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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Father-daughter podcasters bring pandemic project to PBS with help from Eastern Washington University

Rasa Smith and Jeremy Smith launched their own podcast, called “You Must Know Everything,” in April 2020, just as schools shut down for the pandemic. Now, they’re hoping animated shorts based on their research will air on PBS stations nationwide. (Courtesy Jeremy Smith)

Jeremy Smith and his daughter, Rasa, launched their pandemic-project podcast in April 2020 with a lesson on dating.

The first episode of “You Must Know Everything” began with a theory from the dad, part of a format that has become standard over the show’s more than 100 episodes to date. Jeremy tells his daughter that, when dating, it’s important to get a disaster out of the way early.

“When things go wrong, you find out what people are really like,” Jeremy Smith said in that episode, moving to a comparison of a disastrous date to the changing world in the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lesson stuck with Rasa, who just turned 11 last week. During bad times, relationships grow stronger, she said.

“If you have a disaster, you know, ‘I can do it with these people,’” she said in an interview.

That lesson was broadcast just as local schools shut down for the pandemic, and Jeremy, a freelance journalist based in Missoula, found himself spending more time with his daughter at home. More lessons have followed, and now with the help of animation students at Eastern Washington University, those messages could be broadcast on PBS stations nationwide.

Those first episodes were inspired by things that Jeremy wrote down.

“I had a list, like a shopping list, and it was, these are the things I want my kid to know someday,” Jeremy said. “But, you know, she wasn’t born yet. And then she was a baby, and then she was growing up and she was so busy, the way kids get.”

Along with those lessons, though, there were things Rasa wanted to tell her dad. So the pair began alternating as hosts of the 10- to 15-minute episodes, leading with a thought, idea or theory they wanted the other to know. One of the recent episodes has Rasa explaining to her dad why positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, would be more effective in getting her to clean her room.

“There’s so much I don’t know about being a grown-up, and there’s so much dad doesn’t know about being a kid,” Rasa said. “He teaches me stuff, and I teach him stuff. It’s the perfect system.”

It’s that give-and-take between the hosts that attracted Marc Danon, a California-based producer working with the Smiths on the animation. Danon was already in talks with Jeremy to adapt his other work for the screen when he started listening to the podcast.

“What I love about it is their relationship,” he said. “The give-and-take, it’s never one-sided. They’re both teaching each other, and the respect that you get from both sides is just fantastic.”

A scene from the “You Must Know Everything” animated shorts produced by Eastern Washington University students. In this episode, Rasa Smith investigates whether dogs or cats are more popular.  (You Must Know Everything/Eastern Washington University)
A scene from the “You Must Know Everything” animated shorts produced by Eastern Washington University students. In this episode, Rasa Smith investigates whether dogs or cats are more popular. (You Must Know Everything/Eastern Washington University)

While the theories have been a major source of learning for father and daughter, it’s often a different segment of the show that make up the 30-second animated segments produced by local talent. At the end of the show, the “host” is responsible for answering a “vexing question” submitted by a listener. Examples include whether pressing a crosswalk button actually makes the traffic lights cycle faster, and which pet is more popular – cats or dogs.

“We shared the audio with the students, and we have this amazing artist who’s a recent EWU grad who’s now a designer at Nike,” Jeremy said.

The partnership with the university in Cheney was a product of Smith’s relationship with a fellow graduate of the University of Montana, Simeon Mills, himself an author and on the faculty at Eastern. Smith worked with Ginelle Hustrulid, an associate professor in EWU’s Design department, and her students to bring segments of the show to life.

“We’re giving them this real-world experience,” Hustrulid said. “It’s almost like them doing an internship.”

After the initial meeting, Hustrulid reached out to Eastern alumnus Makenzie Ley. Ley created all the images for the shorts, and then it was up to Hustrulid’s students to divvy up show sequences and direct their own videos with the Smiths’ vocals.

The work lasted through winter and spring quarters. Hustrulid starting hearing stories from students spending their hours editing animation that they were hearing Jeremy and Rasa’s voices in their sleep.

“There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears put into this project,” Hustrulid said.

The segments began airing on the local PBS station in Missoula at the end of July. Jeremy said he hopes KSPS-TV in Spokane will pick them up, so that local residents can see the talent of Eastern students.

“They’re just 30-second shows. You could drop them in for a bit of fun, education, and hopefully show the local talent,” he said.

“And there’s bubbles and corgis,” Rasa interjected, referring to the pet episode and one about why soap bubbles hold together.

Gary Stokes, general manager of the local PBS station, said in an email he liked the idea of having the shorts on-air and discussions are underway to bring the animation to Spokane airwaves.

Broadcasting students’ work in Spokane would help vindicate all those long hours and late nights, Hustrulid said.

“If the students found out that they’re on Spokane public broadcasting, they would be so thrilled,” she said. “They would flip out.”

Jeremy Smith said his greatest lesson from Rasa came in the show’s 58th episode when his daughter launched the podcast with an elaborate metaphor about our purpose as human beings.

“People are like puzzle pieces,” Rasa says in the episode. “Sometimes you feel too big. Sometimes you feel too small, and you think, what’s my role? What am I doing, I’m useless.”

“Remember, the universe is a puzzle, and everyone is a piece. Some pieces may be really small, and some pieces may be really big,” Rasa continues. “But no one makes sense by themselves.”

The episodes aren’t scripted, Jeremy Smith said, and Rasa is able to come up with her ideas even quicker than her dad. That metaphor, like his lesson about truly knowing people during disasters, stuck.

“It’s quite cosmic in a way that was really awe-inspiring for parents, you know, a grown-up, to hear from a kid,” he said.

The family, including Rasa’s mom and Jeremy’s wife, Crissie McMullan, is on a break for a month while they settle in to their year traveling abroad. They were in Mexico last week, but they’ll be back in time for school with new audio episodes.

And Rasa doesn’t think the endeavor will end anytime soon.

“I think, as I get older, the podcast might change,” she said. “But I think it’s essentially, at its core, hanging out with my dad, and I’ll never grow out of that.”