There are tens of thousands of podcasts out there. Some estimate there are as many as 180,000 active podcasts available for download.. It’s hard to count. But given that there were 46 million podcast downloads last year, they are certainly a thing. At least, they are for the English speaking world. But what about everyone else? That’s what creator Gisele Regatao wants to tackle with Celestial Blood, one of the first ever podcasts downloadable in both English and Spanish.
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Produced by KCRW, the podcast takes the form of a supernatural radionovela. Currently on episode six of eight, the story follows a twin brother and sister who travel to Mexico from Queens, New York, for the funeral of their estranged father, and discover a horde of long-lost siblings. It has many of the trappings of the traditional telenovela: humor, family drama, a certain over-the-top-ness. And Regatao hopes that lures more Spanish speakers to the podcast world.
“I really wanted to develop something specifically for Hispanics,” Regatao told ELLE.com over the phone. “There are so many podcasts already, but a lot of them are very similar. A lot of them are with white men bantering.” Regatao, who is originally from Brazil, has been working in public radio for nearly 15 years, at both WNYC and KCRW, and after a while, the uniformity of what was being produced got to her.
While it now seems like everyone and their recent-convert-to-Democratic-Socialism brother has a podcast, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a relatively new medium. Podcasting has only been around for about 15 years, and for a long time was used mostly by existing radio programs to reach people who wanted to listen to their shows at different times. It wasn’t until Serial took off in 2014 that podcasts started to find success among listeners who weren’t already tuned in to public radio or the internet.
Regatao notes that one of the great things about podcasting is its potential to be a very democratic art form. However, the demographics of podcasts are still overwhelmingly white, male, and English-speaking—largely because that’s what media looks like. And while anyone can simply make their own podcast with just a laptop, it’s hard to get people to listen.
“Working in media in the US and having a successful career, I felt like I was a minority everywhere I worked,” she said. Public radio already appeals to a very niche audience, and while Regatao noticed “small initiatives” designed to reach more diverse listeners, most of them were targeted at a Black audience. “Nothing that I can remember was catering to the Hispanic community. And that’s already a large, growing group.”
The predominantly English podcasting world also sets up a chicken-and-egg problem: Not many non-English speakers are familiar with the medium, and there aren’t many podcasts out there for them to get into. “It’s going to take a while for it to develop in Spanish—not just for the audience here, but all over the world,” Regatao said. “All my friends, everybody has a smartphone and is very mobile, but they’re confused about what a podcast is.” So she set out to make something that could introduce English speakers to Hispanic culture, and introduce Hispanics to podcasting.
Now, the challenge is to attract that Hispanic audience to the new artform. KCRW already has an English-speaking audience, who so far seem receptive to exploring the telenovela/radionovela genre. And, since she already works for KCRW and has had a long career in radio, Regatao has all the production privileges and experience she could want. But culturally, podcasts are still new to much of the Spanish-speaking world: “How do you broaden that audience? How do you make content for other types of people?”
Thanks to Celestial Blood, change is on its way. Regatao says they have about equal downloads of the podcast in English and Spanish. The podcast stars Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo, who admitted she had never listened to a podcast before being asked to be on one, but is now a big fan of the Moth. But Regatao hopes Celestial Blood can be the first of many podcasts that appeal to different cultures and speakers of different languages. “I’m trying to think about what other things we could do. But the idea is the same—to broaden the market and appeal to more people, and bring them into the podcast world.”