On Monday Marc Maron unleashed the 300th episode of his WTF podcast on the world, and used it as an opportunity to reflect on the medium of podcasting, in addition to the nearly three years he’s been in production. Leading up to 300 Maron reposted his first, 100th and 200th podcasts. I first started listening somewhere between 100 and 200, so listening to the more formative episodes was enlightening, especially hearing how he started out aiming for a more formatted program with recurring segments, until finding his groove with mostly long-form interviews. In fact, #300 revives the format of #100, featuring several shorter interviews along with listener emails.
I enjoyed listening to Maron reflect on the medium that helped him reach his audience more directly, thereby strengthening his standup career and earn more forthright acknowledgement and respect within the comedy community. He starts episode 300 with guest Jesse Thorn who produces the public radio program Bullseye–formerly the Sound of Young America–and heads up Maximum Fun which produces other podcasts and a conference. Thorn taught Maron how to set up a podcast once he quit producing WTF in the cover of night at Air America. Like many of Maron’s guests, Thorn is quite forthcoming about his ambition to be on public radio, and about his disappointment that his program still has limited distribution, bringing in just $25,000 a year from affiliate stations. I appreciated their discussion about the conflict between the need to grow an enterprise, versus being happy with staying in the garage, which is where Maron continues to record and produce his podcast.
The second guest, Nathan Rabin, writes for the Onion’s A/V club, one of the few sites or publications podcasting regularly as a distinct medium. Rabin repeats the claim that his colleague Steve Heisler made, that podcasting is a bit inbred because a lot of the same hosts and guests make the rounds on multiple ’casts. Though, I think that’s only true for comedy podcasts, which are a prominent segment of podcasting, but do not constitute the entirety of the medium.
In the course of his conversation with Rabin, Maron wonders how new podcasts and podcasters get noticed. While Maron was not a household name in 2009, he had nevertheless built up a loyal audience, especially due to his work on Air America. Both Maron and Rabin acknowledge that having that audience gives a podcaster a leg up, even though it’s clear that WTF then found and grew its own audience beyond that.
The episode’s second guest is fellow podcaster Pete Holmes, who gleefully admits that he “stole” from Maron’s podcast in creating his own You Made It Weird. Holmes says that compared to doing live stand up comedy, in podcasting you don’t have to search for laughs the same way, since you don’t have an audience to respond. Having done more than twenty years of radio I can relate to that aspect, since there are many times when I learned that listeners laughed at little jokes that I wasn’t sure anyone would get. Holmes compliments Maron for his honesty, and how revealing his own anxieties and neurosis helps listeners see that they’re not so strange or weird.
I am still surprised that there is very little media coverage of podcasting as a medium, and so it’s great to hear a talent like Marc Maron reflect on and discuss the role the medium has in his life and career, as well as the larger comedy scene. In the seven years since the term was coined, podcasting has matured into a medium that is taken seriously, but yet still seems not yet mainstream. I believe that podcasting has contributed significantly to an overall growth of interest in audio media and radio forms that were on the verge of being dismissed as old fashioned by the turn of the century. I am excited to watch (and listen) to this medium grow, and to track it here at Radio Survivor.