Pandemic and empty nest propelled Vancouver woman to podcast pantheon

“I had to teach myself the technology, learn to edit and produce. I think the only thing that really helped is the journalistic background. I can switch quickly and I know how to make connections.” — Amy Mai

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When Amy Mair’s role of mother to two boys shifted from raising them to supporting them in adulthood, she decided to try something new and become a podcaster.

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Mair, a longtime journalist and editor, discovered the world of podcasts during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic. With over two million podcasts to choose from, titles like The Daily, Criminal, and Smartless became her favorite pick.

“I came in and out of the workforce. I always had my freelance writing but the kids were the priority and then I turned 50 during the pandemic and I think every time you hit a new decade you reevaluate, and then the kids (aged 21 and 19) left , I had time on my hands. It was a big change’, says Mair.

“I had never actually listened to a podcast before the pandemic started, so when we had nowhere to go and nobody to see, it became a big connection for me. It was kind of how I got through my day listening to these podcasts.”

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According to a January 2022 survey by media audience analytics firm NLogic, podcast listening is at its highest level to date with 33 percent of Canadian adults listening in December 2021. BC is highest in the country with 41 percent of adults listening. The company also reported that when they asked people if their “listening patterns have changed since the early days of COVID-19,” 44 percent of typical weekly listeners and 49 percent of women say they listen to podcasts more.

“I really liked them because they seemed intimate. It was like hanging out with a friend. I liked that they were quirky,” said Mair. “I like how you can choose a subject.”

The topic she chose was books, and in January 2021, the Red Fern Book Review podcast was officially launched.

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Named after a favorite childhood book Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, the podcast is casual and very conversational. It’s like a very small book club that needs no reconciliation or nibbles. You just listen. It’s easy and entertaining.

Red Fern Book Review podcast host Amy Mair started her podcast in January 2021. The journalist/editor said she decided to start talking about books when her young adult sons moved out and the pandemic shut us all down.
Red Fern Book Review podcast host Amy Mair started her podcast in January 2021. The journalist/editor said she decided to start talking about books when her young adult sons moved out and the pandemic shut us all down. Photo by Arlen RedekopPNG

Mair grew up in Kansas City, Mo. She met her husband Geoff, who has appeared on the podcast, at school in Chicago’s Northwestern, where they were both studying journalism. She moved back to his hometown of Vancouver with Geoff 25 years ago.

With the podcast plan in place, Mair started producing content. She did her homework and chose a popular height — think average commute, dog walk, or lunch break.

“I told myself how I feel. Whatever happens, I’m going to do this on a schedule, and I’m going to do this for a whole year, come what may. Then I will re-evaluate,” said Mair.

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Mair currently produces three podcasts a month and a newsletter.

The process clicked with her immediately, as it was a situation where she went hand in hand thanks to her lifelong love of books and the investigative skills she had honed as a journalist. But of course there was still a lot to learn.

“I had to teach myself the technology, learn to edit and produce,” said Mair. “I think the only thing that really helped is the journalism background. I can switch quickly and know how to make connections.”

Red Fern Book Review is hosted by the BuzzSprout network and currently has over 5,000 downloads.

Clearly lessons have been learned over the year plus from the Red Fern Book Review. Microphone technique, what to include in show notes etc are all part of the learning curve. Those are also blunders.

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“What I’ve learned is that the imperfections make people want to listen. Maybe that’s obvious to people who listen to podcasts on a regular basis, but if you don’t, I found it very difficult,” Mair said.

“My dog ​​barged in and basically hijacked an interview and then I got really stressed out, but then I let some of that in and people really liked that and that kind of taught me that a lot of people like to see within reason.

“People want that stuff because it feels like they’re hanging out with you.”

Red Fern Book Review varies widely between genres and eras. For example, you can listen to a talk about Lady Susan by Jane Austen or The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall. Authors like Robyn Harding, the best-selling Vancouver thriller writer, have shown up to talk about books.

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Although Mair’s podcast has not yet received sponsorship, he does have a relationship with bookshop.org. And just in time for Mother’s Day, it’s partnered up with the Book Warehouse on Main St. in Vancouver for gift-wrapping.

Connecting with Mair was a quick decision for Book Warehouse manager Mary-Ann Yazedjian.

“When I first met her, she came into the store and we sat down and started chatting about it and we got really distracted because we just kept talking about the books we loved,” Yazedjian said. “We got really excited about what could be the possible book that we do for the first few book boxes.

“Her absolute love for books was fantastic. Frankly, at the time, I thought to myself, I wonder if she would like to work in a bookstore, because she would be so great at recommending books.”

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Book Warehouse on Main St., manager Mary-Ann Yazedjian said podcaster Amy Mair's love of books was a key factor in partnering with the Red Fern Book Review host for a range of gift boxes.
Book Warehouse on Main St., manager Mary-Ann Yazedjian said podcaster Amy Mair’s love of books was a key factor in partnering with the Red Fern Book Review host for a range of gift boxes. Photo by Arlen RedekopPNG

The first box available now contains Susan Juby’s latest novel Mindful of Murder, as well as items from the store, including a cool tote bag.

“I wanted something fun but smart and I liked that she’s regional too, she had a BC connection,” Mair said of bestseller Juby, who has signed ex-libris for the books that go into the boxes.

“I liked that she is a well-known author, but not a household name. I thought it would be nice for people to discover her, and I like mysteries.”

Beautifully packaged, the Red Fern Book Review Book Boxes sell for $32 each and can be shipped or picked up from the store in Main St. The plan is now to release new boxes this fall and winter.

Mair gets a small percentage of sales and exposure.

“The value for me is to be connected with them because I really like them,” Mair said of the Boekenmagazijn.

Yazedjian reports that sales of the box, the first of its kind that Book Warehouse has done, have been strong.

“It’s nice for us too, because we’ve never done anything like this before and we love anything that connects us with local readers,” Yazedjian said.

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twitter.com/dana_gee

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