Texas A&M Forest Service podcast, “Trees Are Key”, is reminding listeners to get outside and explore while sheltering in place. Celebrating five years this spring, the short, weekly podcast helps listeners care for their trees with lessons and weekly tree highlights.
Paul Johnson, the Urban and Community Forestry Program leader, is the voice and producer behind the podcast.
“Trees are key to happy, healthy and safe communities,” said Johnson. “Due to the current situation, we have geared the last few episodes towards making sure people know to look at the science of things, get outside and explore, and why that’s important.”
In the past five years, the Texas A&M Forest Service podcast has produced around 32,000 hours of educational information that reach Texas cities and beyond.
“Everything discussed is interesting or important and usually both,” Johnson said about the podcast features.
Right now, Johnson said, is the perfect time to escape outside and recharge by listening to a podcast before going back in your house to work or take care of children.
The power of audio
Johnson has been a Texas A&M Forest Service employee for over 15 years, starting as a staff forester. Before joining the agency he worked in Extension in Oklahoma City with an emphasis in horticulture. During his work with Extension, Johnson was the host of a live call-in radio show, “The Garden Show on TKOK.”
“This is where I really found the power of audio,” Johnson said. “The show reached 70,000 people per hour; it’s amazing the impact you can have when speaking with big numbers like that.”
Johnson’s experience with the radio show sparked his idea for the “Trees Are Key” podcast.
“There was a gap,” he said. “I know the power of audio and knowing how much time interested individuals spend behind the wheel of their cars or exercising, things where they can still be productive by listening to something.”
Once the idea was approved, Johnson committed to producing the podcast for one year. Wanting it to be consistent, he mapped out the first 52 episodes of content to produce one episode per week.
During this beginning phase is also when Johnson and his team developed a structure for each episode, which is still used today. Each episode includes a learning lesson, a weekly tree highlight and any upcoming tree events.
Five years of growth
The audience in mind when producing “Trees Are Key” is very specific but meant for all listeners to learn more about trees and the forestry industry. When producing, Johnson said he tries to focus on early career professionals or very interested amateurs to feel comfortable with the information.
A key performance indicator of the podcast is total number of listeners, which have increased each year.
“The first year, we had around 4,000 listeners, the second we had over 20,000 and then went up each year from there,” Johnson said. “In 2019, we had almost 60,000 listens.”
Though the majority of the 673 average listeners per episode are located in Texas, the number five and six overall top cities for the podcast are San Jose and Los Angeles, California.
“Five years ago, an average podcast had about 200 listeners per episode,” Johnson said. “The average listens per episode are why we’re still investing in the production.”
The reach of the podcast goes even beyond the country’s border. Though the U.S. is the top listening country, the podcast’s top five reaching countries also include Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Ireland.
“I have one story of a listener from France reaching out through Instagram that asked about becoming a certified arborist,” Johnson said. “It was the week after we released the certification test in French, and I let him know about that.”
Even with all of the reach each season has brought, the first episode of the podcast “Why Trees Are Key” remains the most listened to episode with 1,800 listens.
Looking to the future
Johnson is excited about the future and continued growth of the podcast and said there are multiple things listeners can look forward to in the coming episodes.
“Early on, it was really big picture stuff and over time we’ve been able to focus on more specific and timely topics,” he said.
In the episodes to come, Johnson said you can look forward to a mixture of topics including trees, arboriculture, forestry and a bit of personal and professional development.
“One of the things to look forward to is the likelihood of bringing guests in to expand the scope of the show,” he said. This includes healthcare professionals, industry professionals and more.
Another focus Johnson has for the future of the podcast is working on having continuing education units available for the podcast.
“We are actively creating quizzes that people can listen to two episodes and then take a quiz and earn half of a CEU,” he said.
Ultimately, Johnson’s goal is to get research-based information about the connection of trees and people to listeners. During the current precedence, he also hopes that it is a way to maintain community connection.
“Trees and the outdoors are a great way to de-stress, and the ability to interact with other people, even virtually, right now is important,” he said.
During these uncertain times, Johnson wants his podcast to be a resource to listeners to go outside, enjoy the connection and escape by learning more on why trees are key.
You can find the “Trees Are Key” podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts including iTunes, Google Play and iHeartRadio. Learn more about the Trees Are Key podcast and Texas A&M Forest Service at https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/podcasts/treesarekey/.