Every Thursday afternoon in the Houston Public Media studio between Elgin Street and Spur 5, two political science professors meet for about 30 minutes to discuss the week’s political news.
But unlike most political banter, their conversations are recorded for a weekly podcast.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, and Jay Aiyer, an assistant political science professor at Texas Southern University, launched “Party Politics” for Houston Public Media on March 31, and it’s been downloaded more than 38,000 times in just over a month.
The podcast, with a new episode released every Friday, is designed to be a medium for people to get a dose of politics on the go, Rottinghaus said.
“In a nutshell, it’s a fun way to have digestible politics in these crazy political times for people who are on the run,” he said. “Everyone’s busy, and yet the importance of these things is as great as it’s ever been. So, to have an interesting and insightful and hopefully a formative take is a big part of what the podcast is designed to do.”
The podcasts, released on Fridays so listeners can talk to their friends and families about the week’s events, contain sound effects that create a bar-like environment, said Edel Howlin, the executive producer of special projects at Houston Public Media.
“But sadly, we only simulate the bar experience,” Aiyer said.
The team’s overarching goal is to provide an audience with objective news, Aiyer said.
“You’re constantly hit by different media outlets, and a lot of it comes from a kind of perspective,” Aiyer said. “What we strive to do is to take a nonpartisan look at whatever the issue is, and give it in this really sort of compressed format. … It’s 15 minutes of just what you need to know for the week.”
Since its first episode on March 31, Party Politics has about 38,000 downloads from about 4,500 listeners, Howlin said. About 27 new people download the podcast on a daily basis.
The professors’ expertise makes it easy to record the podcast, Howlin said.
“These guys literally almost never switch off, so we will wrap up an episode, and they’re still talking about politics,” Howlin said. “All we do is capture their organic conversation that’s happening anyway.”
Two different versions are released each Friday: one about national politics and another about Texas politics.
Texas has a big role in what happens in the nation, so the podcast should give just as much attention to the state as it does to the nation, Rottinghaus said.
“In many ways, it’s more important,” Aiyer said. “What happens here tends to affect your daily life more, and also, it’s an area where Brandon is sort of a Texas history expert, and I do a lot with Texas politics, so it works that way because we have specific subject matter expertise on it.”
Party Politics was originally slated to be released in May as part of a digital package with several other podcasts hosted by Houston Public Media, Howlin said, but they released the first episode in March due to the importance of the political discussion since last November’s election.
“We realized that the conversation is happening now, and we need to be a part of it,” she said. “We need to have a political podcast out there now because everyone’s talking about politics.”
Rottinghaus, who’s been at the University for 10 years, said he views Party Politics as an extension of his job as a professor.
“I see doing this public engagement as being a part of the University’s mission to have an extended classroom, so that is a big part of how we reach people,” he said. “I think it’s also a good way to have students interact with the material, so understanding the roots of these issues as well as the current incarnation of an event or issue in a fun way, I think, is good engagement.”
New episodes of “Party Politics” are released each Friday evening, and the podcast is available for free via iTunes, Google Play and other podcast apps.