Audio Engagement: Timber Smith uses podcasts to create community

This feature first appeared in Blueprint365 Magazine. Click here to request a free copy.

Timber Smith. Photo supplied.

When Claire Klaver started her new job as Community Impact & Diversity Manager at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, she knew she’d have to find some community connections. She hadn’t yet relocated from Fond du Lac, and had some catching up to do when it comes to the movers and shakers in the Fox Cities.

“With my work at the Performing Arts Center, I have been looking into all different community resources for me to get to know the community,” she said. “It’s so important for my position, and also just as a private citizen, to get a feel for the place that I’m moving to.”

A colleague had a recommendation – a podcast called Appleton Engaged, hosted by Anindita Anaam, Communications & Public Engagement Manager for the mayor’s office, and Timber Smith, the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator.

The podcast, just launched earlier this year, is intended to highlight the various resources available and the community leaders in charge of them.

“The podcast right now has mostly interviewed people who are relatively higher up in their organizations, and those are the people that I would typically be working with in partnership on community programs. It’s helped me to understand them a little bit more and their position and what they do at their organizations,” Klaver said. “For organizations that I’m unfamiliar with, I get to have a better understanding of what they do and who they serve. It’s just kind of helped me get my bearings and get acclimated around the community itself.”

That’s exactly the idea, Smith told Blueprint365.

“One of the most important things that people need to know is, where are the resources?” Smith said. “My focus with Appleton Engaged is we’re trying to create belonging, we’re trying to make a community where you feel welcome. One of the things that make you feel welcome is when you know where to engage, how to engage, and what’s available to engage in.”

The city has published an episode a week since June; the hosts are recording two interviews a week, and are booked out almost five months.

Guests have included Long Vue of NEW Hmong Professionals, Areka Nieto of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Tim Cody of Fox Valley Veterans’ Council, among others. 

“We take a really small snippet of time and introduce you to the individual associated with the resource,” Smith said. “They tell you about the resource, they give you the historical context of the resource, they give you the mission of the resource … then we go and ask, what do you need from the community? How can the community help you do your work, do this mission?”

One of the most popular episodes was an interview with city assessor Matthew Tooke, who was able to explain how the property value assessment process works and what it might mean for property taxes.

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“There’s the automatic assumption your taxes are going to go up, but we’re explaining the whole reason why you even have to do (the assessments),” Smith said. “Everybody doesn’t have the time to call (the assessor’s office). And even if you call, you’re not going to get this in-depth, 30 minute response … What we’re creating is an audio hub of resources.”

Smith pitched the idea to mayor Jake Woodford, whom he credits with giving him the green light. The idea made sense coming from Smith, who was already an experienced podcaster, having recorded and released nearly 100 episodes of The Kosh, his own podcast highlighting community members and leaders in Oshkosh, where he lives.

“The idea behind The Kosh is to spotlight individuals in the community, in Oshkosh and the surrounding Fox Cities area,” Smith said. “The way I thought of it is … people are interesting. The first thing to break down silos is to get to know each other. When we know each other, we tend to like each other. But when we don’t know each other, we make a lot of assumptions, we stereotype each other … Because most of us operate in a silo, we don’t have a chance to get to know people. We don’t get to know the Black business owner, we don’t need to get to know the Asian chairperson, we don’t get to know the white gay couple who adopted two Black children … we don’t get to know any of them.”

Anindita Anaam. Photo supplied.

Both of the podcasts he hosts are intended to create connections and a richer, more robust community.

“Foundationally, it creates trust … Without trust, you can’t do anything as far as creating a welcoming community. That is fundamental foundation number one,” he said. “The other thing is we’re such a resource rich area. If people knew just how lucky we are, they would pour into the community even more.”

Smith offered advice for any aspiring podcasters.

“Make sure whatever you choose, that you really have a passion around it,” he said. “You just have to keep showing back up. It’s easy to get off the path. Somebody’s gonna cancel, you might have two weeks, you might have three weeks of people canceling. You’ve got to have that interest and that drive to say, ‘Okay, well, cool. But that doesn’t, that doesn’t stop us, we will have a break. And we’ll keep moving.’ I also think it’s nice if you don’t do it alone. I do The Kosh alone, but every guest makes me feel like I’m not alone. In the case of Appleton Engaged, having a co-host is so nice, because it just adds another nice characteristic and another point of view, another voice.”