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Downloading Muskegon's Makeover

It all began with an Ipod.

Jason Piasecki, CEO of Qonverge, a new media marketing firm, purchased the portable media player two years ago. Piasecki, 34, found the ability to download and listen to music convenient and entertaining. But he wanted to do more. So he started exploring podcasts.

Podcasting is a way of distributing audio and video programs via the Internet that lets users access and subscribe to a number of media files and then listen to or view the material any time they choose.

“I enjoyed the subjects and focused interests,” Piasecki said. “Soon I learned how to create your own podcasts.”

The first step to starting a podcast is to decide on a subject. A native of the Muskegon area, Piasecki knew his city had numerous good stories and subjects of public interest. And with that in mind, he launched Inside Muskegon.

Inside Muskegon is a weekly podcast show featuring interviews with Muskegon community leaders, businesses, organizations, politicians and everyday people.

Piasecki grew up in Muskegon and moved to Detroit after graduating from college only to move back eight years later. Upon returning to home, he noticed many people seemed to have a negative self-image of the Muskegon area. And they didn’t feel good about the community, Piasecki realized, because they were not aware of everything Muskegon offers.

Muskegon is a charming place to live, Piasecki said. The city is rich in history, natural beauty, arts, and entertainment. Other assets include clean beaches on Lake Michigan, great suburban communities, top-rated schools, a growing historic downtown, a strong manufacturing presence, a small but growing tech sector, diverse arts and entertainment presence, and a very affordable cost of living. It all makes for unique quality of life that people often take for granted, according to Piasecki.

“The people of Muskegon don’t appreciate what they have,” Piasecki said. “I think because I’ve lived here, and left, I was able to gain the outside perspective. It is a great place to live and raise a family.”

Casting A New View
Family, in fact, was one of the main reasons why Piasecki moved back to Muskegon. The move has paid off both personally and professionally. Piasecki and his family love living in the area. And his business is growing.

“The goal of Inside Muskegon is to engage Muskegonites in a dialog about the local economic, social, and political issues that affect our everyday lives,” Piasecki said. “I wanted to use my interests in podcasts to help my community become aware of the good around them.”

His strategy is to go directly to the source for answers to the questions that people have about Muskegon. So far, Piasecki said, people are very receptive to do interviews to communicate positive community news.

“I report soft news,” he said. “I stay away from negative and controversial subjects because I feel they aren’t productive. That’s the mainstream media’s job to report.”

The topics discussed on Inside Muskegon range from business, the arts, entertainment, economic development, and whatever else catches Piasecki's attention.

“We are a nation of niches,” he said. “Podcasts allow us to report relevant news on specific subjects.”

Podcasting is a fairly simple process, Piasecki said. Once the basic subject is defined, the next step is to purchase equipment, which can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars. The basic equipment is a microphone, recorder, and editing software. Podcasters also need to establish a website or special blog to post the files on the internet for public viewing.

A Popular Production
Piasecki figures he spends five to six hours a week producing Inside Muskegon. At first, he did everything himself. However, his friend Jeremy Cyr, a 27-year-old software developer, took an early interest and now helps create the program.

“I had never really even listened to a podcast at the time,” Cyr said. “However, the response to the early episodes was huge. It became apparent that he had something pretty special going on.”

Cyr took on the producer position. Now he assembles the audio into the finished product, adds bumpers, encodes the files and places it on the web, which takes approximately an hour to complete for each broadcast.

Cyr said Piasecki’s podcast helps make people aware of just how much is actually happening in the Muskegon community. He said the common perception is redevelopment and investment is stagnant in the area, when in fact there is a great deal going on.

“The community is moving forward,” Cyr said. “The podcast helps listeners to understand that not only is Muskegon full of great resources already, but there is a great deal of development happening as well.”

“There are quite a few growing industries,” Piasecki added. “The creative class (web development and technology), healthcare, automation, medical equipment, hospitality, retirement, robotics and manufacturing, to name a few.”

Piasecki and Cyr both said Muskegonites are becoming increasingly aware of the positive aspects of their community. And the duo hopes that the podcast is helping to accelerate that change in public opinion.

Originally, Piasecki thought completing 12 podcasts would be a success. Now, he's completing episode 68. And the weekly shows seem to be a hit. Inside Muskegon has been downloaded over 50,000 times, with the most popular episodes attracting more than 2,000 downloads each.

“I don’t see me stopping anytime soon,” Piasecki said. “I’m having too much fun talking to interesting people. My goal now is to reach 100 podcasts and then who knows.”

Photos:

The Amazon Building in dowtown Muskegon symbolizes Muskegon's resurgence

Jason Piasecki (courtesy of Inside Muskegon)

Qonverge Podcast Kit (courtesy of Inside Muskegon

The Hackley House is tourist highlight from Muskegon's lumber baron era

Photographs by Brian Kelly (unless noted otherwise)

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