I was recently interviewed for an article in Slate Magazine, they interviewed 5 podcasters who had been around from the beginning essentially, and in their words, "Podcasters who had gained a level of notoriety and following." I was honored to be interviewed. Only parts of the interview will be featured in the publication but here is the entire interview done through email correspondence.
Jennifer: Today with us we have Christopher Fredrickson, who has been one of the few podcasters to still be going strong after 12 years. Here to talk to us about the podcasting experience. Christopher, what kinds of changes have you seen in the podcasting market and brand?
Christopher: Well Jennifer, in all honesty not much has changed. Hosting companies have come and gone, the choices are more massive, Dr Laura is now doing podcasts exclusively and has left terrestrial radio, you have Adam Corolla falling in line and I think there is a bit of bubble right now in the branding.
Jennifer: What do you mean a bubble?
Christopher: Well, there is a show on Netflix called Maron, it is about the failed Air America host Mark Maron, and he is zealous over the fact he does a podcast in his garage. Now it almost seems ridiculous that he thinks he is something special because he has a podcast. The fact is, though it seems ridiculous, this is how most podcasters are these days. Mark Maron, actually does have a popular podcast and he is actually that way. He has this attitude like, “I have a podcast so what do you know?” When the fact is any kid with $12 can buy a microphone and have a podcast. Lets be honest here, if you go to the popular podcast servers you will find some beautifully produced programs that do not fit the format of terrestrial radio, but the top 3 in most categories are either brand new people, and maybe one who has been podcasting for 3 years and everything below there are programs of shows of people who thought it was cool for a few months and then they drop off the face of the earth. They haven’t produced anything for years. And the mentality of podcasters has changed in the past decade.
Jennifer: How so?
Christopher: Well, when I first started, podcasts were like audition tapes for terrestrial radio. Now it is working backwards and it is really bizarre. I started doing a conservative political podcast over a decade ago. My goal was to get a shot in terrestrial radio. At that time there were like a dozen podcasts for conservative politics, there was basically me, a guy named Mr L, and another guy who called himself David Cholesterol and that was about it. All of us, except for DC were basically auditioning and polishing our craft for terrestrial radio. I got a shot, and am in terrestrial radio now teaching on Judaism and the New Testament, but it didn’t happen over night. Now, I mentioned Dr Laura before, she is now doing podcasts and attempting to make a living off of podcasting. And lets be honest, she is not going to make Rush Limbaugh money or Howard Stern money podcasting. Because the advertisers are not there, and the fact is, she doesn’t even have a fraction of the audience she used to have and advertisers drop like flies because the volume of the audience isn’t there. Now people do podcasts and don’t have any ambition to go onto terrestrial radio. I have 3 AM and FM affiliates now, and I am still working to get better to get more affiliates, internet radio and podcasting the archives are still to me audition tapes for terrestrial radio spots.
Jennifer: So you don’t think podcasting is the future of broadcasting?
Christopher: Let me ask you, how many advertisers are looking to invest in podcasters? They are still paying out millions to terrestrial radio and satellite radio. When I mentioned before the bubble, look at how many podcasts are out there, it is a big pond and only a few fishing lines, if you say you want one out of a million fish in that pond and it has to be that specific fish, you are going to millions of others going after the same piece of food on the line. Like I said there was maybe a dozen conservative politic shows when I started and now there are thousands. Now I teach Messianic Judaism, most haven’t heard of Messianic Judaism but there are hundreds and hundreds of podcasts of “Messianic Jewish teachers” and only a dozen or so are actually qualified to be teaching and out of that dozen only maybe 3 are any good.
Jennifer: Do you put yourself in that 5?
Christopher: I walked right into that one didn’t I? Ummm, I would say that I do ok. I’m the middle ground. I think I am above the fray in quality considering the massive amounts I have spent in equipment in that respect. In production, my show doesn’t need to be flashy because it is broadcasted on terrestrial radio and they are not looking for Game of Thrones on radio, terrestrial radio is a different animal. In terms of my qualifications, I think I definitely have had the training the qualifies me to talk about what I do, which doesn’t mean I don’t have to correct myself at times, but at least I am honest and say, “I was wrong” when I am, and yes I have done that. I am just gonna say, I do ok.
Jennifer: From our RSS feed statistics you do very well in the listenership.
Christopher: Well, lets be honest here, I was also one of the very few teaching a Messianic Jewish podcast when I got into teaching on the podcast and radio. There may have been 30-40 at the time and I was one of them, but I am one of the few who has not quit. So I have massive archives, thousands of shows, on any topic you can think of, so if someone is searching for something Jewish or about the New Testament on iTunes….boom chances are Brutal Planet will pop up. Most search subjects some search people but most search subjects. People also find comfort in knowing that I have been doing this so long that I am not gonna just quit abruptly, so they know they are not wasting their time subscribing and then I leave them high and dry after they have started to enjoy the show. These are things that have worked in my favor and plus I think the knowledge I have on the subject.
Jennifer: Why do you think you have lasted as long as you have? And do you feel you will eventually quit.
Christopher: I think that feeling of excitement of being behind the mic still after all these years is one of the reasons. I have also never been a quitter, I started out horribly. If you heard my first few years of recordings, you would say, “this guy is horrible.” And I honestly was, and it is that drive to always get better at things I am not so great at. People now tell me I am a natural at it, and that would be true if I started doing this yesterday but the fact is I have been doing this over a decade, and I worked hard to get decent. And I think I always want to get better, I find myself reading a lot on the things I teach and I always get the “ooo ooo” moments when I see something others are not talking about or I haven’t heard other teachers talk about and that is always something that puts excitement in me to get behind the mic. Will I ever quit? I have tried in the past, but I cannot walk away now. There may be a time when I say, “ok that’s it…there is no more to say.” Or there may come a time when other things are more important in my personal life…..and then I will make that decision. When I do, it will be when I have no reservations of quitting. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Jennifer: You have made the jump to video podcasting?
Christopher: Well, there is a podcast feed for my videos it is secret really and I use it for Nashama Chochmah Television, the reason it isn’t “official” is because the feed is filmed in 720p HD for the TV station in the on-demand section, that is the reason it was created. If a person subscribes to the video version on their tablets or phones it will eat up all their space because of the big file sizes, which ultimately hurts you in the long run in terms of your numbers.
Jennifer: Do you feel video podcasting is going to be the future?
Christopher: I think many are loosing interest in video podcasting because YouTube is so massive an you don’t have to eat up your storage space an your data usage on your cell phone plans replenish every month. The same is not true for hard drive space. Now with that being said, technology is advancing, what I would like to see happen, and I think Apple would be the company to do this. I would like to see hard drives become a thing of the past and everything go to Cloud servers. I didn’t get the cloud concept until recently when I switched to all Mac products and it is incredible. I don’t think that technology is far off either. Say you buy a laptop, and your laptop will have a limited amount of storage for when you are not connected to the internet to run applications, when you are connected things go automatically into the cloud and can be accessed on any device and you pay a certain fee each month or year and you can upgrade from 1 terabyte to 2 when you have filled the 1 terabyte. If that happens, then I think it would be a slight push for more video podcasts. But I don’t think it will ever be at the level that audio podcasts have been or can be. And the reason for that is because we like radio, that sounds simplistic but if a person is watching a video in their car then they are gonna have problems. Mp3s are compact they are small, and they are quickly downloaded for those long road trips. But you also have another side of the equation as well, audio technology in terms of podcasting has not changed much in the past decade….other than some servers coming and going. But the video technology is coming along quicker. It has a ways to go still. You can buy an HD movie on iTunes and it is going to look wonderful on your HD TV but it still is not gonna compare to the Blueray. But I think that technology will progress because of devices like the Roku and the AppleTV and the Chromecast and all the others. When you see the major networks such as CBS and NBC and Fox getting contracts with Hulu as well as launching their own on-demand channels on these devices…..I think cable will soon be a thing of the past because of things like SlingTV and USTVNow. But also there is a wall right now in terms of this progressing, new file formats are going to have to be created to make better quality video smaller for what is about to happen. In Japan right now they are making TVs that are double the quality of 1080p HD televisions we have today here in the states. Now for me to film a 1 hour teaching in 1080p that is a 1.5 GB file, it is massive and take hours to upload and it takes a while to buffer and it may have to buffer a while and then you pause it so it is not interrupted and then you have to hit play after it loads a little, everyone is familiar with this. Now, what happens when these televisions become the craze over here and makes you current HD TV look like an old black and white television? Well these streaming companies are going to have to up their game with…..bigger file sizes which means more buffering and more hard drive space being used. Right now, the internet services cannot handle it, they simply can’t. But in order for this technology to come here and for you to be able to watch Netflix on your TV the internet companies are gonna have to go to new cables and redo their entire systems to support this. This will also translate to higher monthly fees. You have numerous technologies that have to work together. YouTube has to rely on their servers, you rely on their servers as well as your device and your internet speed. Though YouTube us not a podcasting outlet, you see how all these things have to work together and when you incorporate new technologies that are being made every day, all these rely on each other and they have to move in sync with each other. So it is really complicated.
Jennifer: I know you do videos of your podcast also. This is why I ask. You have 150,000 weekly downloads with the podcast how do those compare to the videos? The Alexa numbers show big waves are made with your podcast.
Christopher: Well if we are up to 150,000 then they have gone up, I thought we were at 120,000 last time I looked. And the fact is the video numbers are not even close. I get 10% of those numbers on the videos. And this could be for numerous reasons. One being I have a face for radio, the second could be that I am on 4 radio affiliates, and only one television outlet that is only available on the Roku. And also, again it is more compact the mp3s. There is also the reasons of podcast feeds as opposed to stand alone videos where you have to go to a website to see them manually, there are many factors. Also…I don’t think the technology is there just yet….it is close, but not quite there yet. And it’s funny I work backwards compared to most. I use the videos to promote the mp3s, not the other way around. Because you have to ask, “how do I build an audience?” most say “social media”, and I am not on social media. It is about venues it is about distribution, now I a personally not a fan of YouTube, YouTube works great for many but not for me. Before my YouTube was hacked I had only 600 subscribers on there and YouTube really limits your capabilities. But I used to put them there anyway but I didn’t push the YouTube, I think Vimeo is where the serious promoter goes. Vimeo has a better format and they allow people to download the videos in various formats and so I put them on Vimeo, it is far superior for what I do and accessibility. I think in 10 years you will see YouTube fade and Vimeo will be the standard for stand alone videos.
Jennifer: What advice do you have for freshman podcasters?
Christopher: Consistency, consistency, consistency. Here is the reality. Many believe that they will do a few episodes and it will get amazingly popular because they have something interesting or important to say or because they have wonderful production, that is not enough. Consistency is what will help you retain an audience and help you build an audience. If they rely on a new show every week, and you do a show every week, you better do it, the first week you don’t you are at risk of loosing many listeners. Many of those who listen to podcasts see someone has not done an episode in the time span they usually have a new one up, they subconsciously feel the podcaster has quit because it happens so often. Even if you are behind, put a 2 minute podcast up explaining why a new episode will be late and that will help. Secondly, do not think you will get an audience at the beginning, you may get 30 subscribers the first month, don’t worry, know building an audience takes time. You mentioned my numbers before, when I first started I had like 12 subscribers in the first month. But, I kept at it and I changed formats to something that worked and I changed formats many times, I realized I needed to get better over time, too many attack others and don’t instead take criticism, criticism will help you in the long run. It will take a few years till you build a good sized and loyal audience. Thirdly, be yourself, don’t try and copy someone else. Fourth, don’t be fooled into thinking you will make money off of podcasting and sponsors will run to you, the reality is, it doesn’t happen. I have been doing this for over a decade and have not made a single penny, realize you will be paying out and not bringing in. Unless your name is Rush Limbaugh it is not gonna happen. Fourth, back up everything, every episode make sure you have copies on CDRs and an external harddrive. I lost my first 7 years of archives because of the fact the servers I was using quit doing business and I lost all those archives. Make sure you have them and do not skip around from server to server, you will loose a majority of your audience. What I did, was I have been utilizing Weebly Pro, to host my files because they have unlimited storage space, and I have been paying Squarespace $20 a month to make them RSS accessible, I just link the files to Squarespace and all my archives are in the feed. Be creative and make sure you have control over your episodes in terms of hosting. Lastly, slowly invest in equipment upgrades. Start out with a junky mic from Radio Shack or Wal-Mart, then set yourself a challenge, say, “when I reach 100 subscribers I am going to upgrade my mic” then upgrade to a mid-grade mic. Then, after another mark upgrade your editing software, then slowly progress. I usually buy a new mic every 2 years and I upgrade in the quality. Right now I am using a MXL, before I used the mics from Blue, such as the Snowball and the Yeti. Don’t invest thousands of dollars or even hundreds of dollars until you know you will be doing this for a while.
Jennifer: What is in your rig right now?
Christopher: I am using an MXL 900 microphone, with Phantom Power supplied to it. I use Audacity on my Macbook Air to record and Adobe Audition CS6 for editing. I use an iPad Air and a GoPro Hero as well as an SJ400 for the videos. I use Pinnacle Studio Pro for editing the videos and I make the slides for certain videos using Keynote. I host my files on my Weebly website and I make the RSS feeds for iTunes using Squarespace and of course nothing is better than iTunes for ID3 tagging, which you want to do for those who download individual files, you want to make sure they remember your name, and where they got the mp3s. When they import it into their mp3 devices they need to be reminded where they can get more, and inserting album artwork is always helpful.
Theological Insights from Rabbi Eved Banah at Beit Geulah in Morganton, NC (www.BeitGeulah.com)