus on a kids podcast?
My family was on a long car trip and my daughter was in the back seat listening to Raffi for the hundredth time (I should mention: I love Raffi, but a hundred times...) and I remember thinking how great it would be if we could all listen to something together and all enjoy it. That might've been the lightbulb.
The episodes are highly produced. Can you walk me through putting an episode together?
Sure. I'll pick it up after all the writing and recording of dialogue. There are three components to every episode: the dialogue, the sound effects and the music. I break every episode into scenes, and each scene is a different place, with its own environmental requirements. Indoors/Outdoors? Are they in an echo-y room, or a cave, or the jungle? What do those places sound like? After I build the environment, I lay out the dialogue tracks. If someone is on a phone, I alter their voice to sound like it's on a phone. Then I add in sound effects of things the characters are interacting with, buttons, bleeps, doors, footsteps, explosions, splashes, motors. So many things.
Sometimes I have mini-scenes within scenes — like when the characters are watching the news on a TV. Then I'll have to create the news story, complete with news anchor (which I use almost as a narrator-device), news music, and the event causing the news (like a press conference), and I'll run the whole thing through an effect to make it sound like it's on TV. Then I'll take that mini-scene and place it in the bigger scene.
The last thing I do is lay down the music — which brings it all together — and which is its own special process because you have to match not just the emotional tone of the scene, but also match the dynamics of the music with the action of the scene — so that things like explosions correspond with cymbal crashes, and dramatic reveals occur with the requisite dramatic swells.
Anything else that I should include? Other inspiration aside from podcasts?
My intention was to make something akin to a Saturday morning cartoon. I knew I was using an old form (radio drama) but I wanted it to sound recognizably contemporary. It had to be fast-paced, and slickly produced, but also had to have a big element of humor. I also wanted to be careful about not pandering. I remember watching Looney Tunes as a child and Bugs Bunny would make jokes that just sailed over my head. But instead of dismissing the joke, I wanted to get the joke. I knew it was funny, because he was funny. I make a handful of jokes in Eleanor that I know some kids won't get, but I'm hoping it makes them talk about it with their parents! "Mom, what's a Sherpa?"
You have two daughters. Did having kids shape your way of thinking about podcasts for kids?
Well, it's made me think about children's media in general and about what I want my daughters consuming and what's out there. There's a lot that I can't control, with regard to messages they're getting at daycare — like just from princess coloring books, or dolls, or T-shirts — there's so much unintentional, but heavily gendered stuff out there, and I did have to ask myself a lot, "Am I comfortable with what I'm putting out there." And I am.
Do you know of others? Please let me know in the comments, and I can add it.
"411 Teens" airs on Sundays at 2 p.m. ET on WFSU. You can listen to past episodes here.
"Being 12" was a series that aired on WNYC. You can listen to previous episodes here.
"Brain’s On" is a podcast produced by MPR News and KPCC. (iTunes)
"But Why" is a podcast produced by Vermont Public Radio. (iTunes)
"Children’s Hour" airs Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KUNM. You can find past episodes here.
"Eleanor Amplified" is a podcast produced by WHYY. (iTunes)
"Kids Corner" airs Mondays through Thursdays from 7 to 8 p.m. on stations in the Philadelphia area and worldwide at kidscorner.org.
"KidStuff" airs at 10 a.m. EST on-air and online at WDVX.
"Radio Rookies" is an initiative that trains teenagers to make radio. You can listen to all of the stories here.
"Pea Green Boat" airs weekdays from 4 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 7 — 9 am on Montana Public Radio, and worldwide on Montana Public Radio’s site.
"Short and Curly" is a podcast that airs through the Australian Broadcasting Company. (iTunes)
"The Children’s Hour" airs on Saturday mornings at 9 am on KUNM or you can listen worldwide (at any time) on their website.
"The Peanut Butter Jam" airs on Saturday at 9 am EST on WEXT and online.
"Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child" airs on KUTX every Sunday at 6 p.m. and is also available on the web.
"The Storytime Treasure Chest" from Radio NZ is available online.
Youth Radio is an initiative that trains young people to make radio. You can listen to all of their stories here.