All ears

In a home recording studio, a Kalispell couple introduces listeners of their podcast to a wide range of Flathead Valley residents in hopes of sparking community connections.


I n 2018, Justin and Julie Shobe, of Kalispell, were feeling increasingly uneasy about the growing ideological polarization they saw in the country. They started brainstorming ways to foster connection in our little corner of the globe.

Julie, 33, is a registered dietitian and pediatric diabetes educator, while Justin, 34, is a physician assistant; they both work at Kalispell Regional Healthcare. A podcast might not sound like the natural solution to their concerns, but Julie had cut back on her working hours after their daughter was born in 2018, and was keen to tackle a meaningful, mentally engaging project. Justin, meanwhile, has a lifelong interest in music, and friends who advised him about sound equipment and recording. They converted their spare bedroom—dubbed the “canary room” due to its two bright yellow walls—into a studio. Their simple but effective setup consists of three sets of broadcast-quality microphones and headphones arranged on their old kitchen table and hooked up to their MacBook.

In January 2019, the Shobes launched ConnectMT, a series of long-form conversations with a wildflower garden of Flathead Valley citizens. During her time working at a hospital in Minnesota, Julie had trained in a responsive listening technique called motivational interviewing, which teaches people to draw deeper thoughts from someone by reflecting their answers back to them. Before they began recording, Justin took a class to learn this skill set too.

“The Shobes have discovered that when we listen, we learn.”

In their first season, Justin and Julie interviewed each other, as well as 18 other community leaders, including Burket Kniveton of the Center for Restorative Youth Justice and Jessica Loti Laferriere of Love Lives Here. The Shobes dug into what motivates their guests to serve and how they empower the people around them. The second season, still in progress at press time, asks similar questions of people working everyday jobs, including a sheriff’s deputy, a medical assistant, and a librarian.

Although their guests’ belief systems are as individual as their stories, Justin and Julie have found a common thread: Each person is working hard to turn their hopes for what their community could be into reality.

“We’ve been able to find out that there’s something in people’s pasts that motivates them,” Justin says. “Something that makes them passionate about interacting with the community in a certain way.”

Julie agrees, adding, “They’ve poured their time and energy into their passions and are impacting the world around them because of it.”

Producing the podcast has helped Justin overcome some personal misconceptions. He’d thought people with strong ideologies would have less humility about those beliefs and less empathy for those who think differently, but he was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case.

“Everybody we’ve interviewed mentioned, on some level, giving more grace to the people around them, the more they learned about them,” he explains.

The Shobes have discovered that when we listen, we learn. And when we understand someone, we might actually like them better.

Download and stream ConnectMT at buzzsprout.com/207985, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


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