Posts Tagged ‘This American Life’

A sound choice

February 7, 2023

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.

This Bibleburgian Life

October 13, 2013

This American LifeHow often do you get to hear Ira Glass say “cocksucker?”

Never, that’s how often. Unless you happened to be in the audience last night as the “This American Life” host chatted amiably with a packed house at the Pikes Peak Center in Bibleburg.

Glass was recounting a back-in-the-day mishap at NPR that let the C-word through and onto the air, an oh-shit moment good for an FCC fine of a quarter-mil’ per station. Seems a board jockey who was a little slow on the trigger missed the target, instead bleeping a subsequent word, which caused an authority figure to ring up to inquire acidly what word did get bleeped, since “cocksucker” seemed to have become acceptable on-air usage.

The late, lamented George Carlin would have been proud, as Glass also deployed “fuck” (which apparently slipped into our local airwaves during a chat with someone at Radio Colorado College; “dick,” which the lawyers got all hard over while TAL was preparing to air a story in which an interviewee used it as a synonym for “jerk”; and “turd,” which actually appeared in an early David Sedaris bit, but could never make it on-air today thanks to a tightened federal leash, courtesy of Janet Jackson’s loosened bodice.

Sedaris reworked the piece as a poem, claiming that would make it art and thus inviolable, but the feds disagreed, so Glass played it for us from the stage. I ’bout shit myself laughing.

If you’ve never seen Ira Glass in person, I urge you to do so at your very next opportunity. The man has a gift for gab that any Irishman would envy.

He said his parents were “the only Jews who didn’t like public radio,” and had hoped their son would become a doctor, “because … well, we’re Jews.”

When TAL was in its larval stage, Glass said, the idea was to “take the whiff of broccoli” out of the standard NPR news model.

And all these years later, he said, the staff is still focused on those stories that hit them like a bolt of lightning, which doesn’t always happen; a lot of seemingly great ideas never make it to the air.

But that’s part of the job, because to get hit by lightning, Glass explained, “you have to spend a lot of time walking around in the rain.”

That’s ‘Life’

March 18, 2012

Man, that hourlong retraction from “This American Life” was a tough listen. I didn’t catch it all, but what I heard basically constituted every journalist’s nightmare: “You have fucked up, and been caught at it, and in failing to catch you ourselves we have fucked up. And now we are going to discuss our fraternal fucking up at length, in public.”

Anyone who has ever worked for “the media” has fucked up. It goes with the territory. You crank out a pile of word count, audio or video for the 24/7 news cycle it is not a question of if you will fuck up, but when, and how big. And it sure doesn’t help when one of your contributors decides to salt his or her work with a few fictions.

I no longer consider myself a journalist. I’ve rassled with school boards, cops and managing editors—the last of these is the worst—but back in the Eighties I abandoned the manly arts and took up sportswriting with a focus on cycling. And now I spend my workdays debating the voices in my head.

These days I call myself a rumormonger, because I mong rumors, whenever I’m not just flat making shit up. This is much easier than doing real journalism, or even pretending to.

And no one is outraged or even surprised when I say that Rick Santorum is an expert on pornography because he is a dildo, or Mitt Romney is the sort of robot that Microsoft would build, or that Apple makes its iPads out of Chinese babies.

• Late update: The New York Times’ David Carr addresses the issue at length, with more wit and fewer fucks.

This Bibleburgian Life

March 4, 2012

Longtime Friend of the DogS(h)ite Khal S. notes that the tax-loathing, big-gummint-fearing denizens of Bibleburg are profiled on this week’s episode of “This American Life,” carried on fine public-radio stations nationwide. Give it a listen and share my pain.