Sheffield: Podcast City – Dino Sofos on bringing Persephonica and Crossed Wires Festival to his hometown

Could Sheffield become the capital of British podcasting? There’s absolutely no reason why not, claims Dino Sofos, founder of award-winning podcast production company Persephonica and co-founder of Crossed Wires, the city’s inaugural podcast festival.

“I’ve always felt passionately about the lack of diversity in our media,” says Dino Sofos. “Particularly when it comes to socio-economic factors, the newsrooms are too full of people who went to public schools, whose parents could pay for them to stay in London while they did work experience or people who already live in London or nearby. There’s a distinct lack of representation of people from places like Sheffield, so it was always in my mind that when we set up a physical base for Persephonica, it should be here.” 

Having grown up and completed his undergraduate studies in Sheffield, Sofos ventured to London to pursue a post-graduate degree in journalism. He returned to his hometown for a work placement at BBC Radio Sheffield, which eventually led to a job offer and a grounding experience in the multi-faceted demands of local radio. With that all-important foot in the door, Dino advanced within the BBC, transitioning to 5 Live and eventually assuming the role of political producer. His tenure there involved navigating the turbulent landscapes of coalition politics and Brexit, honing his reporting skills amidst the chaos of the times.

After leaving radio to work in a social media role for BBC Politics, he began missing the audio side of news reporting. This inspired the first official venture into political podcasting, creating a show, Electioncast, covering the 2017 election with Chris Mason, Adam Fleming and Laura Kuenssberg. “That was pretty successful, and we then moved on to Brexitcast, which ended up getting commissioned as a TV show on BBC One. Around that point, podcasting really started to take off in the UK and I felt as though I’d found my niche.”

It was always in my mind that when we set up a physical base for Persephonica, it should be here.

After 14 years with the BBC, Sofos decided to leave and set up his own production company, Persephonica. Since then, he has spearheaded a range of immensely popular podcasts, encompassing everything from political debate through The News Agents with Emily Maitlis, Lewis Goodman and Jon Sopel, and Political Currency with Ed Balls and George Osborne, to celebrity-fronted shows such as Dua Lipa’s At Your Service and Lily Allen’s recently launched Miss Me?.

With Persephonica now firmly established as a leading name in the industry, the next step is to complete the vision and move headquarters to Sheffield. “Just from speaking to people in the industry, you get the sense that everyone’s tired of everything being based in London,” he explains. “In a post-pandemic world, people are working from all over and some of our productions are produced remotely, so why are we sitting in our co-working spaces and offices in London when we could be creating important jobs in other places working with A-list talent on globally recognised content? There are amazing journalism and media courses on offer at Sheffield’s universities and colleges, so you shouldn’t have to commute to Manchester or live in London to get those jobs. Even if it’s just a small amount of jobs we offer at first, hopefully, we can grow and create more.”

Some Persephonica roles have already been filled by Sheffield-based candidates and the search for premises is very much underway. Sofos has been in dialogue with the owners of Park Hill-based Warp Films, crediting them as a key inspiration by setting up an internationally acclaimed production company that is “unashamedly Sheffield”. 

In fact, he claims that South Yorkshire might be more suited to becoming a national hub for podcasting than people might assume. “This industry is all about storytelling, creativity and sound design – these are things that this city is historically very good at.”

If the appetite for podcast culture outside of London was ever in doubt, the reaction since Sofos, along with co-founders James O’Hara and Alice Levine, unveiled plans for Crossed Wires, the city’s first-ever live podcast festival, has cemented the thesis that Sheffield can serve as a vibrant hub for creators and enthusiasts alike. 

Dino Sofos with fellow Crossed Wires founders Alice Levine and James O’Hara. Photo: Pedalo Photography

From Friday 31 May to Sunday 2 June, the city’s most iconic venues will be bustling with blockbuster live shows, exclusive performances, free events and special guests – all hosted by top names in podcasting spanning comedy, current affairs, culture, sports, family and wellbeing. 

The idea was concocted between Dino, good friend Alice (of My Dad Wrote a Porno fame) and Tramlines founder James over a walk and a curry in the Peak District. “The conversation was basically, ‘Why isn’t there a Tramlines for podcasts – or what would an Edinburgh Fringe for podcasts look like?’”    

Before the bill arrived, the concept of Crossed Wires was born. Names on the lineup currently include the likes of Adam Buxton, Self Esteem, Katherine Ryan, Jon Ronson, Russell Tovey, Romesh Ranganathan and many others heading to key stages at Sheffield City Hall, The Crucible and The Lyceum over the weekend. 

‘This industry is all about storytelling, creativity and sound design – these are all things that this city is historically very good at.’

Further exciting developments are underway in the run-up to the main event, as the Crossed Wires team are working to secure a venue that will serve as a focal point for the festival’s soon-to-be-announced fringe offering. Keep an eye on their socials (@crossedwiresfest) for the latest developments on that front. 

“We’ll be hosting a number of interesting fringe events and live shows, putting on a really eclectic mix of podcast content that people can come and experience for free,” says Sofos. “Sheffield is basically just going to be flooded with top podcasting talent for the weekend, meaning town will be become the epicentre of podcasts for a few days.”

“The conversation was basically, ‘Why isn’t there a Tramlines for podcasts?'”

As our interview comes to a close, Sofos reflects on the diverse range of projects on his increasingly busy plate – from launching new shows and festivals to expanding into the US market with Persephonica. Yet, despite the hectic nature of his day-to-day, one thing remains clear: for him, the journey to make Sheffield the capital of British podcasting is just getting started.

Crossed Wires Festival takes place 31 May – 2 June in Sheffield. Tickets can be purchased at crossedwires.live and you can stay up to the dates with the latest event announcements by following @crossedwiresfest.

Words: Joseph Food

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