‘Effortlessly Intimate’: Call Your Girlfriend’s long-distance podcast friendship
Call Your Girlfriend is 'a podcast for long distance besties everywhere'. Since early 2014, hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (with producer Gina Delvac) have gathered a devoted following for their playful, warm and often highly personal weekly chats about pop culture, politics, world events and feminism – often including friends and well-known guests. They produce the podcast alongside successful careers in digital media and publishing.
We spoke to Sow and Friedman about how they got started, the value of an extra ear, and how they continue to keep the podcast rich and regular.
Could you tell us a bit about how the podcast came to be – specifically, the process of shifting from a conversation between friends to a recorded, produced show?
Aminatou Sow: At this point, Ann and I have been long-distance friends longer than we’ve lived in the same city. Part of keeping any relationship going is consistent communication and for us that meant long phone calls (yes, we kept an agenda! There’s always so much to catch up on) and regular trips (gotta put the face time in).
'I was also made very painfully aware that podcasts were male-dominated. I mean, how hard could it really be then?'
On one such trip, [friend turned producer] Gina Delvac pitched us the idea of a podcast, and while it sounded fun, I didn’t really take it seriously. On the next trip, probably a full year later, Gina laid out a plan and specifics for what this could be, and sound like. In between, I was also made very painfully aware that podcasts were male-dominated. I mean, how hard could it really be then? We set out to find out, and it’s been a very exciting two years for us.
How important is your producer, and what kind of production work is required of each of you to make the podcast?
Ann Friedman: Gina is critical! We would never have started podcasting – let alone stuck with it – if not for her involvement. We start pretty much every recording session with technical difficulties because we’re still learning this stuff.
Gina is our technical guru, our editor, our most important critical listener. The way she edits the segments is the show’s structure – usually, Aminatou and I just ramble. While it’s definitely possible to make a great podcast on your own, without having an expert like Gina on board, I think it’s much, much harder. All of the production credit goes to her.
Usually, you record your podcast over Skype – but sometimes, you do it in front of a live audience. Do these feel like vastly different contexts for your conversations?
Ann: They are definitely different, but we try to translate what’s great about the podcast to a live setting. The core of both our [studio] episodes and our live shows is the conversation between us. Most of our live shows so far have also included a few visual elements and some audience participation, which have been fun to experiment with. The energy from the crowd is always fantastic. Listeners come with their best friends, and sometimes meet new friends at the show. The mood tends to be super positive.
The good thing about the podcast is how effortlessly intimate it is. Most episodes are just personal conversations. But expanding that in the context of a live show, so that the audience is part of the experience, has been really rewarding.
While your conversations have the feel of a casual chat between best friends, you're each packing accomplished careers in media. How useful do you think that savvy has been in making CYG?
Ann: Our media connections played a huge role in gaining listeners for us at the beginning. We didn’t languish in obscurity as long as many other great podcasts have, simply because we know (or we are) people in media.
We also bring some natural social media skills to promoting CYG. It’s relatively easy for us to translate our voices to Twitter or Instagram or our email newsletter, because we have a lot of experience there.
Do you think Americans have a particular penchant for lively conversations? Why are American podcasts so popular around the Anglophone world?
Aminatou: Despite my American accent, I’m actually from Guinea in West Africa. Our podcast certainly has an American sensibility to it, but we discuss topics from all over the world, and our audience truly is global. I listen to quite a few European podcasts and have been very impressed by the excellent range of female voices and variety of topics.
Unfortunately there are too few podcast discovery tools, and iTunes skews particularly American in its recommendations, so I suspect that contributes to the bias.
What role does writing, and reading, play in CYG? How much unseen work goes on to give your shows structure and depth – given how you've adjusted the format over time, too?
Aminatou: Our show structure is very loose – we keep a running agenda on Google Docs that we fondly call 'The Vagenda'. In it we throw links for articles we’re reading. Reading the internet is really central to our friendship and I think it translates naturally on the show.
'Early on, we tried writing a script for the show and the experience was terrible.'
Early on, we tried writing a script for the show and the experience was terrible. We could barely get through that episode and never did it again. We try not to discuss any of the podcast topics ahead of time, so what you hear is really the intimate conversation we’d have away from our audience’s earshot.
Last question: if you could request any new podcast out of thin air, what would it be and how would it sound?
Aminatou: I really want Michelle Obama to do a podcast. She could read the phonebook, I don’t care. I just want to hear her in my headphones.