Catherine Jaffee didn’t know it at the time, but the idea for her community-oriented podcasting startup began in the high plateaus of Turkey.
Today, she’s the founder of House of Pod, a “podcasting coworking space” that aims to bring new people into the art of audio. Just a few months in, she and her team — including Paul Karolyi of the Changing Denver podcast — already have landed commercial clients and turned a huge brick building into the center of a young community.
“It’s not like I invented podcasting or introduced podcasting to Denver,” she said.
“It was more like recognizing, ‘Oh, we should have a place.'”
And this place has an interesting backstory.
Jaffee, 31, first found her love of audio during her years in the Turkish region of Kars, where she was working as Fulbright Scholar and as a National Geographic Young Explorer.
“I started my career documenting ancient beekeeping traditions on old Silk Road trade routes in Turkey and the South Caucuses,”she said.
Jaffee loved the work and the people, but it was intensely lonely: At age 23, she often was the only native English speaker in the region, she said, and she held back much of her personality.
“I had to keep up a certain guise. ‘I’m so proper,'” she said. “Being alone, and 23, in these areas, in a predominantly male, isolated cultural style — you cannot let anyone know anything about you — which sounds so spy-ish, I know.”
Her escape was audio. She’d spend hours riding buses with her headphones, watching the world pass by. “Podcasts became my best friend. It was just this opportunity for me to listen to English speakers share and talk about these things that were very inappropriate” to discuss locally, Jaffee explained.
Meanwhile, she came to see audio as a more “participatory” form of media — cheaper to produce and to consume, especially in remote places like Kars.
Jaffee returned to the U.S. in 2015 and started to learn the craft of radio for herself, including through a brief course at Transom, the revered audio education group.
Within months, she was working with some big-name companies, including gigs recording “wellness soundbites” for an Arianna Huffington company, along with work for Gimlet Media, Gimlet Creative, PRX and others.
And, being a person who just habitually accomplishes things, now she’s launched a podcasting company.
House of Pod lives in one of the most interesting buildings in Five Points.
An all-white, brick building stands just off 26th and Curtis Ssreets, looking like a combination of a castle and a church. It’s known as the Armory — a sprawling old warehouse that’s rich in history, including roles as a boxing arena and a dance hall.
In one of its front rooms, the wood-paneled walls are lined with sound-damping foam and patterned Turkish rugs. A mixer and four big microphones sprout from a central wooden table.
The studio has everything that paying clients need to record podcasts. They’ve landed two commercial clients so far, including Denver Startup Week, with two more in the works.
They’re also hosting paid classes and free events in their offices, including Karolyi’s Podcast Book Club, which has grown to include about a dozen regulars. (Disclosure: Karolyi’s a friend.) The model is partially based on programs like Podcast Detroit and PRX’s Podcast Garage.
Matthew Simonson, one of the first “residents” of House of Pod, is working on a show where he tracks down the story behind old vinyl records.
“We take a record that’s kind of weird, kind of overlooked. We try to contact the artist and tell a story related to that record,” said Simonson, 28, who quit his job as a data analyst to pursue podcasting. He spends a few days a week at the mixing station, and recently purchased tickets for a reporting trip to San Francisco.
“When we booked the tickets to San Francisco, it was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is real,” he said. “It’s something that I know about, and … it’s something that should be made — and I’m the best person to do it, probably.”
Meanwhile, Jaffee and company are heading into public schools, where they’re teaching a module for 19 students. Her goal, she said, is to help people tell their own stories.
“For me to live a meaningful life, I need to be a part of a community where … a tide is rising,” she said. “I don’t want to be at the front being successful. I want to be part of the tide.”
And when people record themselves, she said, it can create a space for them in a community.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t we have more access to platforms where people can tell their own story in the center of the United States?'” she said.