The Best Stories You've Never Heard
Venture North ~ Summer 2012 (V6I2)
Tagish resident Jennifer Hawks is podcasting tales of the territory
Jennifer Hawks settles down to her weekly routine, perched at a small desk in her guest bedroom, meticulously editing the peaks and valleys in the audio files that fill her computer screen. She cuts and rearranges and then listens back to her creation, paying close attention to each aural detail. A peaceful environment is the perfect backdrop, as the Tagish River stretches in plain view outside the back window of her home, about an hour southeast of Whitehorse.
It would appear as though Hawks is far from the social life of the city, but to the contrary; as the host and creator of the podcast My Yukon Life, people have become her main focus each and every day.
"One of my goals all along has been to find people with fascinating stories who the listeners would otherwise never meet," Hawks says of her half-hour program. "I'm trying to develop trust between myself and the listeners to say, 'You've never heard of this person, but you want to hear them. It's a good story: You want to know about their Yukon life.'"
After a number of visits to the territory, Hawks moved from Denver to the Yukon, in 2003, to attend flight school. Shortly after came the constant questioning from friends and family about her new surroundings. Hawks quickly realized there was an appetite for Yukon stories.
"They are just everyday people, but their lives are fascinating to the rest of us--maybe not to them, but to us," she says.
It is interesting for Hawks to reflect on how far she's come since her first live version of the show, in March 2011, that was broadcast in real time on Internet radio--a notable feat considering her country-residential setting. My Yukon Life has since been adapted into a 30-minute podcast that streams on her website and is available for download on iTunes every Monday evening.
Hawk's guests include everyone from the territory's musicians and visual artists, to canoe and kayak racers, dog mushers, and even a retired Yukon RCMP superintendent.
"It's grown beyond me. I had no idea that this was going to happen," she says with a laugh. "I really though that it was just for friends and family and I'd talk about my fishing experiences and that would be about it."
Listeners are tuning in from as Europe, New Zealand, South America, and Japan, as well as across Canada and the U.S.
"I know some of my friends and family still listen on occasion, but most of the people turning in are complete strangers," she says.
As the show has grown, so has Hawks. While she is a trained freelance print journalist, going from writing to radio wasn't easy. She admits she dove headfirst into the steep learning curve of mastering audio software, but persistence has paid off.
"I think mostly it's been about me learning how to do the same thing better and figuring out what works and to improve on that. It's really working on the craft of storytelling, which I'm used to doing with words," Hawks explains. "I'm trying to create a three-dimensional experience for the listener using only audio."
That's no small task, as it takes her roughly 20 hours from interview, to editing, to the final product.
"Sometimes when I'm thinking Why am I doing this?, that's when someone on the Facebook page, or sending me an email, or posting on the website says, 'Thank you so much. You're doing a great job--don't stop.' And it's amazing timing on that; it's fantastic."
Hawks' fondest memory thus far is an episode focused on Paddlers Abreast, a group of women--some of whom are breast-cancer survivors--raising awareness of breast cancer through their participation in the Yukon River Quest. Hawks gave the team a recorder to capture their journey as they competed in the canoe race, in 2011.
"It's memorable for me for several reason, and one is that personal awe I have of these women, able to do something that I know I couldn't do," she says, "and then the fact that they broke their personal-best record. I felt my own special connection with them. I was so proud that they did so well."
Many listeners wrote in about how they were inspired by the episode. Ultimately, that epitomizes the crux of the program for Hawks--an opportunity for people to experience a piece of the Yukon from near and far.
"The common theme is that essence of living on the frontier, so to speak, where it's not citified yet--hopefully never will be--and the people have the same sense of independent spirit."