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Does your child have a podcast idea? Here’s how to enter the NPR student podcast challenge.

Podcast studio at the University of Illinois Richmond Studios.

These days, middle and high school students enjoy listening to and making podcasts. Right now, NPR is looking for the best student podcasts, including in Central Illinois. IPM News Director Reginald Hardwick talked with Steve Drummond and Janet Woojeong Lee from NPR’s Education Desk. 

Click here to enter the podcast challenge. The deadline is May 3 at 10:59 p.m. CDT.

Click here for NPR’s guide to how to make a student podcast.

Click here to listen to past podcast winners.

Reginald Hardwick: I was looking over some of the titles from last year’s winners and honorable mentions which included podcasts about wearing hijabs, ice cream, mental health, Instant Ramen, and one of my favorite titles, ‘Chicago Cub Players who Need Improvement.’ What kinds of stories are NPR looking for?

Janet Woojeong Lee: Well, the fun thing about this contest is that you can make a story and enter with a podcast on any topic that excites you. Now, I can give some pointers as to what stories we tend to get. A lot of them have been about young people exploring who they are, where they come from stories on identity, race, gender, and how they’re navigating through that food is their love language. So, yeah, there’s really a range every year and we’re really to just hearing whatever you want to talk about. Something that excites you, something that you can’t stop talking about, something that you want to get off your chest.

RH: There are some high schools with full blown radio stations and then there are also under resourced schools in a lot of rural areas here in central Illinois as well as some in urban areas as well. If your school doesn’t have a radio station or [professional recording] kits, can they still enter and how do they do that?

Steve Drummond: Oh, very much so. And it’s one of the cool things about podcasting is it’s kind of a Democratic medium. It doesn’t take much more than a cell phone and a computer to make a really good podcast. We’ve seen this at NPR where once upon a time, you know, it took elaborate studios, like the ones we’re sitting in right now. But now people can do a really good podcast from their basement and we’re seeing students, recording in their bedrooms or their closets or maybe in their classroom. And yes, some schools have a podcasting club, and some schools have, you know, elaborate equipment. But we have seen now that we’ve been doing the contest for more than five years, those aren’t always the winners. We’ve had students from all different economic levels and types of schools and backgrounds and everything. It’s been a lot of fun.

RH: What was one of the more memorable podcasts that you remember from recent years?

JW: I really liked our high school winter podcast from last year that comes from Jackson, Mississippi that touches on the water crisis in the students’ hometown through the lens and voice of a high schooler.

RH: Steve. What about you? What’s one of the more memorable podcasts?

SD: Do you remember a fifth-grade student who did a podcast about Tater Tots and whether people and his classmates liked Tater Tots or not? We sat around at my desk at NPR laughing about this podcast over and over again. The student had actually called up Ore Ida, the company that makes Tater Tots.

JW: The contest is now open through May 3rd, and you can find all the information we just talked about as well as the submission form on NPR.org/Studentpodcastchallenge

Reginald Hardwick

Reginald Hardwick

Reginald Hardwick is the News & Public Affairs Director for the Illinois Newsroom. He started at WILL in October of 2019 after serving as News Director for WKAR in East Lansing, Michigan. Previously, he was a news producer and manager at the NBC station in Dallas, where he won 7 Emmy awards. Born in Vietnam, Reginald is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado. Email: rh14@illinois.edu Twitter: @RNewsWILL

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