The Age of Podcasting
San Diego podcasters want your ear
Illustration by Kristina Micotti
Need-To-Know Local Podcasts
The station offers several channels, including the daily Midday Edition, weekly KPBS Roundtable, and collaborative works like the veterans series Incoming.
The Kept Faith
The second oldest and longest running San Diego sports podcast talks ball games, field goals, and more, with guests like ESPN Magazine vet Molly Knight.
San Diego BeerTalk Radio
San Diego’s craft beer scene has a platform for interviews with everyone from local brewery owners to bartenders to homebrewers.
San Diego Opera
Hosted by the Opera's director of education and outreach, this podcast is a mix of music and musings, and carries the tagline “give us 15 minutes a week, we’ll give you the operatic world!”
Justin Hudnall’s voice is smooth and calm as he introduces San Diego war veterans telling deeply personal stories of their figurative and literal homecomings in the podcast series Incoming. The stories were recorded on stage and in the studio, but they have the closeness and clarity of two friends engaged in a tough conversation.
An outgrowth of a veterans’ writing workshop by Hudnall’s So Say We All literacy and performing arts collective, the podcasts were repackaged for the modern masses by public broadcaster KPBS.
Incoming is just one of many new San Diego–born podcasts. They represent the frontier in on-demand media: serialized, specialized audio content streaming directly from your computer, tablet, or smartphone when you want it. It’s radio for the digital age.
Podcasts’ pared-down quality is part of the appeal, Hudnall says: “It’s like the antidote to overstimulation. Someone talking directly into your ear? There’s nothing more intimate.”
Creating a podcast can be as simple as speaking into a microphone and making the audio file available on the Internet. But as more voices enter the marketplace, the bar on quality is being raised. Serial, a 12-episode spin-off of This American Life that investigated a 1999 murder case, broke iTunes listenership last year when it hit the 5-million mark.
Celebrities from Alec Baldwin to Ricky Gervais have found podcasts to be an unrivaled medium for storytelling. Obama even made an appearance this year on comedian Marc Maron's podcast WTF.
Locally, you can catch up on the latest from the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Padres, and even the San Diego Opera through podcast apps.
The Pew Research Center reports the audience for podcasting has shown steady growth in the past two years. Some 33 percent of Americans over the age of 12 say they’ve listened to a podcast.
“I think we’re going to see a flood of content before the audience is there,” Hudnall says. “The age of podcasting we’re in, people are making something they love and hoping to God someone likes it and listens to it.”
KPBS director of programming John Decker knows the power of podcasts and the growing interest. A call for proposals for KPBS Explore yielded 70 applications. The three selected podcasts will split a budget of $30,000 for six episodes, set to air in mid-2016.
“There are a lot of amateurs out there,” Decker says. “We want people who know what they’re doing. We’re going to tell a good story in a meaningful way.”
While podcasting has been around since the advent of iPods, Decker says the medium has “hit a tipping point” due to technological advancements and a growing mainstream audience. “We’re trying to grow our own,” he says.
Podcasting isn't a big moneymaker, for now. Yet several local podcasters use in-show endorsements to pay for their time and equipment. Some are even generating an income.
John Lee Dumas has built a business on his daily podcast Entrepreneur on Fire. From a home studio in Pacific Beach, his half-hour chats with notable entrepreneurs generate more than 1 million “listens” per month and more than $75,000 in monthly sponsorships.
Dumas’ shows typically include two sponsorships per episode, mentioned at the beginning and midpoint. He’s sold out of advertising inventory for the year.
“It’s a great return on investment for advertisers,” Dumas says, explaining that podcast listeners are a uniquely captive audience. “That’s just one of the many ways we monetize our business.”
Since its launch in 2012, Entrepreneur on Fire has expanded to include podcast tutorials, online business training, and subscription-based online communities.
Dumas’ listeners are typically male, middle-aged, and live in the U.S. They tend to listen via their smartphones, whether through earbuds or Bluetooth-equipped vehicles. He says technology has made it possible for people to listen while in the shower, on their morning commute, at the gym, on a walk, or while folding laundry.
“You don’t have to say ‘no’ to something else to say ‘yes’ to listening to a podcast,” he explains.
With a similar business model, Michael O’Neal hosts the Solopreneur Hour podcast three times a week from his North Park home. Since its launch in 2013, the show has been listened to some 6 million times. His show’s tagline is “job security for the unemployable.” His audience and his interview subjects are people running businesses on their own.
“It could be an author, an actor, a real estate agent. You are your own CEO,” O’Neal says. “It’s a common theme between disparate careers. You have to market, promote, and build relationships.” O’Neal offers endorsements for up to two advertisers per episode, at a rate of $450 per slot.
“I try to bring it in conversationally,” O’Neal says. “I’ve become really, really picky about what I accept because I’m protecting my audience.”
His Solopreneur podcasts have likewise led to more business ventures, from his subscription-based online community, Sololab, to public speaking gigs.
O’Neal says building a successful podcast has allowed him to live a “ridiculously awesome life” free of the traditional 9-to-5 routine. He predicts more will venture into the space as bigger outlets like CBS and NPR buy the rights to homegrown podcasts for reverse syndication.
“There’s a bubble right now,” he says, “but this is the renaissance.”