Over the last several years, American Baha’i Warren Odess-Gillet has been hosting and broadcasting a weekly Baha’i radio program over the airwaves called A Baha’i Perspective.
The program is fascinating, as it’s based on interviews with individual Baha’is who share the personal stories of their lives and how they found the Baha’i Faith.
You dont have to tune into the radio to have a listen though, as the program is also available as a podcast on iTunes as well, and it’s a podcast I often listen to on my headphones while taking the train to work.
I thought it was time someone put Warren on the receiving end of being asked questions, so I decided to catch up with him and find out more about A Baha’i Perspective.
Baha’i Blog: First of all Warren, can you tell our readers what your podcast A Baha’i Perspective actually is?
The podcast is recorded interviews primarily of Baha’is (there are one or two exceptions). These interviews are biographical exploring the backgrounds from which these folks come from and their telling of their spiritual search leading them to the Baha’i Faith and then ultimately making that commitment to have the Baha’i Faith guide their life. The interview also allows the listener to hear how the Baha’i Faith informed the person’s life in the area of their work and other pursuits.
Baha’i Blog: Why did you decided to do the podcast and why do you think it’s important?
It was not the podcast that inspired me to do this project, but rather the birth of a low power all-volunteer community radio station in Northampton, MA. If you go to the ‘About’ page of the A Baha’i Perspective website, I provide a short history of how the podcast came into being. David Gowler, a Baha’i and a founding member of the low power FM station, Valley Free Radio (VFR) in Northampton Massachusetts, put out a call to the Bahá’ís at a Unit Convention in 2004 to take advantage of this resource to get the message out about the Bahá’í Faith.
For the past 35 years or so my brother David Gillett and his wife, Manal have been producing a couple of radio programs in Cameroon. When David Gowler put out the word about VFR, I figured I could just recycle the programs David and Manal put together and play them on VFR.
However, once I saw the scripts for the programs, I realized there was too much of a cultural disparity in the listening audience, so I had to scrap that idea. I had already committed to providing a program on VFR and I had 10 months before I was going to go on the air. I started creating my own scripts and enlisting folks to record programming for A Bahá’í Perspective. It was a very time and labor intensive effort to create these scripts, line up readers, and make the recordings. It was clear I was not going to be able to produce a weekly program in this manner.
An idea entered my head when I realized that one of my avid listeners, Ray Elliot from Amherst, MA, is a great story teller. So it dawned on me to ask Ray to tell his life story and I would record it and then play it on the air. So, Ray was my first interview and one of my best. It became readily apparent that this format I could deal with. So A Bahá’í Perspective became an interview program.
So the radio program format was set and rolling along, and then my son, David, said, “Dad you gotta have a podcast”. I had no idea how to establish a podcast, but I knew it was a good idea to get this out on the web.
As I was pondering how to tackle this next technological leap, Bill Dvorak, a Baha’i from the west coast heard about my program and has his own podcast called Ask A Baha’i. Bill took the initiative to contact me and introduce me to Derrick Stone who set up his podcast.
So Derrick Stone graciously hosted all my archived interviews on BahaiCommunity.Org and set up my podcast so that I could broaden my listening audience from Northampton Massachusetts, to the whole world wide web!
Out of the blue, Marc Atwood graciously offered his services to revamp my very retro website, that mirrored Derrick’s website, into something more professional looking. That website is BahaiPodcast.com.
I am so blessed that the Unknowable Essence has provided me this gift of purpose in my life and I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve.
Baha’i Blog: What sort of effect has it been having and what’s the response been like?
Out of the blue I will get feedback from all over the world. One person is transcribing the interviews for the hearing impaired; a number of contacts tell me they are playing the interviews on their radio stations in their area (Bermuda and Australia to name two). I get feedback from folks who tell me that the program was instrumental in them becoming a Baha’i. And just recently I replayed the interview with my wife Jacki, and a listener called the US toll free number (1-800-22-UNITE) to find out more information on the Baha’i Faith.
Baha’i Blog: How long has it been running, how many episodes do have so far, and how have you managed to keep it going for so long?
The radio program kicked off in August 2005 first with pre-recorded scripts (for about a month) and then over to the interview format soon after. The podcast was created in March 2006. To date there are between 200 and 300 interviews. I was faithfully creating a new interview every week, but I’ve slowed down quite a bit because of work (“my day job”). Now I may have a new interview about once a month. I still play the interviews on the radio station faithfully every week.
Baha’i Blog: What are some of the main challenges you face working on the podcast?
The biggest challenge is keeping the commitment to keep going. Every week I have to provide volunteer work at the station in order to have A Baha’i Perspective play. And I need to stay on top of the arrangements for finding interviewees. And the most time consuming part is the interview editing process. I spend hours on one program making sure the pace of the interview does not lag for the listener. If it wasn’t my belief that I was called to do this, I probably would have retired from doing this by now. I have to shout out a thanks to Derrick Stone who takes every one of my new interviews and updates the podcast.
Baha’i Blog: How do you choose who to interview and how do you get a hold of them?
Initially I looked within my general geographical area for people I thought would have an interesting story to tell. In some cases I was very surprised what I learned about a person’s history. I started branching out and doing telephone interviews and that widened my interview considerably. I typically ask my interviewee for recommendations on people I should interview. That has worked well for many years. When I hear something of interest I will try to follow up with the person involved and see if we can do an interview.
Baha’i Blog: Do you have any favourite or really interesting memories of certain interviews which come to mind?
You never know what you might get when you start an interview. One person comes to mind who had lived in my area for many years. I had a certain expectation about her from my limited experience with her as an adult. When she started telling her story about growing up, she started telling me about her involvement, as a young adult, with gun running for the Black Panthers! I would never had suspected this person had such a history from my experience with her as an adult. It’s one of my best interviews.
There are times when people get emotional when reliving their history. I feel a humble gratefulness that these folks feel safe enough during the interview to share their deepest feelings with me.
Baha’i Blog: Do you have any suggestions to other Baha’is who want to do similar podcasts or projects?
Nothing specific. If one has an inspiration they should follow it and create something. In my case it all just fell into my lap.
Baha’i Blog: What are your long term goals with the podcast and how do you hope to see things develop in the next few years?
Because I feel this is something God wants me to do, it is greater than me. So, for the foreseeable future I will be doing this indefinitely. If I had more time I would experiment more, but for the time being this will be the format as long as I have to hold a full time job.
Baha’i Blog: Thanks so much Warren for taking the time to do this interview, and a special thank you for providing us all with this wonderful initiative! I personally feel that these interviews are not only fascinating and informative, but also play an important role in documenting the history of this this wonderful Faith!