K-pod is a Korean American podcast that invites people from different industries to talk about their creative background, their lives and how they became successful in their careers. Tracy Hazzard sits with Catherine Hong and Juliana Sohn, the ladies behind K-pod to talk about how they manage the work, what inspired them to start this podcast and many more. Catherine and Juliana share that they wanted to feature people from the Korean community, especially the Korean Americans who are successful in their own fields, whether they are writers, artists, designers, directors and other creatives. They want to acknowledge these people, connect with them and inspire others through their stories.
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Korean American Podcast Stories That Make A Shared Emotional Connection With Hosts Juliana Sohn And Catherine Hong Of K-Pod
Catherine and Juliana, welcome. I’m glad and excited to talk about K-Pod. It is such a good show and normally, I make everybody wait until the end to get to the bingeable factor but I want to start here with you. As we were talking beforehand, you guys are like, “I don’t think anyone is bingeing on our show.” I guarantee you, people are bingeing on your show. I can tell the way that it’s going. You ladies were listeners of the podcast beforehand. Did you binge on podcasts?
I’m a stereo binger. I’m a little bit addicted to podcasts and I like the multitasking factor of audio. I listened to probably about ten podcasts that I binge every day.
Juliana Sohn comes from New Jersey. She has photographed portraits, interiors, food, travel, and documentary for New York Times, T Style Magazine, Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair and many others. Her personal work highlights the stories of young people.
Catherine Hong is from Great Neck, NY. She has worked as an editor at Vogue, Allure, Harper’s Bazaar, Us Weekly, W magazine, and InStyle. These days she’s a freelance writer focusing on design, food and children’s books.
The pair first met during a high school summer school program in NH and kept in touch by writing letters for a year or two before losing touch. Close to 25 years later they reconnected in NYC and learned that they were both working in magazines, Catherine as a writer and editor and Juliana as a photographer. They have remained close ever since.
Three years ago Juliana was asked to launch a podcast for the nonprofit Korean American Story and she knew exactly who she wanted to host it with. Catherine and Juliana have years of experience featuring artists, designers, makers, and entrepreneurs for the some of the best loved publications/magazines. They enjoy being able to bring those skills and experience to podcasting.
Now they get to decide who to profile and what direction they want to focus the conversation. They were brand new to podcasting when they started but they have learned so much so quickly and greatly enjoy the challenges of the new medium.
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How about you, Juliana?
It also coincided when I moved out of the city to the suburbs, where I felt so isolated, I listen to podcasts all day long. When the time came that Juliana and I started talking about doing this, I had never done it but I certainly heard enough. I heard a lot and I knew what I liked. I had an idea of what we could do.Podcasting is everywhere. Click To Tweet
You had a model in mind and it shows. You have a producer that you give a shout-out to and who did that wonderful interview of the two of you which is your Episode 11. I love it because we get some insights into you and I’m glad you did it because that would have been the first thing I would have said, “You both need to do an intro episode so we get to know you both a little better.” That in and of itself, where you have this kind of tie–in to a model, it’s coming through for you, you are a Binge Factor and that’s what I want and everyone to read.
This is the reason for them to tune in, check out your show, understand what you are doing and what you are working on. You have this deeply shared identity and shared experience with your audience. You are all Korean Americans, those are who you interview and that’s your background and experience. That’s your experience of becoming friends together as well. It’s coming through the show because it brings this connection to your guests that elicits a level of openness. You are already starting at a place of connection so that your interviews go deeper and are more open and honest. You invite it like a discussion rather than an interview. That in and of itself is an amazing Binge Factor that makes me want to listen again and again to hear what you elicit the next time.
I do think that there are many guests that we have especially if they have something that they are promoting, who are going to get asked the same questions over and over again. Our sponsor company is a nonprofit called Korean American Story, our aim to get that story out of them and talk about their creative background because that’s not something that a lot of people in the Korean community as immigrants were promoting. These are the stories that we hope would inspire people whose parents are telling them that aside from doctors or lawyers, there are other options out there.
I’m glad you mentioned that because that’s one of the first things that I want to touch on too. You have this connection to the Korean American Story, which is decades old as an organization. Have you been involved for a long time or is this sort of a new joining for you doing this podcast?
I met HJ who is one of the Founders years ago. I worked on a photo project and I’ve got involved with him and we collaborated on something together. We just kept in touch. There was an instant synergy and shared perspective. We participated in a lot of their events. One day, I was excited about podcasts and I wanted to see more Asian American content out there that I emailed him and said, “Have you ever thought about doing a podcast because I thought they were the people who should put one out?” He got right back to me and said, “Yes, I have been dying to put out a podcast, I had this idea. I think you would be the perfect rope.” That’s how it started and I had a trust and a bit of history that we hadn’t worked together that much but I loved the organization. I thought, “I don’t want to do this alone,” and that’s how I brought Catherine into it.
I love the co-host model. It adds a dimension and complication to it but you have distinctly sounding voices and that works. Catherine, I would love for you to add to that.
In the past, I have heard some podcasts where the two hosts sound similar. It’s very confusing for the audience. I don’t think there are much they could do about it. Juliana has a beautiful voice. It’s a different tambour than mine so there’s no mistaking us. We have a shared interest and we have similar questions, yet we have different types of questions that we are interested in and a little bit different style. It’s easy for me to know what she’s going to follow up with, she can guess sometimes what I’m going to ask or when I’m going to ask it and that has only gotten smoother as we have gone further into doing the podcast.
That is always an issue with co-hosts. Do you have signals between the two of you? Do you have like trading off of questions? Are you going to plan it that way? Yours seems like it’s a discussion amongst the three of you, you and your guest. It seems fluid. Is that accidental? Is it purposeful?
We do a lot of research. When we were doing these podcasts in person, it was a lot easier to connect with our guests and ask enthusiastic questions. Being on Zoom, I found it to be a little bit harder to keep the conversation going to spilling over in depth. There was an interview, it was Margaret Cho and I had started reading her book. I was in the middle of it when we had our interview. I didn’t get a chance to finish it.
After we did our interview, I finished reading the book and there were so many things I learned from the book and many questions that I thought in hindsight sounded dumb or disrespectful because clearly, she had already put this information out there. After that experience, I made sure to do a deep dive. Now that Catherine and I have a pre-pro meeting where we script out to a lot of the questions, we list everything. We have a script, an arc of where we would like the conversation to go and we paste it out. It doesn’t always go that way because, with live conversations, you want to be surprised. You want it to go in the weeds.
I don’t recommend that to my clients and to the readers out there to script out your questions.
I don’t think she meant script like the actual script but we map it out.
I believe that your bullet pointing, you want to touch on this topic and that topic. You are not scripting them out because if you did, you wouldn’t be as fluid as you are and you are very fluid in basically who asked it. Asking it in a way that follows up what was previously said. You do it well.
I feel like I’m getting a crit. This is great.
Now you know my secret that we are doing it. We are doing a critique of your podcast. It’s funny that you mentioned that because we started doing a Clubhouse where we do a concerted critique of mostly people who are early in starting their podcast. We do it and I wanted to call it Podcast Crit. Tom was like, “No one is going to know what that means,” but Juliana, you would. I want to jump into a few things that are related to the five things. The five things that are helping to make your show successful or the five things you are probably working on to make it successful. I know you’ve got a little bit of team supporting you through Korean American Story but feel free to add what they do for you instead of what you are doing yourself. We will do that quickly here. What are how you are getting those great guests that you are getting on your show?
Juliana and I are constantly texting each other with ideas. We see people in the news or people with projects. We come up with a list of people. I was an Editor for many years. A big part of my job was booking celebrities and guests for feature stories. It’s familiar to both of us in terms of how to contact an agent and publicist. It takes quite a bit of time crafting the emails, making sure they get to the right person, following up, being persistent and trying to be persuasive because we are a small little organization. It’s not like I’m trying to book them to be in W Magazine. We need to try to appeal to that sense of community. This is a nonprofit. This is something special. This is not typical media. This is a passion project and it’s something for Korean Americans.
There might be an Oscar winner in your future of an interview. That’s not going to be easy because she’s going to be a little busy. Youn Yuh-jung was the first Korean American to win an Oscar and let alone a woman so that’s fantastic on top of that. I’m sure you are going to work hard to get her to make time for you but I hope she will come on.
The fact that we are a part of Korean American Story that has been around for a decade and they have done programming with some of these talented Korean Americans. They do have deep connections within the community that help.
You are tapping into great intros, that’s helping, that connection point for yourself. The biggest and the hardest place that this question that I’m asking you nexus is increasing listeners. It’s the one that no matter what level of a podcast you are at, this is the one everyone’s always working on. What do you do between the two of you? How you share your show? How do you increase the listenership?
Everybody knows that social media has the widest reach for our budget. We don’t post as much as we know would be effective. One of the things that we have employed is we have hosted a few giveaways, tag somebody, follow this person, tag a friend and that seems to generate a lot of interest because it’s fun if there’s a tie-in with a guest. It’s a promotion but it’s interactive. That’s one way we have done it.
You have a producer that you are working with because he’s wonderful. HJ, as you mentioned, is your connection to that. Besides the research, how do you both make sure that it meets the production quality you expected from the shows that you listen to? How did you make it match that?
Do you think it does match that? What do you think?
I think it has a highly produced feel like some of the NPR shows and other things like that. I feel you have that entertainment. I do think you are headed in that world and you must have thought that through and specifically chosen the way that you do it.
We have kept it simple. We were new so it’s a simple format. Originally, it was in person. It would just be myself, Juliana and one producer with the equipment traveling to someone’s home or studio and they did buy some good microphones and excellent equipment. Our secret weapon is our editor who is amazing AJ Valente. He is our audio engineer. He has been fantastic. He edits it beautifully. He lets us make all kinds of little comments and suggestions and he helps take out our fumbles. He’s one of the main secrets to our success.
You’ve got an editor involved with the type of people you are having on your show, that level of professionalism is important to attracting even better guests in the future. It’s serving you well and it will continue to serve you well to set that tone for yourself. It’s okay, keep it simple in the beginning and grow. You can always change and get a little more complex later if you choose but I don’t think it’s necessary. You’ve got a nice formula going on with the production of your show.
One of the things that I would like to clarify is that HJ is a Founder of Korean American Story and he has been involved and supportive of K-Pod. To an HJ’s credit, one of the ways he’s most supportive is that he believes in us and he is entirely hands-on. Catherine and I produce K-Pod ourselves. We do all the production. We have Jessica Park, she does some production help for us and she’s helpful. Catherine and I do all the strategy. We come up with the guest. Catherine does all the Episode Notes and I did all the visuals. We do everything. AJ is the miracle audio engineer. He does a rough cut, then we go in and we work everything.
What Juliana said right there is they go back into their show. This is the key to great production. They are staying involved in making the choices. You can have an amazing audio editor, as you said, AJ is amazing for you but the issue is that they are not you. They don’t make the choices that you would make from an editorial standpoint. Catherine, your background in editing, understands how important that stage of doing that final editing pass and making some choices are in the process of producing a good show. You are being heavy in your production value by doing that and most people don’t. I credit you too for spending the time to do that.
I am fascinated that you said that because Juliana and I have never done this before. We seem that this is how everybody works. You are right because as an editor and a writer, that’s what I do. I go over and over things with a fine-tooth comb and I’m a fiddler. I like to make something precise and that’s where I spent a lot of time. I thought everyone did that.
I’m going to tell you they don’t.
It’s great that he can indulge us because I’m sure we are annoying. We always have more and more things to tweak.
It’s good that you are doing that, you are keeping control over that production value and it’s going to serve you well in the long run. This is who you are and this is what your show is about and that quality level matters. I want to go on to the next thing that we do. Encouraging engagement is the next thing that I asked questions about and you mentioned using gamification, contest and other things. Are you engaging with your audience? If so, where?
People message instant messages on our Instagram which is K-Podpod and we get a lot of comments, suggestions and questions from listeners through direct message. It’s great to hear what people have to say or the fact that they are even listening.It’s nice to have something new to do and learn something new. Click To Tweet
That’s fantastic because as we are talking, you were 23 episodes in. That’s early to be getting connection points. The fact that you were getting direct messages says to me that, as I thought it, you are being binge listened to and you were onto something. It is good that you were doing that. I love that you were getting direct messages because that is easier to engage with.
We are guilty of not quite having found our footing with our Instagram feed. We just decided that we were going to switch it up because there were many people that we were excited about that we wanted to have as guests. We either couldn’t get or they weren’t quite right for K-Pod but we were enthusiastic about and we wanted to support it. We were using our Instagram feed to highlight all these people we were excited about and maybe losing a little bit of the identity of what K-Pod is. We decided to rein it in a little bit and focus more on our episodes and our actual guests. It’s because of that, we were spending a little bit more time on it. When you were not sure what the direction is, it’s hard to engage. There has been more engagement with some of our audience followers on K-Pod.
As you have honed it in better, I love that. This is the hardest part about social media. I had Whitney Lauritsen, who consults with us as a strategist and Instagram is one of her strengths. She said the same thing, as she wanted to use and imply all the stuff she had been doing on Instagram but it didn’t work for the podcast in the way that she thought it wouldn’t have to change up her strategy. I think you are always finding that. Don’t worry, ladies, you are in the same place as all of us are, keep tweaking it, you will get there.
They will change something up before we settle into something and we will have to adapt again. That’s a social media curse and model. The last thing that I usually ask about is the monetization of your show. In your case, you were partnered up with a sponsor of it. Are they providing production support, sponsorship, funds for that? In that way though, is it also translating into helping you with your photography business, with your freelance writing, are you getting more gigs and opportunities to do things? Is that coming through all the way?
We will create an American Stripe that pays for all the production costs so that all the hours that our audio engineer logs in, they handle that. There are not a lot of costs.
You were not getting paid.
We do it for a nominal fee which we still appreciate. We consider it almost like volunteer work, something that we love like a passion project.
It’s because we’ve got a nominal salary, we have the freedom and the luxury of saying no to any guests that they suggest. We get to shape the podcast in the vision that Catherine and I have.
When you have a sponsor that could be too controlling, that’s great that you still have creative control and it’s serving them well. It’s a good choice on their part.
It’s interesting because, at the start, I felt that we were bringing our credentials to the podcast and fueling that engine. Our editorial background and magazines definitely, translate it into skills that help the production. Now, I feel that podcasting is everywhere. I feel like I have gained skills and it’s enriched me and my experience. It feels a lot more reciprocal.
Are you getting more business? Are you getting asked to do things? Are you getting freelance jobs? Are you getting things that are supplements because you have a podcast?
Both of us have. What I like about it is because it’s our thing, it shows our sensibility so then I can post about certain episodes on my personal Instagram. Editors that I work with see it and reminded first of all, that I exist. They are also reminded that I’m doing interesting work or maybe, “I know this person. I know that person.” It has been good in that way. It helped me extend my network and reinforce my presence in some small way.
Knowing that to be present and relevant are always good things.
I often lament the fact that I have been a writer and editor in print magazines for most of my career, I still pretty much write for print magazines. I haven’t done that much that’s different. This podcast has been one pretty major new skill that I have developed. It’s nice to have something new to do in my old age.
You are not that old, Catherine.
At least I have learned something new.
I did get booked for a job and one of the mood boards that they sent me had pictures of my podcast guests on it that I had taken, which was great.
What a great comment to get you back to you.
I have to say that one of the things that Catherine and I have been engaging in behind the scenes is that we have been pitching our guests hard to some of our magazine clients. We were trying to get more Asian faces and talent into these publications that are traditionally much more white. We haven’t been that successful. I have not been asked to photograph the Asian community or the Korean community. I get work that’s the same as before and I would like to see that change.
You have positioned yourself for that to change, for you to be the catalyst to help make that happen because we had this Oscar win. We have had Asian hate outlawed by Congress. Hopefully, that turns into something that’s in action. That brings a presence of a requirement looking at the diversity of who we are featuring, how we are presenting that and you are the voice of that. Why wouldn’t I turn to you both as someone who can visualize that and photography? Someone who can write about that, edit that and truly be the voice of that. You have positioned yourself in just the right time that maybe it’s coming to the point that you are going to see that. Let’s help it tips because I believe that this is extremely important in this time and age for us to be shifting that viewpoint of Korean Americans, of Asian Americans in the world view.
We were going to revisit some of those pitches that we sent out. It will be more at the people’s forefront of their minds. Hopefully, they will be looking at these ideas from a different vantage point.
Are you both involved in how your podcast episodes are displayed on the KoreanAmericanStory.org website and the blog there because they were visually beautiful?
AJ, our all-talented audio engineer, is also a great web designer. He designed that web page. We tinkered and tweaked it and asked for certain layouts. We had a little bit of a hand in the design work. Are you saying that you like the way it’s laid out?
I do. This is one of the most underserved portions of it. We, as podcasters, tend to forget about our website view of it but it’s one of the ways that we get new listeners all the time. Where they find you through the website, they are going to find you via Google and then go listen to the story. When they were beautiful like that, it gives you a production value idea that if I’m comparing you to another show, just that in and of itself is going to make me choose you.
They are engaging, the photographs that you have chosen and put into each episode as your featured image. That’s what they technically call it in your vlog but the featured image, the square that’s showing on your compilation page. It’s technically what we call a blogroll page but you have it in like panels. There’s a featured image and a little blurb before it. Catherine, I’m assuming you have something to do with the description where phrases are being used there because they were highly edited. They were well written to the point at which they enticed me into wanting to listen to this podcast or this particular episode. It’s visually engaging, written well, both things draw me in. You are touching all the senses there. Once I listen, I’m going to subscribe. That’s your entree to more listeners in the future.
I feel so good, Tracy.
This is the thing. Many people discount this side of it because of your background, you didn’t and you stayed involved with how that looks and represented. It’s a good thing for Korean American Story because they have a nice website. They want to make sure that it has the power and the value for their own organization or what’s the point in sponsoring it if they were not getting the value on their website at the end of the day and that they truly are doing that here.
The only thing we knew how to do coming into this is the writing, the editing and the photography, so I’m happy.
You are diversifying all around here, getting yourself so well-rounded, got the audio and added video. First off, I would love that there was a YouTube version. That was what we call audiogram. Where it’s a static image and the sound is going in the background but you still put it on YouTube that way in the early episodes. I’m assuming about the pandemic point, that’s when you switch to having an actual video. How did that feel for you? Did it feel uncomfortable? Did you enjoy it?
We freaked out when there was a suggestion that we would record it and we were like, “No, we just did season one, then we’ve got comfortable with audio and now it’s like a video game.” It was leveling up. Everyone’s self-conscious about the way they look and whatnot but we have gotten used to the fact that Zoom is Zoom and those are Zoom’s aesthetic and it’s all okay in the low quality like laptop and camera. Honestly, if you go on YouTube and you look at the people, it’s much more engaging. The last time we had a meeting about this, I said, “If we ended up going back to recording our interviews in person, I’m going to suggest that we get a little camera, bring our laptops and do whatever it is but I don’t think we can go back to having the videogram and the static frame.”
It’s hard to go back once you start the video but it is difficult in person. This adds a layer of complexity and feels grateful that you’ve gotten this far into your show and you’ve got the rest of it under the belt and you didn’t try to do it all at once. It would have frustrated you. The thing about your show that I find fascinating is that you are a story-based show, which there are a lot of story-based shows out there. It would start to feel formulaic and the same but it’s not. There might be something about your personal viewpoints and curiosity about things. Tell me when you are looking for a story and something and you aren’t sure if it’s there. How do you elicit that when you ask questions?Social media has the highest reach. Click To Tweet
It helps that there are two of us. Catherine is much more arts and culture.
A lot of that goes back to the research. When Juliana didn’t quite get to finish the end of Margaret Cho’s book, that was a total aberration because Juliana does a lot of research and that’s something I’m used to doing. We usually know the juicy stories of someone’s life but we also know that because they were Korean American, nobody asked the in-depth version of that question or the other side. More about the parents maybe or something specifically Korean.
In your episode, Michelle Zauner, you hit on that is a great way in that episode, where she’s telling you about food and at one point you talked about not wearing a bra and wearing a bra. I was sitting there going like, “This is something outside of my understanding.” I’m not a Korean American. You’ve got her to talk about that. That’s brilliant because that’s an insight into her that I don’t think you would have gotten anywhere else.
People open up more. We were not related but all Koreans are related or there are a couple of degrees of separation. There’s a shared experience. Often we will meet someone and then maybe, during the interview will realize, “I think you know my uncle.” There is that familiarity and a few inside jokes, which makes everyone feel comfortable.
I thought it was also funny is that you were saying to her, “You are more Korean.” It was like a challenge.
I do think we have been learning a lot about Koreaness and Korean identity as well. I don’t think anyone would have chosen Catherine or me to host a podcast about Korean Americans because we are not fluent in Korean, we were not steeped in the history and so in touch with our identity. We have a lot of insecurities. “When was the last time you were in Korea?” We don’t embody perfection or expertise but we probably are more indicative of most Korean Americans and the experience out there than we realize. Everyone has this sense of authenticity and insecurity about if we were enough and it made me realize, “Everyone is in the same boat.”
Has your friendship gotten a little bit stronger over doing the show?
Definitely. With all friends, especially when one of them moves out to the suburbs, you see each other, email, keep in touch here and there but now, Catherine and I have to stay in touch. The discussions and the production meetings we have about our guests often turn into reflections about us and what’s going on in our lives, our childhood and how we remember. It brings up so much stuff and made our friendship deeper and stronger.
I can see how doing a podcast with a friend is dicey. It could easily go wrong but fortunately, with Juliana, I always know she’s working hard. I don’t feel she’s ever slacking. I could see that between partners, somebody feels slightly resentful about one thing or another. Normally, I’m just like, “Thank God, Juliana knows how to do this and can make this image great.” I don’t have to worry. I feel glad to be part of it because she’s such a good partner.
I’m assuming you were almost at the wrap of your second season. Are you about to start the third?
We are on our third. Each season is ten episodes. We were on the third episode of season three. We’ve got seven more guests to go before it’s over.
Are you going to make any shifts in the show in the future?
One thing we have done and we are going to do at least one more time is we had a guest Jim Lee, who is a renowned comic book artist. Juliana and I are not especially aficionados of comic books but our audio engineer was. We had him on as a guest host, as a super fan. That was the kind of a fun twist. There’s another episode where we were thinking about interviewing a musician who there’s another woman on our team that is a huge fan. We thought it would be nice to have another guest host. There are little things like that we thought we could do.
I like that, a superfan show.
Getting another guest host who can ask different questions.
I’m sure people do this too but we have been thinking of using our stories and a little survey function to say, “We are interviewing Michele Doner tomorrow. Anybody have any questions for our guests?” It would be like a listener question that we could throw out there. Those are things to also bring engagement that we have been thinking about.
The other thing we have been advised to do by many people, Juliana and I were reluctant but we were doing more of is putting more of ourselves into the episodes because we were both shy people and used to being behind the scenes. At first, we went into the podcast thinking we were just going to ask the questions and have the guests answer them. She and I also know that our favorite podcasts are the ones where you know the hosts, their personalities and the dynamics. We have been advised to give a little more of ourselves, which doesn’t come naturally to us but we are doing a little bit more of that.
As your episodes go on, I hear that in your episodes. Keep doing that because that is the attraction to that binge listener. They are tuning in because they can trust you to bring them a great story, to bring them yourself into it and ask the questions they wish they could if they were sitting in your seat. Keep that up. Catherine and Juliana, I’m amazed by how far you come in 23 episodes because it has come far for you. You should be so proud of what you do. I bet there are a lot of people out there who are going, “Your podcast hosts, that’s great but I’m not sure. I have always thought about doing it.” What advice do you have to someone who’s sitting back thinking, “Maybe I should do a show?”
Hire AJ. You need an excellent audio engineer.
A friend of mine asked me this and she had an amazing idea for a show. She even had a pretty famous person who told her she wants to produce it for her but that person wasn’t a podcast expert. This friend called me, and I said, “It’s pretty easy now.” You don’t need much of any high-tech anything. You could start interviewing people, talking to them on the phone and recording it. It’s so easy to get started. My advice would be to just start it. It’s simple.
You can get production value as you go.
To just jump in, it wasn’t that complicated.
Thank you both so much. K-Pod, a fabulous podcast. You are all want to check out of there.
Thank you so much.
- Episode 11 – K-Pod Past Episode
- Margaret Cho – K-Pod Past Episode
- AJ Valente
- K-Podpod – Instagram
- Whitney Lauritsen – Previous episode
- Michelle Zauner – K-Pod Past Episode
- Jim Lee – K-Pod Past Episode
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