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Students Edge Toward Finish Line in NPR Podcast Challenge

NPR student podcast challenge
Illustration by Cass Herrington

Students in the Asheville area and beyond are hustling to meet the March 15th deadline to submit their entries for NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge. The annual contest invites students from across the country to put together a short podcast exploring any topic they’d like and provides training materials for classrooms. While winners get the chance to hear their piece on NPR, the initiative is also about skill sharing, collaboration and inspiring the next generation of audio storytellers.

BPR has been advising students and classrooms as they brainstorm topics, learn about different story formats and experiment with platforms for recording and mixing their podcasts. 

Emely Romero-Pena is a freshman at Nesbitt Discovery Academy and working with a team in her orchestra class focusing on mental health and music.

“What excites me the most is about the podcast I’m working on is I can collaborate with my peers and I have this communication with them, I get to understand them a little bit more,” said Romero-Pena. 

The students are learning how music affects the brain and how it can boost mental health. 

“What surprised me was how much more there is to music that I just don’t think about on a regular basis and making these podcasts and asking ourselves these questions has really made me think about these things,” said team member William Worley. 

Worley says kids have an interesting perspective on the world, and a point of view adults can learn from.

BPR’s Cass Herrington has heard some great -- and common -- questions from students during group and individual coaching sessions. She shares her wisdom and advice for getting to the finish line. 


“I’ve never done this before. I’m not really sure what I’m doing.” 


If you’ve never touched a microphone in your life, I sincerely see that as an asset. You are arriving at this audio medium with endless potential in how you structure and format your project. You get to innovate with fresh ears and a sound that’s all your own. Take this challenge as a failsafe opportunity to explore, and grow, and experiment. You’ll have a valuable learning experience and a finished project to carry with you wherever life takes you next. 

“I’m not the expert of anything, so what should I talk about?”


You ARE an expert. You’re the expert of your life! No one else has the unique experiences, struggles, and perspectives that you do. While you may not have a professional title or a resume yet, you are the supreme expert of you. So the question is: what do you want to teach the world? What story do you want to tell? This can be personal or something you’re passionate about that makes your heart go pitter patter. 

“What’s the best way to structure my podcast?”


I have no right answers to this one. But the advice I’ve been sharing is to focus, focus, focus on the main storyline or message you want to broadcast. Cast your net deep, not wide. Before deciding on structure, you should be able to clearly pinpoint in a sentence what the main thought or narrative is. If you set out with a clear message, a story or question to answer, let that guide you as you identify the best audio clips and write your script.. You have an 8-minute time limit to accomplish that one thing. I recommend thinking about the listener  --  what audio experience would pass through their ears and land squarely on their hearts and minds? 

As always, I am here to help. In the final days of the contest, I am available to answer your questions or offer a friendly “ear edit,” as we call it in the biz. You can get in touch: cherrington@bpr.org. Wishing our young producers the best of luck!

Catherine Komp joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in September 2020 as the organization’s first Director of Content, leading BPR’s talented team of local journalists and content creators, overseeing national programming and facilitating collaborations and engagement initiatives.
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