Jill Beytin and Julia Joubert aren’t just the founders of Bear Radio, they’re also formidable voices in the podcasting sphere, and their latest show URSA is a testimony to that. Empowered with a mission to pass forward their industry knowledge to novice producers and share human stories that matter, URSA is a vehicle that comfortably carries both important news and tickling nonsense. Not only is the show expertly steered by the duo’s impressive irrefutable experience, but it’s also seamlessly guided but their undeniable chemistry, the cocktail of which produces the perfect treat for your ears. We sat down with them to discuss the podcast, Bear Radio, and their favorite voices.
Hello ladies! Please introduce yourselves and your podcast to our readers.
Julia: I’m Julia Joubert and I’m the co-host and producer of URSA.
Jill: I am Jill Beytin and I’m the co-host and producer of URSA too.
Where would you like to get coffee today?
Jill: Well, I really like this cafe in Neukölln called Two and Two* so I think I’d like to go there. It’s a fusion of French and Japanese styles. They have really yummy French pastries, Japanese stationery, and a great Spotify playlist going. It’s just the perfect place to hang out.
*Two and Two has since ceased operations
Julia: I’d also like to go to a Berlin local spot, Blaue Bohne near Boxhagener Kiez in Friedrichshain. The coffee is so good and the cups are just beautiful. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I am always thinking about that coffee.
You both had careers in radio before branching into podcasting, do you remember a particular moment that sparked that transition?
Jill: Not particularly. Growing up we would listen to NPR at home and my dad would playback a show called Car Talk on his computer. The show was hosted by a pair of brother mechanics from New Jersey who would offer car advice to callers. It was pretty entertaining and looking back, it was probably my first introduction to audio that was not on CD or radio so I suppose that was my first time listening to something like podcasts, but I don’t remember a particular aha-moment.
Julia: Yeah, I only really clocked onto podcasts properly when I came to Berlin in 2018. At home in South Africa, we didn’t have access to Spotify so while I had heard podcast-ish things on Soundcloud, I hadn’t heard anything concrete.
Jill: What? Was that really the first time you listened to podcasts?
Julia: Ok no. That’s probably a lie. Something from NPR had definitely filtered its way into my life before then, but I had never committed to listening to a series before that. Jill was the first proper person I geeked out on podcasts with. I was a late bloomer really.
Jill: And that’s funny because now, Julia is always the one coming to me with new series or shows and recommendations.
Julia: It’s true.
What was the first podcast that you created together?
Both: Oh, What’s The Mate?.
Jill: It was back when Julia had just arrived in Berlin and I had just started Bear Radio. She approached me and was like “I’m a radio producer. I have had all this experience. But I don’t want to work with all these big ass companies or whatever.”
Julia: Yeah. That’s exactly what I said, Jill.
Jill: Exactly, so I was like “Well I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have a lot of equipment,” and you were like – Sorry Julia I’m literally telling your life story – “Ok. What do you want to do?” and that’s how it all began.
Julia: At the time I was just beginning to dip my toe into the improv scene and What’s The Mate, it being an improv base podcast, was inspired by this transition. I would host, Jill would produce, and we’d have different Berlin improv artists come on each week. We’ve since stopped that show but we always get questions about reviving it. I remember it when we first started it immediately clicking and thinking “We’re onto something here.”
Jill: I also remember a certain individual, who has since apologized, recommending that we get someone else with more experience to host the show.
Julia: Oh yeah! That comment truly fired me up. I wanted to prove him wrong and together, we did. We created over 40 episodes of What’s The Mate and towards the end of it, improv people who previously hadn’t been interested in coming on were super keen on being guests.
Jill: Yeah. It really solidified our dynamic.
Julia: Yeah. After that, I knew Jill had my back. I knew we were both dedicated to getting shit done. I knew we were both committed.
Together you have created a plethora of incredible podcasts on a range of topics however URSA is the first magazine-style podcast under your belt. While your previous shows have a specific mission, this one voices a collection of perspectives. What then, is the mission of URSA?
Jill: Well, I had been thinking of the idea of having a magazine-style show in Berlin for a long time. I worked on All Things Considered in the States and I’ve always been impressed by how much you could cram into that hour format, however until recently, we hadn’t built up the community of producers available to make a show like URSA possible.
Julia: Yeah. URSA definitely began as Jill’s baby, but in hindsight, I think we were both yearning to do research, find stories, and wear even more hats, and well, URSA is such a great outlet for all those things. We can showcase international stories that matter but also give a voice to nonsensical ones that people have never heard before. That dichotomy makes up a huge part of our core values at Bear Radio, so starting a show like this that frames those voices felt natural.
Jill: For sure. When we were making our other podcasts like Berlin Bigwigs or September 26 we would always come across these side stories that would make an amazing piece but didn’t have enough depth to become a stand-alone show or episode. URSA gives those stories a platform.
Julia: It also gives our students the space to experiment properly. URSA is not a Jill and Julia production, it’s a space for our novice producers to take a crack at creating something and sharing stories. Holding that space safe is super important to us.
So what then, if all the stories told are from different perspectives, would you say is the uniting thread throughout all the stories told on URSA?
Jill: I think it depends. I mean so far we’ve had stories on everything from migration to disinformation and even celebrity dolphins, so they cover a pretty big spectrum. However, I think how they’re each showcased is similar. They are all very person forward.
Julia: Yeah. They all stem from a human connection in a way that’s adjacent, not top-down. I think URSA has a real community feeling to it but that community is incredibly broad. We’ve had stories from Warsaw, Ireland, and all over Europe, yet connecting with each of them feels natural because it is natural. They’re all human stories, no matter how niche.
You mentioned that part of your reasoning behind starting URSA was to inspire a new host of producers in Berlin. Why was this so important to you?
Jill: Well, one of the big reasons we started Bear Radio was to inspire storytellers who usually use other editorial mediums to tell their stories using audio. URSA, it’s just an extension of that mission. We wanted to give them the tools and space to properly flex their chops.
Hold on. Julia, Is that what you say, flex their chops?
Julia: Yes. I think so?
Selfishly too, we wanted to build an army of producers because when we started, we never had that community here. There were no English-speaking resources. There was no money. There was no studio space. Everything was behind closed doors or locked behind some production house. We want Bear Radio to provide opportunities, not put up barriers against them, and with URSA we’re able to do that. We’re providing the producers we’re mentoring and training through our workshops with the perfect avenue to, as Jill says, flex their chops.
Was there an individual who inspired you in this way?
Jill: Hmm… When I was living in New Zealand I contacted the host of a local college radio station in Dunedin and the host of their morning show, Jamie Green, made me feel really welcome. I never felt afraid of experimenting or trying something new. When I started Bear Radio, I wanted to nurture that kind of atmosphere here too.
Julia: I am going to be very cheesy right now, but more than anyone else the person who has inspired my career in podcasting has been Jill. When I first moved to Berlin I found it so hard to get my foot in the door. Every role wanted something from you or confined your creativity in this weird, stifling way. There was very little give and take. Meeting Jill and having her support from the get-go changed everything for me.
Jill: Oh my gosh, thank you.
Julia: No really, it did, even on a personal level, I’ve learned so much from Jill. She’s taught me that what goes around just comes back around. Working together and building Bear Radio has shown me that the joy is often just in giving and I do feel like with URSA, we are giving, but we’re also growing.
So without Bear Radio then and without having met each other, what would your lives in Berlin look like?
Jill: Well I came to Berlin for a master’s degree in public policy at a private university. If I had continued to pursue that avenue and not this one then my life would look entirely different. Without creating through Bear Radio I always felt like a small fish in a big pond and now, it’s not that I feel like a big fish, I mean I run a business and I don’t have a retirement plan, but I do feel like a cool fish. I feel happy. I feel proud of what we create. I don’t know what my life would look like without Bear Radio.
Julia: Personally, I don’t know where I would be either.
Jill: I could see you working in some garden or like with crafts or something.
Julia: What, really? I honestly think that if I hadn’t been welcomed into Bear Radio by Jill then I would have eventually forced my way into it. I mean look at Jill, how empty would my life be without this constant source of entertainment?
Jill: Why thank you.
Julia: If I didn’t have Bear Radio I wouldn’t have Jill. I wouldn’t have met my current partner. I wouldn’t be living where I’m living now. It genuinely gave me a purpose. For some people, moving to Berlin can be a real tough struggle but for me, it was such a smooth transition. Everything has always felt like it made sense, and that’s hugely due to what Jill and I have built together.
I usually end these interviews by asking people to describe their favorite sounds, but since URSA is a collection of voices, could you first describe your favorite voice?
Jill: Favorite voice? Oh, my voice. My own voice.
Julia: Jill loves the sound of her own voice.
Jill: It’s true. I do.
Julia: I think mine has to be the sound of my brothers’ voices, especially my teenage ones. They’re these teenage surfer boys in South Africa and calling them and hearing their voices at the other end of the line just makes me so happy. They sound like home to me. I was going to say something clever or dramatic like Morgan Freeman or something, but no. My brothers’ voices take the biscuit.
Jill: I also like the sound of Jonny Tiernan’s voice, our cultural correspondent for URSA. He’s from Northern Ireland and his accent is just everything.
And to finish, what is your favorite sound?
Jill: I think mine comes from my dog Meeko. Every morning I wake up to her little claws tapping down the hallway so she can say good morning and stare at me intensely until I feed her. Despite it stirring me from my bed, I love it.
Julia: I have two. I love the sound of a breeze whistling through trees, but I also love the sound of waves lapping up against the beach. More specifically, I love the sound of the waves crashing at my brother’s house. That sound, the ocean lapping in that exact place, that also sounds like home to me.
interview by Alice O’Brien for Bear Radio.
photo credits to Jovana Panic.