Web program broadcasts local issues to areas around the world

Thursday, December 29, 2005
By Dave Alexander

A little slice of cyberspace was carved out for Muskegon when a Web designer developed an Internet program believed to be the first locally produced "podcast."

So, what's a podcast?

Podcasts are relatively new audio and video programming on the Internet that allows users to access the shows when they want and transfer the audio or video files to portable listening and viewing devices, such as an Apple iPod.

There are millions of podcasts being produced around the world and put on the Internet from traditional media outlets, such as NBC News and National Public Radio, to individuals wanting to talk about obscure topics. Podcasts have grown from two dozen in September 2004 to more than 100 million today, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

One of those new podcasts was launched in November by Jason Piasecki, president of Imagequest Design in Muskegon.

His "Inside Muskegon" weekly audio podcast had more than 500 Internet listeners or downloaders in the first three weeks. Although most listeners of the 30-minute program of interviews on Muskegon topics are expected to be from West Michigan, "Inside Muskegon" can be heard in New York, Berlin and Tokyo, thanks to the worldwide reach of the Internet.

Development of the podcast was driven by Piasecki's desire to get the "word out" on Muskegon. And then there was his curiosity about how the new technology works and how it might be applied to Imagequest clients -- businesses from Southeast and West Michigan.

"I'm figuring this out as I go. I am not a professional journalist," said

Piasecki, a 1990 graduate of Mona Shores High School and 1995 graduate of Central Michigan University, with degrees in marketing and graphic design.

Despite his inexperience, the local podcast has a professionally produced feel that includes a voiceover music introduction and rich sound quality. Piasecki said he spent a "couple hundred dollars" on the digital audio equipment and software to produce the podcast.

The first three shows featured interviews with Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Larsen, Muskegon Area First President Jim Edmonson and Muskegon Main Street Manager Dan Rinsema-Sybenga. The podcasts have included Piasecki's commentaries and comments from listeners read by the host.

Piasecki is an unabashed Muskegon booster.

"I'm an advocate for Muskegon, but I will not be editorializing," Piasecki said. "I will share the feedback from listeners, sharing the negative comments as well."

But he doesn't want it to become a place where people air just "negative and unproductive" thoughts, either.

"Muskegon is not Utopia, but also, it's not the end of the world," Piasecki said.

He produces and makes available a new "Inside Muskegon" podcast every Monday. Anyone with a computer that has a broadband Internet connection and basic software, such as Microsoft's Windows Media Player or Real Player, can listen to the program -- or any other podcast on the Internet.

Piasecki is not sure how or if "Inside Muskegon" will become part of his business, which provides Internet, print and multimedia CD marketing products and services to small businesses.

After college, Piasecki began Imagequest in the Detroit area and offered his services to automotive parts suppliers, an industry he worked in briefly as a marketing specialist.

But marriage and twin daughters brought Piasecki home. His wife, Tracey, was a marketing manager for the Motor City Casino in Detroit, but after the twins arrived, the couple moved to Muskegon in 2003 and she began assisting with Imagequest as marketing director.

In Muskegon, Imagequest continues to serve its Detroit-area clients but also has begun to work for local businesses such as Norton Pines Athletic Club, the Muskegon Country Club and the Sardine Room.

Piasecki, ImageQuest and "Inside Muskegon" all are part of the new "creative economy" budding in Muskegon, said the chamber's Larsen.

Podcasting "is another new communications medium which is about to explode," Larsen said. "I am proud to know that Muskegon entrepreneurs like Jason are on top of it. Learning to promote Muskegon globally is a unique challenge."

Piasecki and Imagequest were early users of the Internet, launching a Web page in 1997. At the beginning of 2005, Piasecki began his own Internet "blog," a personal journal he uses to help small business clients with marketing issues.

"Podcasts show the convergence of the media," Piasecki said. "Traditional radio is over the air. But this ties together radio and the Web. It provides interesting content on demand. You can have it at home, in your car or while working out."

Listeners can find all the "Inside Muskegon" shows at www.insidemuskegon.com or they can access them through "podcatching" sites, such as iTunes.com, odeo.com and podnova.com. These "syndication networks" allow users to register and have selected podcasts collected and even downloaded -- as MP3 files -- to their computers or portable media players.

Right now for users, everything is free.

"When I was able to get 'Inside Muskegon' onto iTunes, I felt that I had arrived," Piasecki said. "Odeo, iTunes and Podnova will become the networks of the future just like ABC, NBC and CBS."

Piasecki said there is no income coming from "Inside Muskegon," nor does he ever expect to make money from the effort.

However, embedding advertising into podcasts is just around the corner. Already, Home Depot is sponsoring a podcast on home-improvement topics and Best Buy a podcast on the latest in consumer electronics.

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