Monday, October 27, 2008

Reflecting on 250

About 8 years ago I was working at a big Marketing & Communications company in Morristown NJ. A writer from Santa Fe, Bryan Minogue worked there as well and we had been pretty good friends since he had started at the agency. We both shared a love of odd things, history, ghost stories and useless trivia. I had been taking willing victims on road trips of all the local bizarre haunted railroad tracks, supposed Satanic or occult Churches and glowing graveyards since High School. Bryan was doing the same thing 2000 miles away growing up in New Mexico.

Working as a producer I had an intense interest in independent films, cable access TV and other creative outlets to consume the little free time I had. Of course it just so happened so did Bryan. We immediately started talking one day about the "Jackson Whites" of the Ramapo Mountains. This was a sad tale that bordered on being racist. It involved the Mountain People along the Appalachian Trail in Northern New Jersey. The term "Jackson Whites" supposedly from "Jacks & Whites" and referred to the clan being the offspring of freed slaves, Indians and whites. Much of this is most likely untrue and is resented by the Ramapough Lenape Nation are the real "Jackson Whites". Bryan immediately wrote a short documentary script and we agreed to make some cool documentaries on interesting subjects. We didn't know what we were attempting to do but just wanted to tell our tales.

A year later we ended up with a local public access show and Website called "Hometown Tales". We first started airing at midnight Monday Nights on Patriot 8 Cable in Central New Jersey. Eventually we would spread out to much of the state and some neighboring states as well. Being our audience was generally in the New Jersey area we stuck to producing shows about local subject despite being dedicated to tales from around the world on our website. (Despite the early Weird NJ comparisons, we were always about Tales from around the World before there even was a Weird US). It was tons of fun and we enjoyed being recognized locally by people in stores or on the street. Of course it was a lot of work. Bryan and I always talked about other things we could do with Hometown Tales and being that I was a former DJ, I naturally suggested we try a radio show too. We both had full-time jobs and other lives so this was something we probably talked more about than actually pursued. But then one day that all changed.

I saw an article online in December of 2004 about Adam Curry, former MTV VJ, who had begun "podcasting". Essentially he was creating a downloadable radio show for people to listen to "on-demand". I didn't sleep for weeks. I was researching how to write my own XML code record our own show. I downloaded these crazy aggregators (before iTunes had that option) for RSS feeds and struggled creating my own feed. Finally at 2 am on a cold February night, I successfully created my own Podcast. It was just me saying a couple of things as a test but it worked. I wanted to jump, scream and tell the world but there was no one awake to tell. By March of 2005 Bryan and I were hosting the "Hometown Tales Podcast". We flooded the discussion boards on Podcast Alley and begged friends to vote for our show on podcast sites. We were one of the first 1700 podasts on the Podcast Alley directory, broke the Top 10 Podcasts on the site and were getting tons of emails from listener all over the world within weeks. It was so freakin' cool.

Now here we are - 250 shows later. We've received nearly 1 million listener emails, we are averaging thousands of thousands of listeners and we even broadcast on actual Radio Stations. And we've outlasted half of the "podcasts" that were around when we began. I thought it would be fitting to list some of the highlights over 250 shows that I have been absolutely & unbelievably honored to be a part of.

- BBC Nod
In 2005 "Podcast" was the buzz word of the year so every media outlets was doing a story. Luckily the BBC was turned on to us thanks to our friend Len from Jawbone Radio (Ha Ha Len we got to 250 before you). They chose Hometown Tales and some other notable shows as one of the "Best Independent Podcasts". That was pretty cool and the kind of thing we've been milking for years. Of course whenever we are on the iTunes home screen we get pretty excited too. That's happened twice.

- Bigfoot with Bibb
When I look back, I realized how many Podcasts were on top of the world in 2005 and how many of them have completely disappeared. One of them was Bibb and Yaz take over the world.
They were both New Jersey guys and we had exchanged posts on forums but then it go serious when Bibb asked us to come out to PA on a bigfoot hunt with him. He used to go to a mountainous spot as a child and there were always bigfoot sightings. So we agreed to meet this complete possibly psychotic stranger in the middle of nowhere. Bryan wore a mixed martial arts shirt to help create the illusion that the guys from Hometown Tales couldn't be easily duct taped and potato sacked in an abandon ditch off the side of a road. It must have worked because Bibb was quite fun and we had a blast forcing him to barrel down dirt roads in his brand new truck. I believe the overgrown trees scraped the bejesus out of his vehicle. And we all made it home alive. It turns out Bibb thought we were going to kill him and leave his body in a ditch as well.

-Salmon in Seattle
I'm listing some individual items over the last 250 Hometown Tales Podcast & Radio shows but there truth is there is an overarching theme. Without sounding like a total loser, the coolest thing has been meeting people. We've met a lot of good friends who started out as listeners. It's cool to announce that we'll be in such and such city or state and then have someone email us to meet for a quick beer or burger. And so far no one has been psycho. The biggest highlight though was when I was in Seattle and arranged to meet the legendary Paul "Fruit Trees". I do believe Paul has been a listener since day 1 and most importantly has probably emailed nearly every day since we began.

- Into Battle
While Hometown Tales "covers" the world, there is something about small town Americana that always seems special. Generally, I like my country and I think Bryan does too. I still love a conspiracy theory or two and love to blame the big bad government for anything I can. Regardless of that, I truly have an utmost respect for those serving in the military. We love getting an email from any listener but its very special when we get an email from someone in the armed services. Since our podcast began we've had people write in and say they've listened to Hometown Tales on a ship in the persian gulf, on an airplane about to jump out for a training mission and relaxing in barracks in several states and countries. Again, we are so grateful that anyone listens to us, but just hearing from 1 of them makes up for any time we spend on our show. Thank you.

- Recognition
So I'll steal this one from Bryan, occasionally I've had a neighbor or friend of a friend notice me from the TV show but Bryan gets recognized by people in the Apple Store. That's freaking cool

- Turning down a President?
I also enjoy American History and really get into presidential history. I take pride being able to name all the presidents back to Cleveland's first term at the drop of a hat (OK, sometimes I have to think a little), and can probably get the rest of them if I take some time. That being said, I enjoy politics but Bryan and I make every attempt to keep any political persuasion out of our show. I'm pretty "independent" and I think Bryan is too. Truth is, Politics is all spin. Both sides have some good points and some bad too. Therefore it was an easy decision to turn down a sponsorship offer from a Presidential Candidate. I'm sure other "podcasters" had that opportunity too. Through Libsyn we were offered a sponsorship from "Obama 08". Nothing against the guy but I think it's fair to say, we weren't interested endorsing any candidate. In fairness to Obama, we would have turned down McCain too. But come on John, you could have at least asked. Aren't they both from an alien race plotting to subjugate all earth anyway?

- The Contests
The first was auctioning off a sponsorship on our show. An eventual fellow podcaster won. Haunted New Jersey won the auction for something like a $100 bucks. And most glorious we've even been mentioned in books about Podcasting for that stunt. Another eBay auction was insane. Three attractive women from Los Angeles won an auction to spend the night with Hometown Tales and our former sponsor HNJ. Of course, a couple of drinks later and they were not so happy at me for dressing up like a ghost. Regardless it was highly entertaining.

But most of all it has been really cool having listeners, having folks write in about their town's tales, strange foods, odd experience or just saying "hi". That has been the best part of all 250. So thanks to all of those for reading, listening and sharing. Here's to another 250 !

Reflecting on 250