Smart People Talking

Embed from Getty Images

When I launched my podcast way back when, I posted new episodes every three weeks, which was absurd. I should have known that there was no way to keep up that pace, and I didn’t. I haven’t posted a new episode since sometime in 2021, although have some scripts ready to record. Honesty compels me to report, however, that after spending many hours in front of a microphone each week, doing so after hours or on the weekends is less attractive than it used to be. So I’m not sure when, or if, you’ll get to hear those.

What happened to my podcast is actually a common phenomenon. Some start with the intention of telling a story, tell it, and are done. But thousands of others start, go on for a while, and then peter out. There’s even a word for it: “podfade.”

I may not be much of a podcaster anymore, but I am definitely a podcast listener. When I’m in the shower in the morning, or puttering around the house doing chores, I am usually listening to smart people talking about stuff they know a lot about. My preferences are not derived from anything like a systematic exploration of the podcast environment; most are shows somebody mentioned on Twitter that I checked out, enjoyed, and subscribed to.

Continue reading “Smart People Talking”

Overnights, Weekends, and Holidays

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: DJs and podcast hosts are often told to picture their typical listener. So here you are.)

There have been a few thinkpieces recently about the rise of podcasting during the pandemic year. I am not sure how they were counted, but there’s supposedly 1.95 million different podcasts now. But raw numbers aside, podcasting, which started as a way for independent creators to reach new audiences, explore niche topics, and/or express unusual points of view, is becoming the same vast, corporatized space as the record industry, in which a fraction of one percent of the total number of creators commands the bulk of the audience, with content tailored to that mass audience.

A lot of high-profile podcasts were launched in the past year by idle celebrities who might otherwise have been spending time on film or TV shoots. Whether these people actually have a goal in mind beyond making some money—whether they actually have anything to say, or anything worth hearing—barely factors in. Some certainly will. The Barack Obama/Bruce Springsteen podcast has some intrigue, and two smart, interesting people in conversation are unlikely to be straight-up dull, but it’s by no means clear how much value their thing will actually have: whether they will make fresh, provocative observations, or just exchange platitudes about What Makes America Great. Lesser celebrities invite lesser expectations. Many are putting their names and voices on work that is largely being done by others—they’re not self-producing in their own basement studios.

I have no illusions about my own humble podcast. More people will log onto Paris Hilton’s new podcast by mistake than have ever intentionally listened to mine. And in fact, I intended to put mine on an open-ended hiatus early last fall. Then I ended up in the damn hospital, and the podcast was the best format to tell the story.

Stories are the key, and ultimately, the point. Sports and current-events podcasts are useful, but the ones that people are most passionate about tell stories, in one way or another.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying I have some more stories to tell, about the life of a radio person at three different times of the day, week, and year: overnights, weekends, and holidays. You can listen here, or at your usual podcast providers: Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, and Stitcher.

I hope you’ll find it a worthwhile use of 17 minutes and 40 seconds, and if you don’t, at least it’s only 17:40. Your comments are always appreciated, either in the comments here or by contacting me some other way. Also welcome are likes and positive ratings, if you are listening on a platform where you can do that.

If you are a radio person, or you were a radio person, I’m interested in hearing your own stories about overnights, weekends, and holidays, and I’m sure many among the readership will be too.

I’ve been hard at work creating Internet content for you this week. A new Sidepiece will be in your e-mail later today. Busy busy busy. Nothing I get paid for, but still.

The Ravens, the Angels, and Me

The last time I was in a hospital overnight, it was when I was born, and never since—not until the end of October. I was there five nights, four of them in the ICU. It sucked, and I don’t recommend it. But it was not an entirely negative experience, either.

I had a hard time figuring out how to share my experience with you. The piece I wrote about it (which I’d actually started composing in my head before I got home) ended up being too long for this website. It was even too long for my e-mail list, the Sidepiece. So I decided to make a podcast episode out of it. I know that not everyone who reads this website listens to my podcast (and I have the traffic numbers to prove it). Still, I hope that even if you are podcast-averse, you’ll give this episode a listen. There’s some funny stuff in it, and some stuff that’s deadly serious, too. You can stream it right here, or you can download it and listen to it at your convenience.

Other episodes of my podcast are available at my archive, and at my Soundcloud. Episodes are also available at Apple Podcasts, Google PodcastsTuneIn, and Stitcher. In my podcast archive and at my Soundcloud, there is a link you can use if you would like to kick in a couple of bucks to help defray the cost of producing the podcast and maintaining this website. You’re under no obligation. There’s evidence to suggest that all of this material is fairly priced by being free.

When All the Black and White Turns Into Colors

Embed from Getty Images

Not gonna lie—it’s tough getting into the ol’ October frame of mind this year: the pure insanity of the news every damn day, the gut-clenching insomnia-causing terror about the election and its aftermath, the still-nagging-and-very-real fear of catching COVID, and never mind the thousand other little things that might get in the way even if this were a normal October.

But the fall colors are beautiful up here in Wisconsin, as always. The Mrs. and I have enjoyed some Sundays in the country, and we hope to enjoy a couple more. And we resolve, to the extent that we are able, to keep November and beyond in the intermediate distance.

If you have read this blog in a past October, you know how I am about this month of the year. And so it’s kind of inevitable that sooner or later I’d get around to a podcast episode about October, and here it is:

The episode is also available at the usual other spots if those are more convenient for you: Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, and Stitcher. You can also listen to all of the other episodes in those places, or find them here. And as usual, many thanks for caring about it, if you do.

Note to Patrons: This morning, I sent the first edition of The Sidepiece to subscribers. The Sidepiece is a free e-mail thing in which I intend to intermittently write about stuff that doesn’t fit the subject matter of this website. Check your spam filter. As I said the other day, it probably knows better what’s worthwhile. If you haven’t subscribed to The Sidepiece yet and would like to, go here

Festival Summer

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: a scene on the road to Woodstock.)

The rock festival era was fairly short. It began in 1967 with San Francisco festivals at Mount Tamalpais and Monterey. Around the country during the next several years, festivals big and small were held, some at racetracks and fairgrounds with a great deal of forethought and regimentation, others ad-hoc with promoters putting up a stage in the country, inviting the tribes to gather, and hoping for the best. By the end of 1970, the era of the multi-day festival passed, as states and municipalities legislated them out of existence. After that, single-day festivals were the norm, such as the Concert 10 Festival in the Pocono region of Pennsylvania in 1972 and the Watkins Glen Summer Festival in upstate New York in 1973. From that point and down unto the present day, festivals were carefully planned and tightly controlled, leaving nothing to chance.

In retrospect, the two most famous festivals, Woodstock and Altamont, left plenty to chance, more than they should have for events attracting hundreds of thousands of people. That Woodstock became a cultural touchstone and not a humanitarian disaster—which is how it was portrayed by some media reports on that August 1969 weekend—was mostly due to good luck. Bad luck was bound to catch up eventually, and in December 1969, at Altamont, it did. But the fires of Altamont were outshone in memory by the glow of Woodstock, and in 1970, there were many attempts to recreate the Woodstock vibe for people who lived thousands of miles from Max Yasgur’s farm. In Wisconsin, the Sound Storm Festival, held in April 1970, was sprinkled with Woodstock-style fairy dust. On the weekend of June 26-28, 1970, the Iola People’s Fair gave attendees a taste of Altamont.

In 1970, Steve Benton of Beloit, Wisconsin, graduated from high school. He played in a rock band. And in that year, he attended both Sound Storm and Iola. In the latest episode of my podcast, Steve shares some of his experiences at both shows. I don’t think we made any groundbreaking historical discoveries in the course of our conversation, but if you’re interested in the festivals, you’ll enjoy hearing Steve’s stories about them. The episode is below.

After you listen to this episode, you might like to revisit the first episode of this podcast, posted last summer, which discusses Sound Storm and Iola as well as the Midwest Rock Festival, held at State Fair Park in suburban Milwaukee three weeks before Woodstock, and the Wadena Rock Fest, a northeast Iowa festival, in the summer of 1970.

You can find all of my podcast episodes at my Soundcloud. Episodes are available at Google PlayTuneIn and Stitcher, and can also be found at Apple Podcasts. If you visit my Soundcloud, you’ll find a link where you can kick in a bit of financial support to help defray the cost of producing the podcast and maintaining this website, if you choose.

Many thanks to Steve Benton for the conversation, and to Dan Bartlett for putting us in touch. If you like this episode, please share it on your social media feeds, and if your platform lets you give it a like or a positive rating, I hope you’ll do that.

Pressure Night

Embed from Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, something like 96 percent of American homes had radios, but only about two-thirds of homes have them today. And today, as the COVID-19 crisis continues, stations are plugging their streaming capability and their apps, but it will be hard to make up for the drop in the number of drive-time commuters, or people in offices, pulling down megahertz or kilohertz from the sky.

Since the crisis began, some radio stations have actually gained audience shares, however: listeners are turning to all-news stations and public radio in greater numbers than before. If listening to those stations becomes a habit, listeners may stick with them if and when the crisis eases. But if habits can form in a positive direction for radio, they can also form in a negative direction. Some stations may never get back the listeners who have left them for Spotify or Pandora or podcasts or whatever they want from a smart speaker.

If and when the COVID-19 crisis ends, radio’s competitive landscape will be a lot different. Profit margins will be even thinner than they were before. Nobody will blame advertisers for an unwillingness to pay pre-plague prices for post-plague audience numbers when those numbers are lower. That new economic reality, combined with massive personnel adjustments at the major chains and at smaller groups like the one I have been furloughed from, make it clear that the industry to which some of us hope to return will be vastly different from the one we left.

Thinking about all this makes me nostalgic for the way it used to be, so it’s a good time for another podcast episode, with more stories from my radio career. You’ll learn the meaning of Pressure Night, and you’ll find out what it’s like to introduce famous rock stars from the stage. I’ll tell you about the most embarrassing money I ever made. You’ll hear about the day I nearly killed a co-worker by accident, and the night I got overserved while I was on the air.

It’s below, and it can also be found at the usual other locations:  Google PlayTuneIn, Stitcher, and Apple Podcasts. To listen to other episodes, go here. And stop back tomorrow for another rebooted One Day in Your Life post.