Podcast Q & A: Small town feel and all-local stories are at heart of Advocate podcast

By Lindsay Advocate

The Advocate Podcast: Stories from Kawartha Lakes recently saw 6,000 downloads. We figured this was a good time for producer/host Denis Grignon to address some of your questions about how it’s created and what lies ahead for its future.

How do you decide which stories to pursue?

First it has to be a story. And a local story, something that’s about, or affects, us and our community. It’s not about helping someone promote their business or their event or their passion or whatever. All those elements may come from the story or interview, but that’s not the goal. The purpose is to give listeners something they want to listen to – something that speaks to them.

Denis Grignon interviews Fresh Fuell owners Luis and Leanna Segura.

Any examples of those stories that might serve both purposes?

The local bowling alley that taught us about the need to “pivot” during the pandemic and how they made that work. Women’s Resources is my favourite non-profit. But I pursued the story of Vicky’s Values (Women’s Resources second-hand store) going online during a shut-down because I believe that it was worth telling – this largely volunteer-run store adopting a very progressive approach to selling. Ken Reid’s (Conservation Area) talking forest program. Sure, I suspect that interview brought them a few new visitors. But what a great story about how you can walk along a path with your phone in your hand and a tree starts talking to you! 

In your interviews, how do you decide which questions to ask?

If you’ve seen the social media post of me conducting an interview, I’m always holding a note pad. My questions are always written down. And I spend a lot of time doing research beforehand to determine those questions – sometimes it’s as simple as visiting a website, but I always have to prepare. The trick is making it sound like the questions are off the top of my head, and listening closely to answers so that I can improvise if I have to. 

How do I get you to cover my story?

First, see answer #1. It has to be a story – something of interest to as many people as possible who live here. Then, really, it’s just a matter of calling or direct messaging me.  

Have you ever had an interview go sideways to the point where it didn’t air?

Yup. It’s happened a few times over my 35 years as a journalist. And once while producing this podcast.

What happened?

I’m hesitant to get into too much detail – small town, and all. But when I got home and listened to the recording, it became clear to me that the interviewee’s demeanour and their answers were not a good fit for the tone of the show.

You mentioned the “small town” effect. Are you saying that affects your role as a journalist here?

I won’t lie; it’s hard not to have that in the back of your mind when doing an interview – that I may bump into that person the next day at the farmer’s market or at the local rink. But I’ll still ask those tougher questions to people I know well if feel it’s warranted. Sometimes they heave  a sigh before they answer, and I wonder if they’re thinking, “Hey! What gives asking that? We’re neighbours!” I don’t always enjoy it, but I do feel it’s my responsibility. 

Your exclusive sponsor since that first episode is Wards Lawyers. How much control do they have over the content and the show’s direction?

Fair question. I do know they listen regularly. But they have never – not even once – come to me about any of the show’s content, its tone, or its editorial direction.

I’ve worked for several major media companies, broadcast and print, and each one of them, at some point, asked me – sternly, let’s say – to do a particular story or to not do a particular story. So, producing a show where the main sponsor really is hands-off is a breath of fresh air. And, really, not that surprising. I can’t speak for them, but I do believe Wards sponsored this show because they genuinely felt it was good for their community.

So, the ‘Wards of Wisdom’ segments were your idea, then?

Entirely. I’ve always personally been interested in how the law works – and doesn’t work – and right from the start, I wanted a feature where legal stuff could be disseminated in easy language. Whether it involves child custody, suing for job loss or how masking in retail stores can be enforced. And the Wards people are always good about making themselves available. But, yes, I came to them with that idea. 

The show is a bit of mixed bag – some news, some lifestyle or people profiles, even some humour. How challenging is it to manage that variety without confusing the listener?

Pacing can be a challenge, I admit. I’m always conscious of how to plot the items, so that it’s not too jarring to go from a very serious one to a lighter, or even funny one. I also strive to create a balance between male and female voices. I have to give props to Gerald Van Halteren, here. The short musical bridges he created really help with easing those transitions.

What’s been the biggest surprise since you’ve started producing the show?

I had no idea there were so many musicians – really really talented musicians – in our community. Those interviews are some of my favourites. Musicians are so passionate and honest. When we can do so safely, I would love to see a huge concert with all of those we’ve featured on the program.

I’ve also discovered a whole bunch of cool nooks and crannies in Kawartha Lakes. An interview I did with someone on Sturgeon Point…I’d never been there. And wow! What a great spot.

Any frustrations?

Of course. I’m always open to hearing criticism about what people have heard on the program – for sure, some of the best advice I’ve gotten is from regular listeners. The challenge is getting people – many of whom I know personally – to check out even one episode. A podcast – any podcast – is something you can so easily listen to when you’re doing other things – like driving or walking the dog or making dinner. So, yeah. That’s been frustrating. Because I do believe they’d enjoy the show – we just have to get them to check it out.

What part of the process do you enjoy the most?

I do enjoy the one-on-one interviews with people on their own turf. I find their guards are down and they’re more likely to open up. The opening sketches – though, admittedly, aren’t always home runs — are cathartic, and allow me to use some of the skills I’ve honed in 30 years as touring standup comedian.

But, really, I’m at my happiest when I’ve got all the recorded elements and I’m putting them all together on my computer to create the show. I absolutely love the sound mixing part.

How would you like to see the show evolve in the future?

I’d like to include more diverse voices and I recognize I have to do a better job with that. So, that’s on me. Kawartha Lakes isn’t as homogenous as many of us may think, and it’s incumbent on me to seek out those voices, those people from different communities, and let them know this show is for – and about – them, too. Ideally, we can reach a point where the podcast team can include a regular contributor who can also help achieve this goal.

–The Advocate Podcast: Stories from Kawartha Lakes, sponsored by Wards Lawyers, is available to stream and download for free via Spotify and Apple Podcasts. And via this page (top right hand corner). 

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