IN THIS CHAPTER
Discovering the humble beginnings of some very experienced podcasters
Sharing tips for those just starting
Gaining insights in to why they keep podcasting
If you’re reading this book, you’re likely new to podcasting and might have missed out on the trials and tribulations that went along with that first huge growth spurt between 2004 and 2005. It was truly undiscovered country not only for Chuck and Tee, but also for the people listed in this chapter, recognized as some of the original voices who have stood the test of time. While some of these “O.P.s” (“Original Podcasters”) may not still have their original shows, they all have been podcasting since the “early pioneer days” and continue to produce content.
As you read these names, try to remember that these are regular people like the rest of us. True, some of them may seem larger than life, but all of them put their pants on one leg at a time — unless they’re wearing kilts.
Although we encourage you to make your own decisions, a future podcast star would do well to take a listen to the wisdom/information/rants put forth by this group. Often controversial and usually informative, each of these people has a unique outlook on the world of podcasting. We’ve found these folks to be helpful guides in our own podcasting careers. But (as we’ve said probably way too many times in this book for our editors’ tastes) your mileage may vary.
Mignon, better known as “Grammar Girl” to her listeners, is a master; and one of many reasons Chuck and Tee asked her to kick off the previous edition of Podcasting For Dummies. She has taken the topic of English grammar, something most would find mundane — and many think they have mastered only to find out they learn something new in every episode — and turned it in to a podcast empire.
Trivia time! What was Mignon Fogarty’s first podcast? If you said Grammar Girl, then you have chosen poorly. A little-known fact, she had a podcast in 2005 called Absolute Science cohosted with Adam Lowe. That show ran for about 8 months and while it didn’t prove to be quite the success its successor would become, it did teach her some valuable lessons.
Her breakout show, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (
http://www.quickanddirtytips.com), started in 2006 and received numerous acclaims and recognition such as #2 on iTunes’s most recommended podcasts list. As she describes it, “It will help you improve your writing and delight you with the quirks of language.” Her grammar show has since turned into a Quick and Dirty Tips network featuring topics such as productivity by the “Get-It-Done Guy,” Steve Robbins; money and finance by the “Money Girl,” Laura Adams; and even parenting by the “Mighty Mommy,” Cheryl Butler. Mignon even got her old cohost, Adam Lowe, from Absolute Science back to be the original “Modern Manners Guy.” She’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal and on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show. Twice.
Like many podcasters, Mignon’s audience is not contained to the United States — take that, terrestrial radio! She receives feedback from all over the globe, again not all that unusual, but always appreciated. What’s interesting is that many of the comments from her listeners are from teachers using her episodes to teach English as a second, third, or fourth, language.
Her podcast gave birth to the book Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (Holt) in 2008 and reached number 9 on the New York Times Bestseller List. And during the writing of this edition, her title Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students was Macmillan’s No. 1 bestselling nonfiction book at Barnes & Noble, and the Grammar Girl podcast celebrated 14 years of podcasting with close to 800 episodes produced.
When asked why she continues to podcast the unsurprising answer is, “I really love it. I get to learn new things along with the listeners, and it’s always great when I hear how I helped someone. That happens almost every week. What could be better than that?” Mignon Fogarty is one of the lucky few who get to earn a living by podcasting.
In 1987, your authors were finishing school, and MTV (the icon of the generation that remembers when they actually played music videos) hired a new VJ named Adam Curry. Decades later, despite life experiences, diplomas, and other strange changes and artistic ventures, it’s still baffling to think that the same guy who was introducing the latest Madonna video is now referred to as “the Podfather.”
Adam Curry’s importance to the craft might be the single best example that illustrates the “just-do-it” nature of podcasting. It was Adam Curry, not some highly trained programmer, who hacked together the first podcatching client program to harness the power of the recently created enclosed-media files in RSS 2.0 feeds — and made them downloadable during the computer’s off hours.
Since that time, Adam has become the most recognized (and arguably the most popular) podcaster around. While his first podcast, Daily Source Code, has since podfaded, Curry continues to produce No Agenda (
http://www.noagendashow.com), cohosted with John C. Dvorak. No Agenda listeners never know quite what to expect: a tour of Adam’s kitchen, a discussion over the latest round of talks in a business venture, or sharing a content partner that will change the shape of podcasting. Everything and anything is possible.
It’s worth making time to listen to No Agenda, even if you fast-forward through the parts that don’t appeal to you.
Podcasting has never been a “Man’s World,” as female podcasters were blazing trails in 2004 alongside the boys. Some of those leading ladies of the RSS feeds have either podfaded or moved on to other pursuits, but one remains to this day as an outstanding podcast personality: Mur Lafferty (
http://murverse.com) or “The Grand Dame of Podcasting,” as she is referred to with great affection by this book’s authors.
Mur Lafferty’s podcasting career began with Geek Fu Action Grip, a show that was an ongoing commentary about what was going on in her life, what games she was playing, and what bands she was listening to. Each episode of Geek Fu ended with an original essay of something that struck her funny bone. This podcast spawned I Should Be Writing, the 2007 Parsec-winning podcast documenting her own tests and trials in getting her first novel published. As proof of her talent, she has been a finalist or a Parsec Award winner in 2008, 2010, and 2011. She was a finalist for a Hugo Award in 2012 and won a Hugo award in the category of John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer of 2013.
She has never stopped raising the bar for podcasters. Keeping many of her podcasts to the basics, Mur produces quality content from both sides of the brain: the analytical (I Should Be Writing) and the creative (The Heaven series, Playing for Keeps). Mur, with her talent in writing, also raises the bar for other creative podcasters, inspiring many to podcast their own fiction and even return to a writing passion they had stepped away from for many years.
It’s hard to listen to podcasts and not hear the name of Mur Lafferty. It’s harder still to subscribe to any Mur Lafferty podcast and not be completely taken by her. Her personality shines in every episode, with every work, and with every show.
Like many featured in this chapter, Steve Boyett’s background was not in radio, broadcasting, audio engineering, or even computers. Instead, Steve’s early interests were in writing, where he boasts several books, short stories, and novellas to his name. Go look him up at
http://www.steveboy.com! Several years ago — okay, maybe more than several — he started composing electronic music for fun and began DJing at parties, which he refers to as “straight-up crack.”
Almost like the proverbial accidental invention, Steve stumbled on to his fate. “Because I'm a writer, I was considering a fiction or interview podcast. Doing a music podcast hadn’t occurred to me.” On a complete whim, he asked his girlfriend, an aerobics instructor and runner, if she thought anyone would be interested in some of the workout mixes he was producing. Her response was something like this: “Are you kidding?! Do you know how much I used to pay for this as an aerobics teacher? It’s perfect!” So he launched Podrunner (
http://podrunner.com), a regular, hour-long dose of fixed-tempo music for walkers, joggers, and runners, from beginner to competitor. There were plenty of music podcasts at the time, but Steve was the first to do a music series specifically for workouts. At first he thought he might attract 50 people or so.
Talk about underestimating your audience!
iTunes featured his podcast within days of it being listed, and his website crashed within days of Podrunner’s debut. It became so popular that it shot up and stayed in the Top 10 for about a year. That’s when he gave some serious thought to legitimize it or kill it. Thankfully he chose to invest and continue.
At its height, Podrunner was commanding over 600,000 downloads a month, receiving sponsorship from Timex and the United States Navy. The podcast still produces new and original mixes, but for Steve, the benefits do not stop at the success of his BPS-bending compositions. “I have met people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. A listener reached out to me and asked me if I’d be interested in DJing for a group of fire dancers at the annual Burning Man Festival where they had sound-activated flame cannons, a 30-foot stage, and on and on. I said, ‘You had me at sound-activated flame cannons.’”
But the biggest reward he receives to this day is from hearing how he helped people. Almost every week he gets a note about someone who had lost 100 pounds thanks to his music, or a chemotherapy patient who said, “This got me out of my house and on the way to recovery.” And since the first edition of Podcasting For Dummies, Tee still takes Podrunner with him on 5K runs, 10K runs, and (at the time of this writing) the odd half-marathon. Steve continues to make the Finish Line appear that much sooner for Tee.
When asked why he continues to podcast after all this time, at first Steve jokingly said, “I’m in complete denial about its influence on my life,” but later admitted, “It’s what I do. The thought of giving it up really bothers me, and when I do think about it, I think of those listeners whom I’ve helped.”
All superheroes have their origin story. Adam Christianson, the Clark Kent of Podcasting, is really the Superman who brings us Maccast (
http://maccast.com). His story starts with a degree in Printing. (That’s right, kids, the paper-and-ink kind of printing that came before the Internet.) Adam has always nurtured an interest in Apple Macintosh computers dating way back to their introduction, and it just so happens that’s what his printing company was using. As time went by he found himself being the de facto IT guy until he approached the president of the company and made it official. Over the years, his Mac-strength continued to grow. In the mid-90s, he discovered HTML and found himself interested in web development while learning all he could about Macs.
In late 2004, he was listening to some of the early shows and thought, “I need to find a Mac podcast to help pass the time on my hour-long commute (in San Diego).” Sadly, he found out that there were no Mac podcasts at the time.
(Insert screaming sound effects here.)
Inspired by The Dawn & Drew Show (
http://thedawnanddrewshow.com), Adam recognized how easy podcasting could be on discovering his favorite podcast was powered by a Logitech USB microphone and GarageBand. Adam thought, “I’ve got GarageBand — I’m halfway there!” On December 13, 2004, the Maccast was revealed to the world. As he states at the beginning of each episode: This was “… the show for Mac geeks, by Mac geeks.”
That last part, by Mac geeks, is important to note because his original intent was to create a 5- to 10-minute daily news show about all things Mac. Remember, this is before the days of the iPhone and iPad. Macintosh computers and early iPods were about all Apple had going at the time! What amazed Adam was that after his very first episode, a listener emailed him with a technical question. This may not seem too crazy today, but in those days he wondered, “How did this guy even find my show?!” Back then, podcast directories as we know them today didn’t exist. Finding new shows was generally done by word of mouth — other podcasters or listeners mentioning you. It was as if he sent a message in a bottle and got a response back from across the ocean.
Since that time Adam has expanded the stories he covers to include a wider range of Apple products, but he still keeps the name and tag line the same — mostly by listener request. The audience has also grown considerably, allowing Adam to be his own boss splitting time between podcasting and web development — with the bulk of revenue coming from the Maccast.
After talking to Adam, one quickly gets a sense of his humility. He’s not concerned with being perceived as the authority on Macs or having millions of listeners. His main motivation for doing the show is the sense of community and the feedback it generates. He considers the Maccast as a “global user group” where he does just as much learning as educating.
Keep up the great work, Mac of Steel!
Dave Slusher is one of those lucky individuals who happened to be at the right place at the right time. As he describes it, “I started podcasting partly out of convenience and dumb luck.” In 2004, he had been following the latest advancements of transferring and listening to audio files on the Internet, but it wasn’t until Adam Curry’s first podcatching client written in AppleScript that things really started to heat up for him. “It was only a matter of time before someone put it all together. The pieces were all there and sooner or later it was going to happen,” says Slusher. Once that happened, Dave got out the gear from his former radio gig and started the Evil Genius Chronicles (
http://evilgeniuschronicles.org) in late August 2004 — one day after Adam Curry started his Daily Source Code — and became what is now one of the three longest continually running podcasts.
When asked to describe his show, Dave’s response is, “It’s about music, technology, and culture — but I know that doesn’t sound too compelling.” Maybe that description is a bit lackluster because underneath the podcast, Dave’s perspective is what makes Evil Genius Chronicles work. He conveys situations that affect him, digs for the deeper meaning, and articulates it in a way that matters to the listener. Another interesting aspect about EGC is that you never really know what you’re going to get in each episode. Like many things, Dave seems to fly in the face of convention and make the most of it. Remember that note about not shaking up your show format too much or you’ll confuse your listeners? Well, let’s just say Dave has a four-letter response to that too, but it may not work for everyone. One episode may be a combination of music and monologue, the next could be an interview with a comic book artist, and another could be a panel discussion with friends. It’s how he rolls and how his podcast thrives.
When asked why he continues to podcast, he said, “I can do whatever I want unfettered. My show, my format, my content. I’ll keep doing it while it’s still fun. Besides, as long as I continue, I still have the status of one of the longest running podcasts. When I stop, I’ll just become a footnote to history — and nobody wants that.”
When it comes to the early days of podcasting fiction, Tee has been described as epic classical music like Wagner. Mark Jeffrey could be compared to jazz music of Dave Brubeck’s style.
Then you have Scott Sigler (
http://scottsigler.com). He’s Metallica. The Black Album.
“I podcast because it’s the perfect vehicle for serialized fiction,” Sigler says of his decision to podcast his debut novel, Earthcore. He seeks not only to hook listeners with the format, but also to keep them in suspense until next week’s episode: “My novels are long, with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. That’s designed to keep you turning the pages. With podcasts, you just have to wait for the next episode.”
Scott’s nostalgia for radio-style serials is not the only motivation behind his podcasts. “The amazing reaction I get from the listeners is the motivation,” he adds, acknowledging his loyal fan base, also known as Junkies, as they became hooked on his podcasts. The fans showed Scott (along with print publishers Dragon Moon Press and Crown Publishing) exactly how hooked they were when the podcast of Ancestor premiered in print. The book shot up Amazon charts to hit #1 in both Horror and Science Fiction. That was enough for Crown to approach Scott with a contract for another one of his podcasts, Infection, which the publisher retitled as Infected.
For Scott, the passion had a purpose; but even on achieving the coveted New York Times Bestseller List, Scott continues to deliver high octane fiction crossing many different genres, one podcast at a time, as part of Empty Set Entertainment. “To know that my fiction has entertained thousands of people, helped them escape from their day-to-day lives, and just plain have some fun means the world to me. Is it a power trip? Sure! But knowing that I’ve delivered a great story and entertained someone is a fantastic feeling.”
Original — that’s the word that comes to mind when talking to Michael Butler, host of the Rock and Roll Geek Show (
http://www.americanheartbreak.com/rnrgeekwp/). Before meeting Michael you might have visions of a hard rockin’, loud mouthed, swaggering, crazy man, only to find out he’s a very humble down-to-earth guy. He states, “I don’t listen to any other music podcasts because I don’t want to be influenced by them. I’d rather just do my own thing.”
Michael earns his place in this chapter because he is somewhere in that first ten or so podcasters who immediately followed Adam Curry. He started in early September 2004 and hasn’t stopped since — okay, if you are reading this book in the year 2220, he stopped. At the time, he was playing in a band called American Heartbreak and running a blog for them. He came across Adam Curry’s audio blog and was inspired by what Adam was doing. Like many podcasters just dipping their toes in, he started with modest technology. He was talking into the built-in speaker on the laptop. Shortly afterwards he upgraded to a USB microphone and eventually got a mixer and a bit better recording equipment.
Michael describes his show as “A guy talking about music, playing music, reviewing albums, and doing interviews.” Michael is very well known in the podosphere not because of the popularity of his show, but because of his humbleness and quick wit. In fact, contrary to his on-air personality, he’s a very quiet and shy person, often stating when he’s at social events, “I’m the quiet guy in the corner.” Get to know Michael Butler and you discover his resume includes working full time for Adam Curry and collaborations with many other podcasters, including Dave Slusher on the show Mad at Dad (
Despite the popularity of The Rock and Roll Geek Show, Michael really doesn’t care about the numbers. In fact, he states, “My fans are probably some of the most loyal I have ever encountered.” Hardly an episode goes by where he doesn’t do a segment called “Opening Butler’s Mail” to find anything from cash to special hunting arrows that Ted Nugent uses. That’s some serious fandom! He continues to podcast largely because of the fans and “It’s just fun to do.”
Rock on, Mr. Michael Butler! Rock on!
Let’s just go on record here — science is cool. At least these two authors think so. That makes Dr. Pamela Gay, the wit and wisdom behind this edition’s Foreword, one of our favorite podcast veterans. Like Mignon Fogarty, Dr. Gay brought academics to the podcasting world with that right blend of education and entertainment. Also like Grammar Girl, Dr. Gay’s hugely successful show Astronomy Cast (
http://astronomycast.com) was not her first dip in the pod-pool. The birth of Pamela’s podcast universe started when she was on the way to a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in early 2005 when her friend Aaron Price said he was reading about this new thing called podcasting. He told her about some religious evangelicals doing a show to convert people, to which she replied, “We can convert people to science!” Within a week they had the first episode of Slacker Astronomy online. The show ran for about 18 months until life intervened, taking the show’s hosts in different directions. Not one to let her podcasting passion sit idle, she quickly connected with colleague Fraser Cain and started Astronomy Cast, “A weekly facts-based journey through the cosmos where we help you understand not only what we know, but how we know what we know.” Great tag line, by the way!
Astronomy Cast, and its cousin podcast, 365 Days of Astronomy, have been finalists or winners of Parsec Awards from 2007 to 2012, and now Dr. Gay can be seen on occasion in episodes of The Universe explaining something like how the universe ends. She has also been seen as a speaker at science and sci-fi conventions. Both on her podcast and in real life, Dr. Gay does not shy away from being a fan as well. “I was talking to Richard Hatch, the actor who played ‘Apollo’ on the 1970s series, Battlestar Gallactica, about the meteor that struck the Earth’s atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013,” she recalls. “I was happy to share with him his intersection between science and science fiction. The meteor’s origins were from an Apollo asteroid.”
Geek points to you, Pamela!
And if you wonder if Dr. Gay knows what she’s talking about, the “Dr.” in her title is her PhD in Astronomy from the University of Texas, so yes, she knows what she’s talking about. What’s even better is she makes it fun and interesting to listen to. This is another topic that can come across (to some) as dry and boring, but once again the hosts’ passion for the topic makes it a treat to consume.
We put Brian Ibbott on this list for two reasons. First, he’s one of the original music podcasters, and you might be thinking of starting a music podcast of your own. (Hey, lots of us wanted to be DJs when we were kids.) “It’s weird hearing my name associated with the word ‘original,’” jokes Ibbott. More importantly, Brian is a music podcaster who is doing it right — the legal way.
As mentioned in Chapter 5, podcasting licensed music legally is a challenge. With his podcast Coverville (
http://coverville.com), Brian works directly with ASCAP, BMI, with the musicians, and other organizations that hold the rights to major-label music and songs. Although many music podcasters are just a process server away from a major lawsuit, Brian is sitting pretty.
Brian also serves as an example of how to create a niche podcast out of the music you love and fill a void not covered by the traditional outlets. Brian has a passion for cover songs and has built a show completely around songs that fit that bill. “I wanted to create a radio show that I always wanted to listen to,” he states. He took this concept a step further by featuring groups of cover songs sharing a common thread, thereby producing themed episodes of his podcast. He’s even started his own record label! Simply brilliant — we don't know of any radio stations or programs that provide this service.
Brian also has a charitable heart. Each year on the last Friday in November (known as Black Friday to many) he does a 24-hour live streaming marathon of cover songs, known simply as Cover-thon, to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
And Coverville is still producing episodes to this day. What a legend, this guy!
So before you rush out to make the next hot music podcast, consider the legal ramifications. And while you’re pondering that, also ask whether your future podcast sounds like the same stuff people can listen to over their radios. Follow Brian’s lead and give the world something different with your podcast.
As we wrote this chapter, we recognized that there were far more podcasters from the early days out there still producing original content. This was, arguably, a difficult list to compile and chapter to write; and this final chapter took us weeks to accomplish. We regret that talented O.P.s did not find themselves in this chapter and acknowledge their hard work, persistence, and content that continues to find subscriptions in podcast client apps everywhere.