Dec. 15, 2020

My Podcast Blog 1

My Podcast Blog 1

December 11, 2020

The beginning of my blog.

I began my podcast on March 26, 2020, 13 days after the Covid Shelter in place orders for San Francisco went into place. Now, almost nine months later, I've completed 104 episodes of my podcast, The San Francisco Experience. 

It is a news commentary podcast which covers under reported aspects of today's big stories. In April, I was publishing three 20 minute episodes per week largely related to the Covid lockdown. Learning to live with the Shelter in Place rules at first seemed easy, and straightforward. It was even a bit of an adventure as most new projects are. But nine months later, the novelty of the situation has worn off and all we are left with is the tedium.

But as the Summer unfolded and the civil unrest that resulted from the death of George Floyd, many more topics presented themselves for podcast treatment. The virtual Presidential conventions, the campaign, the debates and rallies continued to fascinate me. And in the closing weeks of this most unsettled year there continue to be so many issues that cry out to be discussed.

I avoid editorializing in my podcasts. There is too much of that on cable TV. In fact, opinion seems to masquerade as news and fact these days creating a vacuum of news. So my podcast, The San Francisco Experience has stepped in to the gap.

My news commentaries come with a California or a Silicon Valley perspective. And why San Francisco ? Well, it is my adopted hometown first of all and most listeners have fond memories of the City by the Bay. 

I've discovered that there is no magic to podcasting. I can sum up podcasting in three words: Production, Distribution and Promotion. There is a lot of activity packed into those three words and over the course of this blog, I will unpack it all. 

But that is my first stab at explaining podcasting and why I am attracted to it. More to follow in the days ahead.

December 12, 2020

Picking up where I left off last night on those three words that encapsulate podcasting for me, Production, Distribution and Promotion, let's unpack them.  For me, since my shows require research since they are fact based, I have to find my sources first and read up. Once I've found the articles that will be the basis of my podcast, I read up and take notes. Then I write an essay. I write a sript based on the research with a view to recording up to 25 minutes of commentary. My podcasts run about 25 minutes. The typical American commute is 20 minutes and I am geared to that daily time segment - on the way to work, the gym, walking the dog, getting exercise, whatever.  Time is precious and we all multi-task so my podcast fills those20 minute time gaps.

But unlike a journalist or an author, as a podcaster I fly solo. I wear three hats doing the research, write up, critique and editing. Podcasting is more of a process than other forms of writing and requires switching from the creative process to the self critique from line to line. When the first draft is finished, out comes the editor's toolkit to polish and correct the prose.

Then, on to production. In the old days, the writer left production to the typesetters and printers. But the rise of word processing technology in the 1980's put the writer in charge of that aspect of the process.  There was no one to hand the handwritten pages to !    And then a practice dry run in front of the mic trying to make sure the delivery is smooth, the right pace and no tongue tied stumbles.

Then publish it, and promote it on different sites  to get the podcast out to the listeners. Marketing metrics a day ot two later to gauge if the subject matter resonated.  From start to finish, the podcast is a vertically integrated process that demands you are a jack of all trades. Each episode of 25 minutes takes three hours on average. But you are in the driver's seat and not dependent on another team member's timetable schedule. Another benefit of this one man band vertical integration is that you can do your podcast on your own terms and schedule. 

I often wonder how Joe Rogan one of the most successful podcasters does it. Of course, his format is an interview that seem to run for hours. Who has that kind of time ? Long distance drivers, retirees or I suppose if you record his shows you can listen at your leisure. Also, a free form conversation requires little research and is more about the chemistry between guest and inquisitor. And who knows where the conversation may go. And interviews require post production  and much more technical editing skills to weed out the Umms,  Ers,  pauses and mispronounced words.  Rogan can let the technicians pretty up the recording afterwards. 

Podcasting is not for the feint of heart !

And how did Podcasting start in the first place ?

Wikipedia describes podcasting as an episodic series of spoken word digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device for easy listening. It is the opposite of broadcasting in that the 1 million podcasts tend to focus on narrow, niche audiences that are not being served by mainstream broadcasters. 

From a consumer's perspective, the price is right. Podcasts are a low cost - often free - streaming of information and entertainment that the listener can access on their own schedule. People are motivated to create a podcast for a host of reasons. The podcast producer is often the host too. Motivated by a desire to express a personal POV, increase visibility or to fill a perceived gap  information.

Podcasting came into being 20 years ago, in October 2000 when the concept of attaching sound and video files in RSS feeds was proposed. A software developer David Winer implemented the idea.  Adam Curry in 2004 launched one of the first podcast programs in 2004 called the Daily Source Code. In June 2005 Apple released iTunes 4.9 which added formal support for podcasts. By 2005, many podcasts from public radio networks like the BBC, NPR and CBC placed many of their radio shows on the iTunes platform.

Apple iTunes continues to be the 800 lb gorilla in the podcast space though other platforms have ventured into providing podcasting services to the 1 million podcasts that exist. And an intersting variant has developed called the podcast novel. Podcast novels lets the novelist build a listener base. These audiences make it easier to secure subsequent printing deals with a publisher. 

So that is the process of podcasting: Production, Distribution and Promotion. The enabling technology emerged about 20 years ago and 15 years ago visionary tech giant Apple saw an innovative opportunity to be the leader in the field of narrowcasting.

Dember 13, 2020 

There was a PodPage post on FB this morning polling FB'ers about the merits of various podcast hosting platforms such as Anchor, Podpage, Podbean, BuzzSprout et al.  I voted for two, first Anchor and later on  PodPage in that order and I will tell you why. 

Anchor seems to get a bum rap on all of these Podcaster sites. I don't know why.But perhaps expectations are too high. My own experience has been excellent but for the last 8 months as I have developed my podcast, I've grown less reliant on Anchor and branched out to other sites, softwares and equipment.

Initially Anchor was great, truly a one stop shopping experience in terms of getting started: artwork, applying to other platforms, recordings, distribution etc. But I quickly began to reach beyond Anchor's limited offering.  For instance, TSFE is now on 22 platforms, though only 8 are supported by Anchor. Pandora, iHeart, TuneIn, PodBean, PodChaser and a host of others, I applied to myself and Anchor's analytics do not breakout plays for each one.  They are all combined in Other.

Secondly, the quality of the recording on my iPhone or laptop, using the Anchor software was tinny and subpar. So I downloaded Audacity which is a free recording software and started to teach myself by watching YouTube videos. I caught on quickly and found that the quality of the audio improved immeasurably. Then I ordered a RodeCaster and started recording my podcasts with it and Audacity. I store the audio clip on my laptop, and then upload to the Anchor site. It was not as complicated as I thought it would be and now that's how I make all my recordings. The Rodecaster is at my San Franciasco mini studio. So when I record in Sebastopol, I'm using the laptop to record and not the Rodecaster. But I think the quality is comparable.

So I've expanded my technology reach beyond just the Anchor offering. I understand that you can store up to 300 episodes on Anchor and I have 105 as of today, so I have plenty of capacity. Anchor gave me the flexibility to upgrade the recording software, integrate the Rodecaster, bring more channels on board etc. So they are flexible in that regard. The analytics are OK though sometimes I wonder how accurate they are. Of my 22 channels, they only specifically break out 4 (Apple, Spotify, Anchor, TuneIn).  Everybody else - 34% - are lobbed in to other. That's a shortcoming. Also, I've noticed that many of the plays seem to get reported in one large bulk rather than a gradual adding to the totals.

But with the recent addition of PodPage and my own domain and website, I feel like my game has been kicked up several notches. I was definitely ready for Podpage's many and sophisticated capabilities when I signed up a few days ago. But they would have been lost on me  when I first started podcasting. Podpage would have been too complicated for me in the early days but Anchor was the right speed for me initially.

I also like some of the PodPage features like his Blog, the tech support, a supportive community, among other considerations to build my listener base. Building a listener base takes time and the podcaster's skill level is growing all the time which enhances the quality of the podcast and thereby increases listenership.  I like the gradual way I have been able to access new technologies and softwares when I was ready for them, rather than being overwhelmed at the outset by a too complex offering which would have been discouraging. Especially during this pandemic lockdown when you are isolated with less access to tutors and teachers.

As I said yesterday, Podcasting to me is a vertically integrated process of Production, Distribution and Promotion and I have been able to progress to each phase as and when I was ready to do so. 

I find the PodPage team to be efficient, responsive and helpful. Also the community seems to be respectful and professional. I am finding some of the FB podcaster groups to be less than professional. The questions seem to be in an echo chamber with few responses being instructive. That's not the case with PodPage. They add value and are kicking the level up. Of course Podpage is a company and the staff are professionals. 

So if someone was thinking about starting a podcast, I would recommend the route I took: get your feet wet with Anchor, graduate to better equipment when you are ready, start using Audacity or GarageBand to record your podcasts, and constantly expand your distribution channels and promote your podcast. It helps if you have some background in writing, broadcasting, recording tech etc.  Then, integrate the PodPage suite of services into your podcast to take it to the next level of professionalism.

Onward !

December 14, 2020

I woke up this morning earlier than usual and checked the newsfeed. Google had suffered a massive cyber attack and I immediately thought about my podcast ! Had it weathered the attack I wondered. It was so serious, the US Government ordered all agencies to disconnect from Google.  But one hour later, Google was up and running so I guess the breach was not as bad as first feared.

Famous British spy thriller author John LeCarre died yesterday at 89. He authored 25 books about Cold War spies. George Smiley was his protagonist. Unlike Ian Fleming's glamorous James Bond, Le Carre - his real name was David Cornwell - painted a very ordinary, pedestrian life for his 1950s era spies. He should know as he was a spy himself. 

His books have been lauded as almost literary in their writing style. Even Gorbachev's wife Raisa was a fan. I guess I need to take another look at his work. Once the libarary re-opens I'll check out his first book, Soldier, Sailer, Tinker I believe it's called. 

I browsed through some Podcast comments on FB this morning. One thread was lamenting the fact that so many podcasters ask readers to like for like and subscribe for subscribe their podcasts. But meanwhile they are not listening to the podcast itself. What a waste of time. It's like cheating. Who are they trying to impress ? I mean after you put an effort into recording and publishing an episode you want at least one listener to take the time to listen. Listener engagement is what you want.  It's a long slog but satisfying when you see the number of plays shoot up. 

So where do people find the time to listen ? That's why I focus on the commuter and their 20 plus minute commute to and from work, the average for Americans. I still don't get Joe Rogan and his multi hour interviews. Unless you are a long distance driver or retired, how else would you find the time to listen ? 

Speaking of distance driving and podcasts, I guess I've been doing that for years. Dave Ramsey and his team must be one of the most prolific podcasters in the business. His program is on several stations and I often tune in. For the uninitiated, Dave Ramsey is a financial guy and I think his self help program is called FPU - Financial Peace University. The core of his program is to become debt free as quickly as you can and build savings. He acknowleges that money concerns are the source of most marital problems. His plan calls for strenuous budgeting down to the last dollar to eliminate debt, credit cards, build an emergency fund and other savings.  

The Podcast is a radio call in show format with younger couples explaining how they are working through his custom plan to become debt free. He is also Christian and believes in tithing which is to donate 10% of your salary to charity.  

The program usually features one or two success stories of couples who have paid off mortgages, car loans, student debt, credit cards you name it. After recounting how much debt they have paid off, the guests then do the Debt Free Scream. The mortgage free house has replaced the BMW as the ultimate status symbol, according to Dave. 

He has turned his Get Out of Debt Course into a national phenom and promotes it through the podcasts which are syndicated nationally on Talk Radio stations. So when podcasters wonder how the medium might develop into a business or let you become a radio personality, Dave is the man. He has a team of other hosts and one of them, Chris Hogan, was chewing out a caller today who was thinking about taking on student debt to go to Law School.  There is a total of $1.7 trillion in student loans in the United States and Biden has floated the idea of forgiving up to $50,000 of such debt for every student who has it. 

Hogan told the caller to go to Law School at night, work during the day and pay the tuition by working rather than borrowing. Sound advice. To graduate with $200,000 of student debt is obscene. You are behind the eight ball just as you launch your career to say nothing of getting married.  So the message - Get debt free and save - and the Medium - Podcast - is an efficient and thrifty way to build a nationally syndicated radio show. Lessons to be learned. 

Dave himself was burned with debt and bankruptcy twice which threatened his marriage and family. As a result he came up with this FPU plan and uses podcasting as the audio vehicle to get his message out to the public.  There is no more zealous believer than the convert: more royalist than the King.

So instead of just being a podcaster you can aspire to be a nationally syndicated radio host selling your tightly scripted and professionally produced podcasts as a talk show to fill the airwaves of Talk Radio.

Food for thought for all Podcasters !