Hi I thought about not sending this. I get it if you’re not up for reading it right now. It’s not about our fragile democracy. And honestly, that’s about all I can think about right now too. But I wrote it, so I’m sending it. It’ll still be on the website if you want to come around to it later.
I’ve been listening to Slow Burn for the past few days. I started with Season 1 which is a retelling of the Watergate scandal for those of us that were too young to experience it. The idea is to tell the story in a way that lets us get as close to we can to experiencing it like we lived it. It succeeds at this. I’ve read about Watergate many times, but Slow Burn is the first time I’ve felt it.
To do a bit of drum beating, this is the kind of podcast that we want. The production team put so much hard work into every second of audio that you don’t just hear it, you feel it.
Before listening, I was unaware of Lesley Stahl’s important role in Watergate, of being the first one to look closely at it and follow it day to day and then, importantly, to influence American opinion with her reporting.
It makes me respect her more than I already did. Maybe I’m a little star struck. My wife always accuses me of being easily star struck. Ok so the personal story part: back in 1999, one of my closest friends at Amherst was dating Lesley’s daughter. I was friendly with both of them but didn’t know Nick’s girlfriend Taylor as well as I knew him. Somehow, and it might have been a pity invite on a holiday weekend? I ended up tagging along with the two of them to a barbecue place north of the campus.
We got to Bubs and a taxi pulled up and Mrs. Stahl popped out. It was a New York City cab that she had taken from Rockefeller Center. Whaaat!?
Inside the dingy but delicious smelling restaurant, we all ordered ribs and beer and started chit chatting. I found myself doing a lot of talking, which was making me feel good because I was pretty nervous about being around Mrs. Stahl—who insisted I call her Lesley. About three or four personal stories in, I was just feeling like the bees knees. Mrs. Stahl just couldn’t get enough anecdotes and observations from my years growing up as the son of a teacher in Colorado Springs.
Now let’s pause the personal story for a second to just notice what was happening. Stahl was effortlessly digging for a story. She was making me confident and getting me to talk, all without me even noticing. And I think her interest was both trained and genuine. She loves a good story, and she honestly loves to know about people. At the same time if I had come out and said that I was the secret son of Elvis Presley because my mom had an affair with the King, and if I had been living with my biological father writing new music in an underground bunker in Colorado Springs, I’m sure I would have found my way onto 60 Minutes. Mrs. Stahl had made a life of listening to stories and finding good ones to tell on the news, and she was never not doing that.
“Stop interviewing, Mom 🙄,” said Taylor, and with that my magical moment of being interviewed by Lesley Stahl was over.
How about you? I’m sure some of you reading this have met some bucket list top 10 people ever. Care to share some of your favorites?
Making podcasts that last
My personal story was inspired by a podcast that came out almost four years ago. A show that will still be great four years from now. And in fact, most of the podcasts I listened to in 2020 were not made in 2020. Because of my limited time, when I pick podcasts I often take safe bets and listen to the all time greats. There are already more all time greats than I have time for.
With this in mind, the quote I read in The Economist (courtesy of Podnews) on Monday got me frowning and narrowing my eyes: “Will Page, a former Spotify chief economist, notes that whereas back catalogues like Bob Dylan’s, recently sold to Universal Music Group, are valuable because the songs are replayed for years, podcasts are perishable. 'A podcast about Dylan is of its time; a Dylan song is timeless,' he says.”
Gonna have to disagree with ya, Mr. Page. I think the best podcasts are pretty darn close to timeless. They are the “perennial sellers” that I mentioned in an earlier edition of this newsletter. The definition of a perennial seller is a work of media that keeps selling long after it was created. Some of these sell more and more the further we get from their date of publication. A few examples from different types of media are Mozart’s music, Shakespeare’s plays, more recently, Seinfeld, The Office, Ghostbusters, and of course, Dylan. Since podcasts haven’t been around more than 20 years, it’s tough to know which ones that were created recently will still be listened to in 20 years, but S-Town comes to mind, The Adventure Zone, Reply All’s early years. These shows aren’t going away.
I think we should strive to make shows like these. And I also think that the industry needs to help people understand that just because it’s a podcast doesn’t mean it’s throwaway. Just as the folks that made The Office are having to replace their pools of money with oceans, we should see podcasters with hit shows 15 years from now still making residuals off of their incredible shows. But in order to do this, we need to figure out a business model for syndication.
Obviously Will Page isn’t thinking about podcasts this way, but we are.
Thanks again for reading! Please let me know if you think I’m on to something.