Great Smoky Mountains Association launches Smoky Mountain Air podcast series

by May 28, 2020General Announcements

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Great Smoky Mountains Association is pleased to announce the launch of its new podcast series, Smoky Mountain Air. Hosted by GSMA staff members Valerie Polk, videographer and publications associate, and Karen Key, senior publications specialist, Smoky Mountain Air features interviews with authors, scientists and park experts, who each shed new light on life in the Smokies past and present.

Smoky Mountain Air brings the science, stories and sounds of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to listeners all across the country. In the podcast’s first few episodes, the hosts draw on readings and interviews with authors and naturalists featured in issues of Smokies Life, GSMA’s biannual magazine. Current and forthcoming episodes include guests Rose Houk, David Brill, Steve Kemp, and Stephen Lyn Bales, as well as an interview with Horace Kephart co-biographer Janet McCue and filmmaker Paul Bonesteel.

“Smoky Mountain Air author interviews serve as an entry point to what we call the missing issues of Smokies Lifemagazine,” said Frances Figart, GSMA’s creative director and the biannual magazine’s editor. “These are issues that everyone asks us about on a regular basis because they can no longer find them anywhere in print.”

Four of the missing issues were re-released online at no charge to readers in April, in partnership with Smokies LIVE, a virtual version of Smokies Life. Smokies LIVE was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the March 24–May 9 closure of GSMNP as a communal, cross-partner and cross-park effort to bring the national park spirit to living rooms across the country.

Park Archivist Mike Aday first dreamed up a GSMA podcast in 2019, but the timing wasn’t yet right. When the Smokies LIVE logo debuted, however, it reminded his wife of a broadcast signal, which triggered the idea once again. And, with the shift to digital-focused outreach during the pandemic, the timing seemed ideal.

“Anyone who watches the GSMA YouTube videos is already familiar with the voice of Valerie Polk, and I thought that having Karen Key and Valerie hosting the podcast would be a great idea,” said Aday. “When you hear their voices, you know exactly what region they are from. They have a warm and comfortable tone that I think will be very appealing to listeners.”

Videographer and Publications Associate Polk is a filmmaker and contributor to GSMA’s award-winning YouTube channel. For more than 10 years, she has documented the beauty, the history and the extraordinary experiences that draw visitors to the Smokies. Senior Publications Specialist Key has served on the GSMA creative team since 2006. She is responsible for the overall layout of the park newspaper, Smokies Guide, designs articles for Smokies Life and created the graphics for Dan Pierce’s popular moonshine book Corn From a Jar. She also designed the award-winning Into the Mist by David Brill and the CD Big Bend Killing.

“I’m used to everything being so visual and on paper — and for podcasts, it’s all reliant upon sound,” said Key. “Valerie is used to editing interviews with people for her videos, so I’m learning a lot from her and riding on her coattails!”

While the park is resuming operations in phases, GSMA realizes that some members and park supporters may prefer to continue experiencing the park from afar. Smoky Mountain Air, as well as Smokies LIVE, will enable people to learn more about the history, science, and culture of the Smokies from the comfort of their homes.

“I believe that Smoky Mountain Air will give members and park supporters another great way to connect to GSMA, the region and Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Aday. “It seems like a natural extension of all the great content members have come to expect from GSMA, and I think people are going to be really pleased.”

Smoky Mountain Air can be found on all the usual podcast-hosting platforms, including Apple, Spotify, Google Podcast and Stitcher. The missing Smokies Life issues can be found at To read Smokies LIVE visit

Great Smoky Mountains Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the scientific, historical, and interpretive activities of Great Smoky Mountains National Park by providing educational products and services to park visitors. GSMA depends on the generous support of its members to fulfill its mission, preserving the Smokies for generations to come. Membership-driven funding also supports the preservation of more than 90 historic structures throughout the park, as well as the backcountry rangers who protect more than 800 miles of trails to spectacular mountain vistas, rushing streams, waterfalls and quiet groves of old-growth forest. For more information about GSMA, visit

– Great Smoky Mountains Association release