“There’s something decidedly disarming about an Airstream trailer,” says Justen Harn, executive director of Open Signal. We’re outside the portable podcasting studio Stream PDX. The shiny, cylindrical trailer sits like a giant, space-age toaster on NE MLK in the â€œbackyard” parking lot of the digital media nonprofit formerly known as Portland Community Media. Looking at it is like looking at a dog or baby: It’s so unaware of its adorable goofiness you can’t help but smile.
Tyesha Snow, director of Stream PDX, has crafted a welcoming, low-cost, membership-driven studio designed to encourage independent podcasters and folks new to audio. “It’s almost impossible to find simple, nice places to record something,” says Snow, describing a struggle familiar to anyone who’s had to record a podcast in a dark closet, trying to not breathe too loudly lest the cat figure out where you’re hiding. “I came up against that when I wanted to do some experimenting. I couldn’t record at home; there was always something making noise. Everything else is a music studio, and it doesn’t fit their business model to have somebody come in and experiment—or somebody who doesn’t have any money.”
Inside, you won’t get the moody darkness of a windowless recording studio, or a confusing mess of equipment that makes you afraid to touch anything. Instead, vintage knickknacks and postcards deck the walls between acoustic panels, lit by the glow of Christmas lights. A small mixing board sits atop a midcentury sideboard, and a modest Formica table with four chairs and four mics wait for someone to warm them.
The decor mirrors what’s special about the studio on wheels—its inclusive, populist mission of welcoming all to podcasting. “Tyesha created a space that was cozy, accessible, and representative of the diversity of America,” says Zahir Janmohamed, policy director at Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) and cohost of Racist Sandwich, one of several local podcasts that record at Stream PDX. “It made a difference to me—and to our guests, I think—that adorning the walls of the podcast studio were not just photos of Terry Gross, but also of Audie Cornish,” he says.
Harn sees Stream PDX as a natural fit for the community-driven digital media nonprofit. “It was kismet,” he says. “Tyesha was doing the work that we wanted to be doing in the community in terms of engaging people to tell their stories in an acutely relevant way. It was a natural partnership for them to come and set up in our parking lot.”
Stream PDX has a monthly membership model, with multiple levels for independent creators or businesses, and à la carte sessions starting at $25. “We’re not going to turn anyone away, of course,” says Snow. Paired with Open Signal’s extensive public hours, Stream PDX’s online scheduling system allows members agency and flexibility to record on their own terms (and timeframes). Besides access to the trailer, membership programming for 2017 includes lectures, educational classes through Open Signal, networking, and resource sharing.
And if someone can’t come to the Airstream, the Airstream can always come to you. “A travelling studio that’s unintimidating is really resonating with people,” says Snow. “A hospital reached out about doing some oral history work with their patients and doctors. We plan to have a streamlined process for story collection so that we can be deployed out on the road, set up, get people in, do interviews, then process the audio to get it back to the people in a format that makes sense.” For now, though, Snow says, “I just really want people to know about it. You can come down, record for little to no money, and get your work done.”
The trailer will be open to the public at Open Signal’s open house on Saturday, February 25. Local radio hosts including Janmohamed will be recording people’s stories and ideas about community media inside. “Every guest we interview asks to be photographed both inside and outside the trailer,” he says. “It’s such a unique and welcoming space. And it embodies so much of what makes podcasting special.”