I’ve hosted my own show on AM radio, as well as filled in for other talk radio hosts. When Allison Dore and I started our daily podcast, “Ward and Al”, we vowed to make the show as much like a daily radio talk show as possible. I was reluctant to try podcasting at first, mostly because every other comedian in the world already has a podcast, Over seventy five episodes in, however, I’m hooked and–frankly–I think our goal of putting on a professional-sounding show is (hopefully) working out. Here are some random thoughts about what it’s like to work in the Wild West that is podcasting, from the eyes of a talk radio guy.
The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same. Talk radio guys aren’t just talking. They are watching the screen for information about callers, reading the text messages, keeping an eye on the big red clock counting backwards, and reading the emails that people send in…all while listening to callers on the line and a producer giving directions.
Since “Ward and Al” is pre-recorded, we have no live callers to worry about or language restrictions. But that’s not a license for us to do whatever we want. Al and I have always recorded our show (which is an hour long, five days per week) live and without edits. When we break for a commercial (we have a few of those) we are actually breaking for that allotted time, talking about where we’re going next and switching gears. If the break is one minute, that gives us one minute. To keep that “live talk radio” feel, we treat our show just like that. LIVE. There is no second chance. We even brought the big red clock into our studio, only now it’s in the hands of our producer, Barbara Wheel. We run the show in “real time”, just like we would in an actual radio studio..which, coincidentally, is where we record our show. And we don’t edit after the fact. What you hear is what we said. Just like live radio..we can’t take it back.
It’s Not All An Act. Over at the handy-dandy “Ward and Al” email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), we get all kinds of questions about the show, the guests, and the relationship between the two hosts. Allison Dore and I have known each other for years and have worked together as stand-up comics many times. When I was guesting on Newstalk 1010 one week, I had Al on the show with me to debate some topics. We knew right away that we had good chemistry and the right mix of admiration and disdain for each other. Al and I are friends…but also like family. “Friends” in that we laugh, enjoy talking with each other, and have some things in common. “Family” in that we bicker like children with each other and the thought of seeing the other one naked creeps us both out. Part of our dynamic is our ability to laugh with each other and to annoy one another. It can be fun and–occasionally–that tension the listeners hear isn’t part of the show. Sometimes we’re doing it for the laugh and, yes, sometimes Al really does want to set me on fire. And, yes, I’m often wearing a sweater vest in the studio.
The Wild West Ain’t So Wild With Us. I heard someone call podcasting “The Wild West” because there’s essentially no rules. Even though there is a lot of freedom to talk about whatever we want, Al and I keep the “Talk Radio” format going as best we can. We schedule our programs, map out each episode, and try to stick to our schedule. No less than three topics per show, and four is ideal. Five minutes of banter and then a guest. Close out the show with a light-hearted routine (“Either/Or”) and Al says ” I miss you guys”. Too many podcasts use that freedom that comes with it to just blather into the ether. We find that the structure works well and gives the listeners both variety (since we change our topic every ten to fifteen minutes) and consitency. Our listeners know what to expect and come back for that reason.
Everything Changes. And We’re Not Always Ready For It. Al and I have often planned out our show and decided what our discussion will be like that day. We have it down to the minute and know exactly where we’re going with the discussion. Then, five minutes into what was supposed to be fifteen minutes of talk, we suddenly find ourselves agreeing on the subject with nothing left to say about it. No guest in-studio to debate with. No phone callers to argue with us. We can’t go cutting to weather and traffic. Now the trick is to fill our time while still being entertaining. We are, first and foremost, a comedy talk show. This is when, out of nowhere, it might seem that we’re just insulting each other. That’s because it makes us laugh and, frankly, is the easiest thing for us to do to stay entertaining while our producer, Barbara, scrambles to find a new topic for us to segway into. If you’ve listened to the show, you’re no stranger to my bad segways. That’s because I’m often sitting behind the soundboard, watching the clock and Googling something to talk about, while Al is doing the same on her end of the studio as Barb scribbles notes to us and our in-studio guest yawns. And it’s also because, honeslty, sometimes I just plain suck at segways.
A “Producer” Makes It A Production. When Al and I moved into talk radio, we really wanted for our show to be as much like actual talk radio as possible. Our biggest problem is that, like most podcasts, we have none of the money behind us that talk radio has behind it. We’re lucky, however, to have people who believe in our show as much as we do. So, we brought in a few interns and, best of all, our producer, Barbara Wheel. Barbara has helped us by getting us celebrity guests, booking our studio time and–most importantly–keeping our egos and mouths in check. Al and I could both yammer for hours, but Barbara keeps us moving. She’s also great with guests. We don’t always agree with her when she motions for us to move on to the next topic…but we’re always glad she’s there. Having a dedicated producer makes the difference between professional show and vanity project, in my not-so-humble opinion. We’ve recently brought in Meli Grant as associate producer, who gives Barbara a second opinion to tell us when we’re rambling. And it gives us someone besides Barbara to ignore when we feel like babbling.
It Takes Time…But It’s Worth It. When “Ward and Al” first started, we were lucky to have come in on an established network, Humble and Fred Radio. Humble and Fred are Canadian radio legends, and we were more than happy to piggyback on their podcasting success in hopes of finding our own audience. Well, when our numbers first came in, we were surprised (and a bit depressed) to find out that it was going to be a harder climb up that ladder. But, as we have done as comedians, we perservered and kept at it. We developed regular routines and brought in great guests. And, with Humble and Fred, we joined Pod Almighty, Canada’s biggest podcasting network. Now, over seventy-five episodes later, it’s funny to look back only a few months ago at when we wondered if anyone was listening. People really are, and they’re very loyal. It’s a great feeling and, speaking for Al, I can say that–as long as people keep listening, we’ll keep talking.