On today’s episode we welcome Larry Gifford, host of the When Life Gives You Parkinson’s podcast. Larry, who has been in the radio and podcasting sphere for many years now, was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He found that he wanted to find information and solace in the form of podcasts, a source of information for him already. When this search proved unfruitful, he decided to create the podcast that he needed himself and this is how When Life Gives You Parkinson’s was born.
In our discussion we look at the genesis of the show and some Larry’s personal experience around symptoms and difficulties with his diagnosis. Larry shares some of his ideas for staying positive and upbeat despite the nature of the disease before we move onto Larry’s thoughts on the podcasting format and his advice for prospective creators. We discuss the efficacy of audio as a means to communicate and some simple ways to get your message further afield, and into the ears of the right listeners. For a great chat with a great Causecaster, be sure to tune in!
The events in Larry’s life that led to him launching his podcast on Parkinson’s. (03:14)
The early symptoms of Parkinson’s that Larry did not recognize. (05:06
Remaining positive in the face of difficult news. (06:37)
Why Larry looked to podcasts for information and comfort immediately. (07:49)
Some of the differences between radios and podcasts. (08:38)
Involving family members and loved ones in the process of documentation. (09:48)
The influence of recording and aiming for an unfiltered conversation. (10:32)
Some of the feedback and reactions Larry has received for the podcast. (12:40)
The strengths of podcasting in communicating a cause.(14:36)
Raising awareness for the podcast and the issue. (15:37)
Larry’s own approach to the medium and his advice to others. (16:58)
Growing support through people in similar situations. (20:05)
Aligning with established causes and societies to gain traction. (21:13)
Simple tactics for bolstering a struggling podcast. (22.58)
And much more!
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[0:00:02.6] MP: Hey everyone, just before we get to this episode, I want to thank you so much for all of the early support here on Causecasts. This is really just a passion project that I launched because I really wanted to highlight those folks who were using podcast in a positive way but I have been seeing some great feedback, some great rating sand reviews from everyone and so I am inspired to keep this project going to find more amazing Causecasters so if you’re someone who has a podcast for a cause or you know someone that’s using this medium for a great cause, please have them go to causecast.org, fill out the form, reach out and I’ll schedule them on the show.
In the meantime, I want to thank those folks who have taken just a few minutes to give the show a positive rating and to write a review. Especially going out to Angela Obara, I hope I am not butchering your name when I say that, thank you for the positive feedback. Meredith Messenger, Chad Grills, Teacher Tiffany, thank you so much everybody for taking a few minutes.
Anybody else listening, if you like what we’re trying to do here on the show, if you want more cause casters to be highlighted, please go to causecast.org. Pop on over to iTunes or google or any of the platform, throw a positive rating and review, subscribe. Tell your friends about it and if you can, if you have the resources, love it if you would also throw a couple of dollars at the GoFundMe pages for any of the host cause that you believe in. None of that money goes to me, I have no interest in profiting off this venture. I really just want to highlight great podcasters that are using this medium to make the world a better place and help them in their causes, be able to do more. Anything we can do to support them, I would really appreciate it.
Thank you so much and enjoy today’s episode of Causecasts.
[0:02:02.6] MP: Hi and welcome to Causecasts. I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at Causecasts, we have one simple mission. To highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes. Whether that’s a non-profit they work with, a charity they support, a social justice campaign they are championing for, a medical condition they are battling or someone who is just looking to make a positive impact on their local community, state, country or the world. These are podcasters with a positive mission.
Along with raising awareness for our guest’s favorite causes, we’re also going to see if we can raise some money to support their efforts. So make sure you check out the show notes for each episode at causecasts.org to learn more about what they’re doing and how to help them achieve their goals.
[0:02:34.0] MP: Very excited to take Causecasts up to our neighbors to the north in Canada, we are joined today by Larry Gifford, he’s the senior PD for Corus Vancouver Stations, CKNYWAM and AM730, and he is the host of a brand new podcast which debuted just last month, When Life Gives You Parkinson’s. it is a joint venture of Corus Cast and Parkinson Canada and Larry, thank you so much for joining us here on Causecasts today.
[0:03:00.0] LG: Thanks for having me, great to be here.
[0:03:03.2] MP: Larry, this project is clearly a very important, clearly a passion project for you. Take us through the sort of evolution that led you to creating, When Life Gives You Parkinson's.
[0:03:14.8] LG: I’ve been doing podcast for probably six years now. I’m a former radio consultant and I’ve been in the radio business for almost 30 years now and have been an audio storyteller my whole life in news and sports and love the idea of a podcast so I did a podcast called Radio Stuff for years and years.
Last August of 2017, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which came to a shock to everybody. I began to come to grips with my disease and the symptoms and realize that from my diagnosis if you look back in my life, I probably had the disease for nine years but just didn’t know the symptoms and didn’t know to put all the things together and I thought, you know, I got diagnosed, I’m looking for a podcast to go to there’s a couple of podcasts and they’re usually by researchers or experts or doctors but there wasn’t the patient perspective, there wasn’t the person with Parkinson's telling their story and I wanted something I could relate to. I said well, here is a gap in the market that I could fill.
Last April, I went public with my diagnosis and April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month and we did a little 20 minute, mini documentary that we’d played on radio and it had great success and lots of great feedback and people asked me to continue doing it and so we launched, When Life Gives You Parkinson's the podcast and it’s on Apple and Google, everywhere you hear podcasts.
[0:04:40.8] MP: I want to get into a little bit more about the podcast itself but in terms of your mission here is to raise some awareness and create a place for people to could be dealing with Parkinson's to sort of have some camaraderie, have somebody else to go with. What were some of the, you said, you might have had it for nine years but didn’t really realize it, what were some of those symptoms that you might have missed as a precursor to actually being diagnosed?
[0:05:06.5] LG: Well, it started with my walk, I sort of have this clumpy, draggy foot, it’s my right side and we just thought I was overweight or getting gold or whatever. For a while, I thought my shoes were too heavy, I thought I had these big, heavy Timberlands, well, I’ll get some lighter shoes and that didn’t work so I bought some lighter shoes and that didn’t work and then we realized after a while, it’s not the shoes.
Then I lost my sense of smell along the way which I’ve come to since find out it’s one of the initial things that can happen to somebody who has Parkinson's. I lost my sense of special relation so I was bumping into doorways and the corners of desks more and then eventually I got the tremor which really was alarming and said okay, I got to get this checked out.
[0:05:48.1] MP: Understood, what was it like, I mean, what was that feeling when you know, the doctor came in and said, this is what it is?
[0:05:54.6] LG: It’s never easy for anybody. I’m sure, I mean, most medical diagnosis are not. For me, they thought I had MS at first. They sent me to a MS neurologist and he says, good news, you don’t have MS but I think you have Parkinson's and so then I had to wait five months to see another neurologist who could confirm that diagnosis. That was a long wait.
[0:06:17.1] MP: I was going to say, yeah, that does sound like a pretty torturous five months[0:06:21.0] LG: Yeah.
[0:06:21.3] MP: That’s something that you know, it’s hard not to think about it.
[0:06:24.5] LG: Yeah.
[0:06:24.8] MP: I mean, your spirits are high, you seem very positive in our communications that we’ve had so far, I mean, you’re just bustling with life and positivity. How do you stay that way? How do you remain so optimistic and just keep trucking forward?
[0:06:37.9] LG: Well, for me, I’ve got a great wife, I’ve got a nine year old son who keep me grounded and happy and focused on what’s important in life. I’ve got a great job who supports me, not even – not just in the office but with this podcast, they’re helping to distribute it and produce it and put their muscle behind it which is great. You know, I’ve generally been a pretty positive guy, I will tell you that the Parkinson's, one of the symptoms that most people with Parkinson's end up getting is anxiety and depression.
Not as a reaction to the diagnosis but actually as a symptom just like a tremor would be. Because of the chemicals in the brain and how they’re changing and moving around and depleting and so I do battle depression and some anxiety and so you catch me on some good days.
[0:07:26.6] MP: Understood. I’m curious also, you made a comment that I found so fascinating that when you refer to diagnosed. One of the first places you looked to for resources, for comfort, for whatever it was, you were trying to find a podcast about this.
Why was that the case? Before you were even thinking of producing one, why were you trying to find one to consume?
[0:07:49.4] LG: I am audio focused, that’s my career and I figured there must be somebody’s story out there I could relate to or somebody who has been through this that could tell me what to expect and was hoping that there was something like that and the podcast like Michael J. Fox Foundation has a great podcast but it’s all clinical and I was looking for something more personal.
[0:08:10.5] MP: Understood. Being someone who has worked in radio for so long, been a consultant, been a PD, I mean, obviously, audio is your baby, is your pride and joy in many sense of the word but do you find that there is a difference in the type of content consumed as a podcast listener versus a radio listener? Not to say one is better than the other or one is more important. Do you see differences in what is out there in radio world and what’s out there in podcast world?
[0:08:38.0] LG: For sure, I think podcasts are story driven, radio, especially talk radio is more topic driven and what I’m trying to do at least with this podcast is more of a documentary style. We’re rolling tape as I go through my life and letting the listener go along with me. It’s very intimate.
We have intimate conversations with my siblings and with my wife and with my son, my mom, my doc involved in research projects so we’re talking to the researchers and really trying to make it an immersive experience and encourage other people to tell their stories along the way, I’m learning how to find my exercise routine and as I’m going to support groups and we’re talking to these people too about their stories. It’s not just about me, it’s about the Parkinson's experience as a whole.
[0:09:30.2] MP: Understood. Now, I imagine because you’ve been in radio and audio for so long that maybe some of your family is used to it but how are people – how receptive are people to having a microphone put in their face and asked to become part of this experience? I mean, it’s your experience but you know, certainly, they’re now in it with you.
[0:09:48.1] LG: It’s interesting, with technology, you don’t need to go around with a microphone anymore. Because that is intimidating the people but if I set up a little phone or if I call you over Skype or if I just have a sort of just a little mini digital recorder that I can put on the table, a lot of times, that can do the trick and we can just have a conversation and that device is eavesdropping as opposed to me interviewing somebody.
[0:10:17.5] MP: Understood. Do you find that people maybe changed the way they talk to you just even knowing that that recorder is present? I mean, invasion of privacy, probably be like, would it make sense to just kind of record them without them knowing them after the fact and be like, by the way, that was recorded, can I use it?
[0:10:32.5] LG: No, I don’t like to do the sort of the switcheroo. Because some people don’t want to be that vulnerable. They don’t want their story told and I respect that, you know? I’m not critical of anybody who doesn’t want to be recorded. Because some people just start to that stage of acceptance of their disease and I get it.
[0:10:49.4] MP: It’s less about, agreed, I don’t think you want to invade people’s privacy but you know, when you hit record, a lot of people, their demeanor changes, the way they talk changes, whether it’s in a microphone, whether it’s through a camera. Less about some of the other folks who you might be talking to, the support groups but what about the clinicians, the researchers, the doctors, like do you feel like now that you’ve hit record, they might talk to you a little bit differently, not consciously, not like, “I’m put it on my radio voice to talk to you,” but you know, maybe they’re a little bit more conscious of that and it affects them in any way?
[0:11:22.3] LG: Maybe not as frank or as conversational as they could be when the mic’s off but if you talk them long enough, you know, you gather enough tape, you can get there. It takes a couple of minutes to sort of get them over the hump that they were being recorded and a lot of it has to do with eye contact and how you’re talking to them.
If you have on the interviewer voice, they’re going to have on the interviewee voice.
[0:11:45.6] MP: Right.
[0:11:47.7] LG: Just talking to them and interrupting them just like a normal conversation instead of trying to be you know, an intrepid reporter, they’ll mimic your approach.
[0:11:56.8] MP: I guess, to your point also, that’s why you sort of keep the low profile recorder, microphone’s right there, it’s a constant reminder.
[0:12:02.9] LG: A couple occasions, I’ve been there with a TV crew with global news and will have on the lapel mics. Then you forget the cameras are there and you’re just having a conversation and you’re not holding anything, there’s nothing there, it’s just all being recorded because you have a lapel mic and that’s very handy as well.
[0:12:17.7] MP: All right. More about the show itself, When Life Gives You Parkinson's, as you said, this is a bit of a documentary, sort of going with you and you know, talking to all these different people who you’re interacting with as a result of the diagnosis and all the other people who you are meeting and support groups and clinicians and researchers. What have you fond has been the impact on listeners so far? Having something like this out there for the community?
[0:12:40.9] LG: The feedback that we’ve gotten so far is like, I’ve been waiting for this, so glad this is here, people saying, my husband was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson's 11 years ago and we’ve been dealing with how to raise our kids and I’ve had other people say boy, you know, I’ve been looking for a podcast and I hadn’t found one yet so thanks for doing this and so many people are affected by a disease like Parkinson's and it’s rarely talked about.
Because it’s one of those diseases that it’s not going to kill you like cancer could but it is death like with a thousand cuts because every so often, you lose something because it’s neurodegenerative. Over the course of time, you lose the function of maybe your right hand or you lose your sense of smell or you’re having all these losses along the way. People just like to hear that they’re not alone.
[0:13:32.4] MP: I guess that goes back to why you chose to do this as a podcast because it allows you to tell the story, to get deeper, to get more intimate to really connect with people versus just radio can often sometimes be more of a speaker phone than conversational.
[0:13:50.5] LG: I don’t know that I have a daily radio show in me. Frankly, one of the symptoms of Parkinson's is that it can begin to silence your voice which is tragic and ironic at the same time. I want to tell my story verbally for as long as I can while I have this disease.
I want to encourage other people to do that as well and I think that the other thing is, I’m not a very good at typing anymore or writing and I’ve never going to dancer, so I couldn’t choreograph a dance. Podcast just seems like the natural fit.
[0:14:22.0] MP: Do you think in general though, podcasting is the right medium or an ideal medium for anybody who is trying to raise awareness for a cause and connect to their community and you know, drive the conversation?
[0:14:36.3] LG: I think everybody has their own strengths and whatever’s natural to them. I think podcasting is one of the mediums that can be effective in raising awareness of what people are going through. Whether you have Parkinson's or not, it can help drive attention to a disease that’s badly in need of more research dollars because there is no cure, there is no bio markers so there’s no blood test you can see to have it.
It’s all clinically diagnosed. There’s a lot of research that needs done in order to improve the quality of life for the people with Parkinson's.
[0:15:08.1] MP: I guess to your point, raising awareness is - it’s easy if somebody as you said, has early onset Parkinson’s or has had this diagnosis for a while, they’re searching for this material, they find it, you know, they’re finding that it’s well received, it’s well reviewed and they listen to when a talk speaks to them and they become a fan.
How do you get someone who doesn’t know, isn’t aware that they might have some of these symptoms to now find you when they’re not even – when this isn’t even on their radar.
[0:15:37.2] LG: Well, that’s a good point. You know, some of what I do is beyond the podcast so I do TV interviews or I go around and we have information meetings where people, if they’re curious about the disease or I go on the radio station and talk about what we’re doing. It’s just raising the awareness in the population in general so people talk about it more.
I mean, it’s kind of like, he has Parkinson's as supposed to people just kind of – they think it’s the shaky disease. Its’ so much more than that and I think just the more people talk about Parkinson's and the symptoms and what they’re going through and what their personal experiences is with it, whether they are experienced Parkinson's themselves or if it’s their mom or their dad or their brother or their son or their sister, the more people would become aware of what those symptoms could be.
[0:16:25.8] MP: We have a very unique opportunity here in speaking to you on cause cast because not only are you somebody who has their own cause cast, you’ve done this great podcast but you also have this lifetime of experience just doing audio in general.
I wonder, what would you tell somebody else who either has a podcast for their cause, they’re non-profit, whatever they’re trying to assist with or somebody who is thinking about. You know, what are some ways to attack a show, attack this medium, be successful with a podcast that come from your experience of production.
[0:16:58.6] LG: Well, sure. I’ll first tell you about how we’re approaching this and then how other people can approach it on their own. We started thinking, okay, this could be, we’re going to do seasons because I’ve got a full time job addition to this. It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort and a lot of time to put this together.
I thought, well, let’s do 12 episode arch for season one, we’re releasing every other week, it will be done let’s say February, we’ll come back in April for world Parkinson's awareness month and do some special things and then we’ll launch season two next fall.
I’m planning ahead, trying to figure out, okay, what does this look like? There’s runway up in front of me an then as we were putting together, we’re like, well, we want something every week, we’re going to release the big episodes every other week and then in between, we created what we call extra dosage which is just a bonus episode. The first one was me one on one with my neurologist, asking him the questions that maybe I hadn’t asked him before.
Then we also talk to some folks at Parkinson Canada which is our partner for the podcast. We got a hold of this nurse from the – who is a nursing school in the 1960’s before the main medication for Parkinson's was created which is Levodopa. She said, people would come in and they were so far gone, you couldn’t bend them, you couldn’t put them on the toilet, you had to put diapers on them. The really interesting, sort of contextual piece, the extra bonus is not the documentary style, it’s more of interview style.
It goes back and forth every other week. If you are considering doing a podcast or doing a podcast, a couple of things you have to keep in mind. Understand that you should map out as many of the episode or the themes of the episodes as you can in advance so you understand the arc of what you’re trying to create.
I would say, don’t put time limits on it, it needs to be as long as it needs to be to tell the story you’re trying to tell. About any shorter, not any longer. If it’s 20 minutes, great, if it’s 35 then it’s great. You know, our first episode was 30, our second episode was 17, our third episode’s going to be 39.
Don’t just fill time to fill time. Try to be as conversational as you can be and authentic and you know, you don’t have to be the authority of everything, you can seek out that information from other people. I’m not an authority on Parkinson's, I’m new to it. I’ve only been trying to figure out what this is all about for the last year or so.
I’m not trying to fool anybody and say, I’m the best source of information. I’m one source of information. I could tell you about my experience. I think that’s important because I think when people begin to record their voice and publish it like a podcast, they feel like they need to be the authority and you don ‘t. You just need to be curious.
[0:19:40.8] MP: You know, I’m so glad you brought that up, I always tell people, whether they’re charismatic, whether they’re boisterous, whether they’re – this amazing personality, no radio experience, tons of radio experience, whatever – you can be successful just with curiosity. If you are genuinely trying to figure this all out and probably the reason why your audience is doing it too then you can’t go wrong.
[0:20:05.3] LG: You’ll get more and more support along the way and people are like, yeah, I had that experience too. If you mess up, you mess up and you either edit it out or you keep in in to be authentic but I think that there’s a great opportunity for people, if you are passionate about it, don’t just do it because we say you should do it.
You got to do it because you want to do it, because it is hard work. Put in the time and get the proper editing equipment and try to think about the quality of the podcast as well as you know, not just the quality of the content but also the quality of the production value.
[0:20:39.0] MP: That’s a thought that it was something interesting that you said in terms of planning it out that you have your first season, you’re going to have a go till about February and then you’re going to do some special content related to Parkinson's awareness month and so, especially for causes because so many of them have awareness days, awareness months, something going on that is outside of the podcasting space that they should really plan in that way that they should be thinking about that as they’re preparing to launch or setup or –
They really should just take advantage of that extra awareness that’s going to be happening.
[0:21:13.3] LG: Yeah, because then your podcast will get wrapped up into that cause month and will get retweeted more, if you’re on twitter or get more attention on facebook, more people will be talking about it because it will be top of mind for people. If you can be creating original content and during that time, it will draw more attention to your podcast and hopefully drive awareness of it.
[0:21:35.0] MP: I mean, I suppose, it was a little bit easier with your stature but I suppose that relationship with Parkinson Canada has also been a great boot so someone who might have started this on their own, say, they decide to do something on cancer, should they reach out to other cancer organizations and societies and see if there is a way to partner up, whether it’ donations or better yet, just a little help, a little marketing, a little assistance to get the word out there about it.
[0:21:58.8] LG: Yeah, I think all these organizations, when they volunteer base for the most part, they’re looking for stories and angles and ways to get the word out and if you can include them in the creation of the content or in the promotion off the content. I think there’s a big win/win there, you know?
I started with Parkinson's society of British Columbia which is where I’m at and where I get to, I turn to first to get information, to get support groups and I just. I was just talking to them and I’m like, I’m going to start this podcast. Like cool, yeah, let us know, we’ll talk about it you know? We’ll promote it.
Then I included them in some of the stuff and they invited me to MC one of their events and it’s mutually beneficial. If you’re willing to be an advocate for that cause. The people that are in these volunteer organizations are looking for local boots on the ground advocates that can help spread the word and be a voice for the cause.
[0:22:48.4] MP: Excellent. Larry, is there anything else that you think folks should keep in mind as they’re looking to launch a causecast on their own or if they’re currently producing one and wondering why it’s not going anywhere?
[0:22:58.8] LG: You’ve got to be passionate about it, you got to promote it, you got to be willing to tell your fiends about it. Ask them to rate it and write a review and share it and listen to it and subscribe to it. If your goal is to really drive listening then you have to be the main driver of getting people out there to listen to it.
I’m constantly updating my social feeds which I was able to secure ParkinsonsPod for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Which is easy so I can, on the podcast, I can just tell people, follow me on social media to @ParkinsonsPod on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram instead of three different handles.
[0:23:40.9] MP: Yes, I had three different handles for something else I was doing and it was such a pain to have to regurgitate with all the different acronyms are. I just got to be like, hey, you’ll find it on the website over at social media profiles are there.
Well, we want to encourage everybody listening to go check out, When Life Gives you Parkinson's, it is available on Apple, it’s available on Google and as Larry just let us know, you can find ParkinsonsPod on Facebook, twitter, Instagram. Take a listen, let them know what you think, tell your friends and family and anybody else who might be interested in the content to check it out and to rate, review and share with their friends.
Of course, as we always do in Causecasts, we’re going to make sure that we can try to not only raise awareness for the show but we want to raise some funds as well to benefit a cause that’s important to Larry and to his partner. When this is all said and done, we’ll have a donation page that is linked to Parkinson's Canada, you can find that at causecast.org.
Larry, just want to thank you so much for taking the time to share with us your experience and your story and just for the great work that you’re doing in helping others and helping the community out there.
[0:24:43.6] LG: Thank you for shedding some light on it and make sure that one last piece of advice, if you’re going to have a podcast, focus on Apple. Apple is where most of the podcast listing happens. You want people to rate and review it on Apple, you want people to subscribe on Apple.
You may have it on Omni, you may have it on Google Podcasts, you may have it on Stitcher or Spotify or wherever you have it, that’s great, it should be as many places as possible but promote Apple.
[0:25:09.1] MP: Very good. Larry, thank you so much for the time.
[0:25:11.4] LG: Thanks so much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:25:13.3] MP: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of CauseCast, again, if you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes in your podcast tap or head to causecest.org, there you’ll find links to the work of our guest and a special donation link setup to support their favorite cause.
All the proceeds are going directly to that cause, minus any administration fee and the platform that they set up. None of the money is coming here to the cause cast production. Also, while you’re at causecast.org. Make sure you follow and subscribe to the show on apple podcast, google podcast or wherever you enjoy your podcast show and follow us in social media as we’ll try to provide updates on what is going on with our guests and some other folks who we’ll be featuring on the show and any other efforts that we have to support the community of Causecasters that are out there. Now there is also going to be a special Facebook group dedicated to Causecasters.
So if you already have a podcast for a cause or you’re thinking about launching one, join the group. It will be dedicated to providing resources and answering questions specifically for Causecasters. Hopefully we can do things like arrange some special non-profit pricing of various podcast services to help you with your venture and keep you under budget because we know a lot of people doing Causecasts are not going to be reaping in the money.
So we want to see what we can do to help you produce a high quality product, get your story out there, get people inspired and not break the bank. Lastly, if you are a Causecaster and you want to join me here on the show for an interview, please head to Causecasts.org and fill out the interview request form. We’ll take a quick look at it and if approved, we’ll schedule you for chat and show the amazing work that you are doing with Causecasts, raise some awareness for what you’re doing and ideally, raise some money as well.
Thank you so much again for staying with me and we will see you next time on Causecasts.