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Arts and culture highlights by Engagement Editor Kinsee Morlan (Tuesdays)
Years ago, San Diego had a pirate radio station. Its founders lugged around a towering handmade antenna and broadcasted over the FM airwaves illegally and in secret. Those close enough to the rogue signal could pick it up at 96.9.
Folks rejoiced: Finally, the democratization of the radio waves! Radio-making was no longer reserved for the few who landed jobs at a broadcast station.
But the proliferation of the internet changed everything. Now, thanks to podcasts, almost anyone can make a radio show – no bulky handmade antenna required. Thousands of people are recording audio and uploading it to distribution platforms like iTunes. “Serial,” the hit true-crime podcast that launched in 2014, pushed the medium in front of a bigger, more mainstream audience. Billions of people are now listening to podcasts.
Finally, the actual democratization of the radio waves!
San Diego hasn’t missed the trend. More than 100 people are part of the San Diego Podcasters meetup group. Podcasters are producing dozens of shows across the region.
There’s a local podcast about Burning Man culture and the people who live the so-called burner lifestyle even when they return from the annual art and music event. There’s one called “Gutter Talk,” about comic books and their creators. A local fictional 1950s-style detective radio podcast drama series called “Rex Rivetter: Private Eye” recently launched. And another locally made podcast offers tips for navigating life as a highly sensitive person. I compiled as extensive a list as I could.
San Diego musician Alfred Howard cohosts a podcast for The Redwoods, a local independent record label he helps run. The show covers topics ranging from music to Donald Trump. The medium allows Howard, a natural storyteller, to let loose and be as casual, raw, honest and personal as he’s willing to be.
“I can’t have a baby,” Howard said on the latest episode of “The Redwoods Podcast.” “I mean, I did zap my testicles on an electric fence when I was a kid. … I don’t know that that necessarily prevents me from having a baby, but you know me pretty well and I’m the kind of guy who would, like, leave a baby on the roof of a car and be like, ‘Oh my God, I did that.’”
Voice of San Diego is on board. We produce four in-house podcasts and launched the Voice of San Diego Podcast Network, a collective of local podcasters that share resources and support. So far, the network includes VOSD’s four shows – the “VOSD Podcast,” “San Diego Culturecast,” “San Diego Decides” and “Good Schools for All” – plus the San Diego sports talk podcast “The Kept Faith,” and David Lizerbram’s podcast about business and creativity, “Products of the Mind.”
In our experience, people personally connect with audio stories and the people telling them, more so than in any other medium.
Adam Christianson is the host and producer of the “MacCast” podcast, a weekly tech show about Apple’s Mac products. Christianson, who lives in Vista, was an early adopter of podcasting and he’s one of the quiet rulers of the tech corner of the podcast world.
Christianson watched podcasting’s popularity rise dramatically since he launched his show in 2004. But it was the post-“Serial” surge, he said, that finally turned an obscure medium into something familiar, even if people hadn’t actually listened to a podcast yet.
“What I’ve noticed most is that when people ask what I do and I say I’m a podcaster they know what it is now,” he said.
Christianson saw a big leap in listeners in June 2005 when iTunes started including podcasts, making it substantially easier to listen to them. He said the launch took him from about 500 downloads a week to around 3,000 a week practically overnight.
Christianson started out by recording his show during his lunch break in his car with his laptop. He’s grown increasingly professional, picking up listeners along the way. Now the former web developer said he gets the majority of his income from BackBeat Media, which sells sponsorships to his show.
Tech podcasts like Christianson’s have a built-in international audience of tech-savvy folks for whom the medium is old hat.
It’s harder for niche, San Diego-centric podcasts like San Diego Beertalk Radio to gain a broad listener base. Beertalk Radio founder Greg Homyak said he still finds himself explaining to the local beer crowd what a podcast is and how to listen to them.
“But we are getting a lot more feedback and a lot more following on social media,” said Homyak, who also helps run the San Diego Podcasters group. “Our listenership is lower than I’d like but we are reaching the people who want to listen.”
Long term, Homyak said he might change the name of his podcast to just Beertalk Radio. He’d like to expand by partnering with hosts in other cities with bustling beer scenes. Until then, he’s been raising money by asking listeners to pitch to support the show. He said he won’t be quitting his day job anytime soon.
Joseph Aleo was an early adopter. He started his now-defunct Small World Podcast in 2005. He used a cassette recorder to tape interviews with interesting people in San Diego, then turned the recordings into digital files. He produced about 500 episodes before calling it quits, but still has his hand in the podcast world. He’s cohost of “Pop Culture Intelligentsia,” an interview-based show recorded live using a website and app called ZCast. It lets people livestream their shows and invite listeners to respond in real time.
Aleo, who also used to host shows on San Diego’s pirate radio station, said software like ZCast is making the barriers to entry even lower.
“Everybody who has a smartphone has a radio station in their pocket if they choose to,” he said. “That’s what I love about this stuff. It leverages all this technology and anyone can be a DJ. Anyone can be a talk show host. … The downside now is that a lot of people are doing it, so there’s a lot of terrible content out there.”
But he said there’s a lot of good content, too. So good that it’s forcing traditional radio stations to improve to maintain their audience.
“For the longest time radio was just terrible,” he said. “And I think radio is going to have to change the way TV has changed. Cable forced the television networks to step up their games, and I would like to say that’s happening right now with radio thanks to the rise of podcasts.”
This is my best attempt at a comprehensive survey of San Diego-based podcasts. To add your podcast to the list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.