A sound choice

We’ll be right back after this message. Or not.

Nobody — well, almost nobody — is launching a new podcast these days.

Back in 2020, more than a million new podcasts were trying to grab the world by its ears, according to the search engine Listen Notes, via Joshua Benton at NiemanLab.

But in 2021, that number dropped to 729,000. And in 2022, it fairly plummeted to 219,000.

Oof. As Benton adds:

Roughly everyone launched a podcast in the COVID-19 pandemic’s nadir, and a big part of the decline is an aftereffect of that fact. All that time stuck in your house had to be put to use somehow, after all. The 2020-21 spike in cognitive surplus was always destined to recede.

Truer words, etc. Even more so for those of us running a cognitive deficit. I launched Radio Free Dogpatch on Nov. 13, 2013, and churned out 46 episodes on a highly irregular schedule before calling it quits on March 1, 2021, when I finally lost the thread for good.*

I didn’t formally stop production; I just never started another episode. And apparently I had plenty of company. Again, from Benton:

There are 369,545 podcasts whose last episode was released between 2010 and 2019 — a full decade. But there are 1,318,646 whose last episode came out in either 2020 or 2021. Those two pandemic years featured a huge number of new podcasts launched, yes — but it also witnessed the death of an unprecedented number of shows.

To put it another way: Of all the podcasts that have stopped publishing since 2010, 78% of them stopped in either 2020 or 2021. The huge spike in creation coincided with a huge spike in destruction.

I managed only five episodes in 2021 before pulling the plug. But I had been wildly inconsistent since the get-go, never sticking to my goal of one per week for more than a few months and taking entire years off.

You can browse the entire Radio Free Dogpatch archive by clicking the image.

Radio Free Dogpatch was like a rocket that failed to achieve orbit. Three episodes in 2013, three more in 2016, nine in 2018, 10 in 2019. … Hang on, boys, we’re riding the lightning!

Or … not. RFD gained a little more altitude — I managed 16 episodes in 2020 — but that only meant it had further to fall once it flamed out.

If a podcast falls in the media wilderness and nobody’s listening, does it make a sound?

Not in this instance. Producing RFD involved a lot of hardware, software, and uninformed tinkering; writing and rewriting scripts, recording and editing audio, finding and adding effects and music. But it never attracted the volume of comments that attend a simple prose post with photo.

The podcast seemed to have all the traction of a 23mm slick in deep sand. When it finally augured in there wasn’t an audible thump.

I haven’t given it much thought over the past two years. But since reading Benton’s piece in late January I’ve been idly conducting a mental autopsy on RFD, and I think I’ve nailed down the cause(s) of death.

First, my best year, 2020, ran only from January through April. Finally, I was consistent, but only for four months. Why?

Well, in March 2020 we went on lockdown. So Herself had to start working from home, which drastically altered the sonic environment in the old home studio. Suddenly there was more than one of us hollering into a microphone, and only one of us was making any money doing it.

At one point I found myself reduced to jabbering into a portable recorder in our walk-in closet in hopes of getting some clean audio. I briefly felt some sympathy for Paul McCartney, who must have felt likewise bollixed when John Lennon abruptly became available only as a package deal, bundled with Yoko Ono.

Except I wasn’t Paul, or John, or George, or Ringo. Shit, I wasn’t even Yoko. They were all pros. I was just another amateur overequipped with technology he didn’t fully comprehend, all the chops of a Beatles wannabe singing into a hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror, and not enough space — or drive, frankly — to get any better.

We’re living in what may be the most democratic age of communications the world has ever known. Publishing, broadcasting, exhibiting —  if the spirit moves, you can create something and run it up the digital flagpole, see if anyone salutes (preferably with all five fingers).

But occasionally your baby gets that single-digit critique, or worse, a yawn, a blank stare. Not all babies are beautiful.

A laptop won’t make you a writer. A camera won’t make you a photographer. And a microphone won’t make you Ira Glass. It’s not a magic wand, though in the right hands it can be spellbinding.

I just wasn’t that good. But I had fun finding that out.

• • •

* That bit up top about how “I finally lost the thread for good?” While I was banging out this blog post I kept thinking about how I could turn it into a podcast. Jesus H., etc. Some people are slow learners.

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21 Responses to “A sound choice”

  1. Shawn Says:

    From my perspective, I would say it would have been the irregular DogPatch barks. You need to train your audience and I don’t think I learned where the paper was at. Also in my case, I don’t think I commented on one of the barks, and it was likely because when I comment, I sometimes scroll up and re-read something that I am commenting about. I kind of want to make sure that I read correctly about what I am commenting about. With a DogPatch bark, I wasn’t yet trained to scroll up and replay the audio.

    That’s my two dog bones worth.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Consistency is important, for sure. I never got comfortable enough with the assembly process to just wing a podcast every week. Writing or cartooning is entirely different for me — I’ve been doing those so long that a lot of the gruntwork is on autopilot, running in the background. I never have to think about it; it just happens.

      Plus I’m not a performer. I went miles out of my way during school to dodge class presentations, instead turning in cartoons, making videos, basically doing anything I could think of to avoid putting myself on display in front of a group of people.

      I could’ve become a performer in a small way, though. I was very interested in radio when I was a kid, and in high school when I first stumbled across The Firesign Theatre some buddies and I met a DJ who taught us a few tricks, let us mess around with the technology.

      Later on I took a radio production class in college and enjoyed the hell out of it; with freeform FM a thing, it seemed like a DJ could have some room to run, creatively speaking. And there would’ve been some distance between me (the performer) and the audience, unlike with TV or standup comedy.

      But I was fixated on the idea of being a pro cartoonist. And when an adviser suggested I try reporting as a Plan B, and then I actually got a paying job at a newspaper as a copy boy, I stuck to that print-journalism track. If I’d gotten a low-level job at some small radio station things might have gone very differently.

      I didn’t wander back to audio until I was nearly 60. The technology had gotten dumbed down a whole lot, but I wasn’t nearly as quick a study as I had been at 20, though my work ethic had improved, slightly.

      Maybe if I bore down harder I could be a better podcaster. But even with the advances in technology it’s still a pretty heavy lift. A 500-word blog post feels like a much more effective way of communicating for me. A seven-minute podcast is a pretty big bite out of my day, and yours, too.

      • Shawn Says:

        I hadn’t added in my post but I have enjoyed your DogPatch barks. As one who isn’t fond of the limelight, I can appreciate your distance criteria. Whatever you choose, I think there’s a few of us who will stumble into the doghouse every once in a while for a pint and some brain fodder.

  2. Pat O’Brien Says:

    I bought a Go Pro, stuck it on my helmet, and did riding on the Brown Canyon trail in the Huachuca Mountains. I put it on Vimeo for the HD quality and thought people interested in riding Brown Canyon or Garden Canyon Wash trails would watch the videos. Wrong, because there are hundreds of them. It’s like throwing a ping pong ball into a tornado. I gave the Go Pro to the high school mountain bike team.

    • Shawn Says:

      Pat, Is your video still posted?

      • Pat O’Brien Says:

        I’m amazed it’s still there. I haven’t posted anything in 10 years.

        • Pat O’Brien Says:

          Wrong video. I have ridden that loop many times, but not that fast. This is one I posted.

          • Shawn Says:

            Yes, I did enjoy it. The video. Thank you. Was that a Chinese weather balloon you viewed at the beginning?

          • Pat O’Brien Says:

            I think it is our balloon. At least it is tethered to Ft. Huachuca. It’s predecessor broke loose and was drifting over our neighborhood when it crashed. A guy one block up the street had his new beemer parked in the driveway. A portion of the balloon, not the electronics payload, landed on it and squashed it!

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        The Innertubes are forever, man. I have my own stuff archived going back to 2002, and you can find even older iterations of the DogS(h)ite® via the Wayback Machine. I’ve unearthed a few tidbits from 1999 that way. Twenty-four years? Yikes.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeah, there’s a ton of “content” out there. No one could possibly absorb it all. Or even want to.

      I enjoyed the short videos I did to pitch Live Update Guy. They were random and short and occasionally they were even funny.

      It always amazed me how easy they were, when compared to cranking out a podcast. Audio is tougher than video? Who knew?

  3. peterwpolack Says:

    I say Radio Free Dogpatch WHENEVER THE MOOD STRIKES YOU.

    Even Picasso didn’t churn out one painting a week.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Picasso would have to up his output if he wanted to make his mark today. The hallmark of the age seems to be “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”

      I can’t believe Marc Maron has churned out more than 1,400 podcasts. And he does it around TV and movie roles, standup tours, and herding cats. But then he’s had a lot of practice, he has some help, and he’s a performer. Hollering into a mic is second nature to him.

      The only podcast I listen to regularly is Desert Oracle Radio. Every Saturday morning I stand in the kitchen, sipping a large mug of coffee, and waiting for Ken Layne to intone, “Night has fallen in the desert.” Dude is a good storyteller.

  4. Herb from Michigan Says:

    Well I miss the randomly scheduled RFD’s. One thing I found was listening on a cellphone speaker missed all the great background effects that POG pulled together. So I always put on good headphones and laughed my ass off. Like Mr. O’Brien I wished like hell those audio jewels were a weekend feature on NPR.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Whah, thankee, Hoss. I did layer some background noise into them sonsabitches. It was all those years listening to The Firesign Theatre what done it. Those boys sure could make some magic with that old hardware.

  5. SAO’ Says:

    Remember the Willis Alan Ramsey line? He put out an album in 1972, which received critical but not commercial success. Had a song covered by America and the Captain and Tennille. 50 years later, the joke is that he’s working on his much anticipated second album. And if you ask him about it, he’ll laugh and say, “What was wrong with the first one?”

    I think that applies to RFD. It’s quality, not quantity.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Good observation. A lot of good writers only have one novel in them, too, and that’s fine.

      I’ve always been an undersized hamster on the Journalism Wheel, which basically means you run the same course to nowhere until you drop dead. One good aspect of this is that you get all the mechanics of writing something wired and dialed so you don’t have to think much about the assembly process anymore and can focus on what the hell is it that you’re trying to say anyway.

      And most of that process — “What the hell is it that I’m trying to say anyway?” — takes place while you’re off doing something else, like cooking, riding a bike, or playing with the cat. There’s a grubby little gremlin at a Royal manual in some small back room of the brain-case tapping out rough drafts with an overflowing ashtray on one side and a large mug of fortified coffee on the other, grumbling to himself about when you might deign to quit dicking around and drop by to spitball about the latest Work.

      Anyway, I never got that comfortable with podcasting, because I wasn’t getting enough practice. It was always “Insert tab A into slot B” instead of “What the hell is it that I’m trying to say anyway?” Or I’d know what I wanted something to sound like but couldn’t make it work outside my imagination.

      That used to happen all the time with cartooning, because I’m not much of a draftsman. I’d have the idea, and could see what I wanted to draw, but couldn’t make it flow from the brain to the fingers holding the pencil. Exasperating as hell.

      Anyway, it was fun trying. And who knows? I may try again. As I noted, I’ve taken entire years off before. …

  6. khal spencer Says:

    Been swamped with legislative manure. Sorry to not have a snide comment or for that matter, a useful one. Plus, those eye infections have left my tear ducts kinda fucked up. Reading sucks.

    On the other hand, Annie the Crazy Red Chow Mix makes life worth living.

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