I record the Wargaming Recon podcast when I am not writing this weekly column. Wargaming Recon is a bi-weekly hour-long gaming podcast dedicated to historical gaming and New England gaming. I review products, discuss games I play, chat about cons, and travel the wargaming world with listeners.
Being a podcaster is a fun and exciting hobby that also can be a lot of work. New Jersey native and SModcaster Kevin Smith released a new book titled “Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good.” As a fan of his earlier works, i.e. Clerks., Mallrats, and Chasing Amy in particular, I started reading the book. Unexpectedly, Smith reveals a lot of great advice for anyone wishing to be creative. He owns a highly successful, fun, and funny series of comedic podcasts, which garner millions of listeners per episode.
My podcasting desire waxes and wanes, which surely is transmitted to my listeners. My show debuted August 17, 2006 under the name CWF Game Discussions Podcast. The second episode released the next day. Each week new episodes released until November of that year. Gaps large enough to hide the Executor in appeared. Eventually, those gaps coalesced into the first long absence in the show lasting from the end of November 2006 and ending May 2007.
You would think my return to podcasting in May meant that I was reinvigorated with all of the energy necessary to record shows for the long haul. If you thought that I’m sorry to tell you that you’re wrong. Two episodes released in 2007 and they were 6 months apart. Listeners must have thought my show was deader than a triceratops.
Then 2008 arrived and like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park my show’s DNA combined with that of a frog. New episodes released on a regular schedule. I was firmly in my wheelhouse discussing Games Workshop, covering contests, unveiled a radio station, talked about my first con (I didn’t attend), and suffered technical difficulties. After three months living high on the hog I was gored by the wild boar. One more new show found its way onto iTunes four months later before the show once again died.
It doesn’t take a level 1 common townsperson to tell you that although I liked podcasting, I didn’t like it enough to dedicate myself to it. I needed to love it like a Star Wars fan loves to hate Jar Jar. Instead, I found other things to love.
In 2010 I got married and tried to listen to some old podcasts. Some of the shows from 2006 that I remembered were no more. I started to think about trying to get my old show, then called CWF GameCast, running again. My decision was made because of e-mail conversations with an old fan named Tom Barbalet. He not only liked the old episodes, despite their rawness, he podcasted in his spare time. He hosts several shows and he wanted to interview me for one of them. In October I appeared in episode 19 of the Stone Ape Podcast.
One of the unexpected outcomes from the interview was the rebirth of my podcast. If my show were a cat, it would have used most of its nine lives by then. Somehow, it gets knocked down and then, like the phoenix, is reborn in the flames. Instead of the same old same old, the show had a co-host in the shape and voice of Tom Barbalet. Weekly releases happened, what a novelty, and the show found an audience. Tom always said he thought I was good enough to host a show with thousands of listeners. It sounded cool at the time but I didn’t drink much of the Kool-Aid. Me? A thousand people listening to my voice? Why?
In time, Tom left to pursue his other projects. Perhaps the most bizarre, twilight zone, event in the known universe happened at this time. My show did NOT die. That’s right. The show lost half of its hosting power and lived on like a guy donating a kidney to a family member. I’m still podcasting yet I can occasionally feel the call of not podcasting.
This is where Kevin Smith comes in. His book exclaims, shouts from the rooftops even, that podcasters need to put out new episodes on a regular basis. Our fans expect new content. They invite us into their lives. They spend time opening their aural pathways for what we have to say. They think we’re important enough to listen to what we have to say.
Now, I’m just this guy living in Massachusetts. I’m not an expert. In fact, most times I realize the enormity of what I don’t know. I have other responsibilities in my job, my family, and my life. It is easy for those responsibilities to Zerg rush, forcing new podcast episodes to the precipice of extinction. No matter how fierce the Zerg how, no matter how many Skaven outnumber me, no matter what other demands on my time exist, I always must remember the people who look forward to and listen to my podcast.
My show is an hour of gaming talk. It won’t put an end to world hunger, it won’t cure cystic fibrosis, and it won’t answer the question to live, the universe, and everything (42). What it will do is entertain, hopefully, listeners for the duration of the episode. Providing the chance for others to escape from the monotony of existence is a gift to give. Smith does this with his SModcast Network. I do it with Wargaming Recon.
Smith doesn’t hesitate to explain that he’s just a “fat, lazy slob” but one who does a great job at talking. He knows how to communicate, how to elicit laughs, and how to tell a story. His podcasts utilize those strengths. Everyone has something, no matter how inane, making them special. Podcasting allows us all to easily share our strengths with others. I love gaming, so I talk about that. Maybe you love interior design, or housekeeping, or automobiles. Play to your strength and you can’t go wrong.
For too long, Smith paid too much attention box office numbers. His movies were judged by how much money they made and what the critics would think. Yet, the film that got him noticed was created with none of those things in mind. Clerks. was made because Smith loves films. He loves to tell stories and he wanted to tell his story in the film format. You may despise everything that Kevin Smith has ever made. You may think he is a blight on humanity. But, imagine what would have happened if he spent his time and energy focusing on what others might think instead of doing his best to create the film he wanted to create.
These are our lives. They do not belong to anyone else. We can’t pay attention to numbers of listeners and ignore why they listen to the show. As a podcaster, I need to keep doing what I’m doing and not what numbers might tell me to do. People listen to my show because they like what I’m doing. They don’t listen because of what I’m not doing. If they wanted to listen to what I don’t do, they’d listen to another show.
These are very important lessons that I had forgotten. It is easy to be caught up in the minutiae of podcasting thereby forgetting the motivations that keep us interested in podcasting.
When my will flags and I think about spending an hour in World of Warcraft I need only think about the great people who listen to my show, who write me e-mails, and comment on social media about my latest episode. The interaction with the fans, may I call them fans, both grounds me and motivates me. As I said before, I’m just this guy in Massachusetts. For some reason, people listen to my show. I owe it to them to keep new episodes coming, to stay true to myself, and to play to my strength.
I may never have as many listeners as Kevin Smith, or Neil Shuck, or Steven MacLauchlan. The listeners I do have are important and need to know they’re important.
I’m sorry this week’s column wasn’t the typical gamer fare that I publish. It is a little self-indulgent. But, I hope that someone, somewhere, is reading this and thinking that they are really good at something and that they want to share it with others by podcasting about it.
The more of us that podcast the better it is. Each of us helps to keep the others honest. We can be inspired by how good our fellow podcasters are and then up our game to create higher quality shows for our respective listeners.