Rachel Belle loves food and loves to talk about it. So, when Bonneville Seattle President and General Manager Carl Gardener kicked off one of the more aggressive podcast initiatives in commercial radio, Rachel was standing at the front of the line. Belle is a long-time newscaster and personality on KIRO’s popular afternoon show, The Ron and Don Show, and a freelance food writer, who has written for Lucky Peach and Eater.
Carl and his team ran an internal competition for podcast ideas and Rachel proposed interviewing celebrities about what they would like to eat for their last meal and then digging into the history and culture of that dish. It is a provocative and fun podcast and Rachel’s platform to talk about her passion – food. It is also a marvelous example of the ingenuity of radio people thinking beyond the transmitter.
I caught up with Rachel recently.
STEVE: Which came first, the interest in podcasting or the interest in food?
RACHEL: Oh god! The interest in food! I mean, I've been interested in food since I was a little tiny kid, so before podcasting was invented.
I grew up in one of those families where when you're eating breakfast you're talking about lunch and then you're talking about dinner and my dad, who was born in Romania and grew up in Israel, was just really into food and that's something I picked up from him. I grew up about 40 minutes outside of San Francisco and we would often go into the city to eat dim sum. I ate chicken feet when I was, like, three years old and my dad used to eat the eyeballs off of fish and so I grew up being somebody who likes to eat weird things.
STEVE: How did you end up with “Your Last Meal?”
RACHEL: It must have been about ten years ago, I was researching something online for a story I was working on and I came across a website, a really crude website, one of those really 90s ones with bad fonts, and it was a list of the last meal of every prisoner who had been executed in Texas. I started reading everybody's last meals -- most people wanted fried chicken -- and I became morbidly curious and obsessed with the topic of last meals.
When KIRO decided that they were going to introduce some new podcasts, they said that we could pitch, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
STEVE: How was the Mario Batali interview?
RACHEL: Oh, that was really great -- there's a quality in people… I just interviewed Paula Deen this week and she has the quality as well, where they act as if it's the first time they've ever been interviewed, as if it was the first time they've ever been asked that question. He's just genuinely excited about food, he doesn't seem like he's gone the way of the celebrity chef who is no longer in the kitchen.
STEVE: What’s the difference between a broadcast and podcast?
RACHEL: Moving from broadcasting to podcasting has been a little bit more difficult than I thought. I record my podcast in the same studio where I record my broadcast stuff and it's hard for me to switch my brain from being more newsy, to being more casual and talking about food and a lighter topic.
I am trying to be more conversational, which is easy for me when I’m doing live radio, and interacting with another host. But my podcast is very produced, and requires a script, so I’m working to sound like myself while reading something.
My podcast means more to me than any other thing I've worked on because it's really personal
STEVE: I am sure you are multi-tasking like everyone else in radio – how important is the podcast?
RACHEL: My podcast means more to me than any other thing I've worked on because it's really personal. It's not as good as I want it to be because I don't have the time with all my other job responsibilities to do it exactly how I want.
STEVE: What's the synergy between KIRO and your podcast?
RACHEL When one of my podcast episodes can transfer to the talk radio format, I put together a feature story that I can play on the talk show that I'm on with Ron and Don. A couple of months ago my guest was Justin Britt, a Seattle Seahawk and the NFL was all over the news because of the debate over players refusing to stand for the national anthem, so it was easy to boil the podcast down into a feature and promote Your Last Meal on the radio.
We also do this cool promotion where listeners can, for example, text “Pizza” to 98973 and they will automatically receive a text with a link to the podcast. When we announce this on air, we see our text line blowing up.
STEVE: That’s brilliant. How is the show doing?
RACHEL: We have been at it about a year and getting about 20,000 downloads per month, so we have a way to go, but every month it is rising. And we are making money. We have a sponsor.
STEVE: Um, so what would your last meal be?
RACHEL: My last meal would be raw oysters. I love them. I don’t even need any condiments. No lemon or mignonette. Ever since I shucked my first fresh oysters, straight off of Washington beaches, I like them plain. Just their natural sweet, briny, mineral flavor.
STEVE : Thanks for talking with us and coming up with such a clever and original idea.
We are pleased to have played a small role in the development and introduction of "Your Last Meal." It represents the synergy and potential of a passion channeled by a skilled broadcaster. That is a winning combination.
Listen to the podcast here