History of the Podcast

Screaming down Millcreek Canyon with one hand on the wheel and the other on his stereo, Phil Neilson was trying to explain the podcast.

“Its online radio that’s on demand,” Phil said while trying to get to a particularly memorable part of The Bugle. “It’s people recording radio shows with their computers. It’s all I listen to at work.”

I don’t know if it was the new fandangleness of the podcast or the fact that Phil was about to drive off the edge of the road as he pumped the accelerator but I was distracted. I had heard of podcast the same way I have heard about unicorns or near beer but never tried it. Phil was adamant that I would be good on a podcast because I can talk at length without interruption. Praise from Caesar but it felt like a compinsult (a compliment which is really an insult).

We had just gotten done hiking Pipeline Trail at Millcreek and were heading to Hog’s Wallow for beers. The summer months were beautiful and the cooler weather up the Wasatch canyon was awesome. We took the time to talk about a lot of things and nothing really important—the kind of easy, lazy conversation that old friends can have without too much conveyed. These tend to be the best talks.

The next time Phil brought up podcasts was after a golfing outing at Nibley Golf Course. AS we were sitting in the cafeteria eating hot dogs and drinking beer, I asked him how podcasts were made. He didn’t have a concrete roadmap for the recording but he said that all they did was take an MP3 file and get it into an RSS feed. You know, like Chinese arithmetic. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about but it seemed like something I wanted to do. I suggested we start a podcast called the 19th Hole and it would be us talking about our golf round.

We never got around to doing that for two reasons. One, Phil went on to medical school to become a doctor. Two, I have very little follow through.

Podcasting was in its infancy and people were using it as a chance to make audio blogs. I was a couple years away from starting my blog but I was really intrigued by the idea of just blathering into a microphone. I’ve been babbling away my entire life and I liked the idea of having some sort of record of the jibber-jabber I pump through the air for every waking moment I am up.

In high school, I used to make mixed tapes with my favorite songs and do some DJing between tracks. Because my musical taste were horrific (not much has changed in 20 years), I would say something along the lines of this:

All right, that was Paula Abdul’s Straight Up. Here’s what we have coming up. Living Colour’s Cult of Personality and Guns and Roses My Michelle and Run DMC’s Walk This Way. And I’m sure I can find some Duran Duran Hungry like the Wolf in a bit. You’re listening to Ben Radio in Las Vegas Nevada. It’s 12:37 am, temperature 93 degrees.

Or something ridiculous like that.

That’s the benefits of growing up bored and in a time without technology. I was literally a generation removed from pushing a wheel down a road with a stick. There was such a cosmic jump in technology the year I graduated from college that I found myself fussing around with a cassette tape trying to make radio shows. Call it a theater of the mind or not discovering masturbating or alcohol yet and you have a picture of what growing up in Las Vegas in the late 80s was like.

My first introduction to podcasts happened in 2007. I had just started the stupidest project of a lifetime that would cause more harm and damage to my friends and family. I decided to open up my own bar. Buying and remodeling the property at 60 East 800 South turned into a fiasco on so many levels. As a handyman, I am handy but as a contractor, I am a fucking moron. I am the epitome of the expression a little knowledge is a harmful thing. In opening The Woodshed, I wasted more money than I would ever recoup because I never had a clear vision or a solid business plan.

But I trudged on the assumption that I would figure it out as I was going along. Ugh. While getting the bar ready, I started with listening to music but quickly grew tired of it. NPR lacked appeal after awhile simply because they are way too whiny and conservative radio was out because those guys are hateful idiots. Sports radio is only good for the first 15-minutes of the program and after that they repeat themselves ad nauseam and Lord help you if you listen to classic rock talk. I am sure the guys at KBER are good men with family they love and pay their taxes and do a lot of good in the community but after a minute of forced laughter and mindless rambling, I am ready for the simplicity of silence.

Problem is that I do not like silence.

I like chaos in the atmosphere. I like noise and sounds and something going on. It helps with my tinnitus and provides the sort of distraction that I need. Taking a page from Phil, I tried a podcast from iTunes. I went to the well and downloaded one of The Bugle. Hosted by a couple of British comedians, Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver, they did a US versus British take on the news. It was quick, smart and very funny. The episode was a little over a half hour and at the end, I found myself downloading their entire catalog to get caught up.

From there, I discovered Kevin Smith and Bill Simmons. I leaned towards comedy and sports and found that the people making them weren’t doing a great job but the entertainment was fantastic. It became a ritual to discover new shows and become engrossed in them. Lost in my ear buds, I could pretend briefly that the world wasn’t collapsing around me and I could muster the strength to get the damn club opened.

Eventually, The Woodshed earned a liquor license and I got to the task of running the sinking ship into the ground. I was able to make it a calendar year before I had my back up against the wall and was forced to find another source of income. Money at the house had become so tight that Erin needed more money coming in. The bar wasn’t a complete failure but it wasn’t covering enough of the costs for us to get by. Frankly, it wasn’t fair that Erin did more heavy lifting in the financial end than she ever got credit for.

So, in talking to Phil, I was able to get a job at ARUP Laboratories. ARUP is a medical testing facility operated out of the University of Utah’s School of Pathology. They are the company that does every damn test on the planet from HIV to Vitamin B and all points in between. I was hired as a specimen processor. Saddled up in full protection equipment, lab coat, glasses, gloves and the sort, I would sit at a table for eight hours opening boxes filled with blood, plasma, semen, poop and anything else that can be extracted from a human body. They came in three temperatures: frozen, refrigerated or room temperature. So, my desk would have three bins for the specimens as I did data entry for each specimen.


The worse was the frozen 7-day samples of human poop. They would come frosted over in a jug that looked like something a commercial restaurant would store mayonnaise in. Heavy and the product of some unlucky sap pooping into a jug, I would put into the system and send off to one of the dozens of labs at ARUP. To say that I hated the job would be an understatement. I am not a squimish person by nature—dead cat in the road? I’ll scoop it right up for you—but having to handle human specimens all day became so grinding that I really started to get depressed. Compound my depression with the bar failing and you have a snapshot into why I was becoming a bloated blimp of a man and a drunk.

It was a Hell of transition from working at the bar. At night, I was the bartender and bar owner pouring drinks and dealing with the ins-and-outs of the club. During the day, I was handling blood and poop being supervised by megalomaniacal Mormons who would start and end every conversation with the mantra that it is all about patient’s health. Talk about a little knowledge being a harmful thing, these toolbags would lecture me all throughout the day about what it means to process samples and that every drop of blood is actually a person. Being forced to appreciate empathy is the quickest way to lose it for everyone very quickly.

The only upside to the entire process was that I was making some steady money. That and they let you listen to your iPod during work. For a guy who is easy to talk to and with, I found it impossible to make friends. There were clichés at ARUP that I couldn’t broach simply because I was constantly stressed about money and how to pay for both home and the bar. The average age of the employees was a teenager and those that weren’t had a Mormon thing going that I could crack. For being around 400 people a day, I felt very alone and progressively more depressed every shift.

Somehow, podcasts became that connection with people that I was lacking at ARUP. In February of 2009, Adam Carolla started his show and it became a favorite. I only knew of Carolla because of The Man Show and a Las Vegas connection with Jimmy Kimmel. Kimmel graduated from Clark High and I thought he was a hoot on Win Ben Stein’s Money. I took a chance on the Carolla podcast and it became the saving grace through a horrible shift.

I had been at ARUP maybe a month before the Carolla podcast began, so I felt like we were both growing with each other. I would listen to his various guests and marvel at how equally obscene and hysterical he could be. There was a balance between liberalism and conservatism that I appreciated and I liked the fact that the show is predicated upon the fact that he is simply trying to be funny. Humor for the sake of humor. Not too pretentious and certainly something to be taken with a grain of salt, it became a necessary part of my day.

I found some of Carolla’s mannerisms entering my language and I liked the speed in which he talked with guests, most of which were either fodder or interesting unto themselves. Mostly I liked the podcast because he talked like nobody I worked with and in the end, that was enough to get me through the day.

Something that Carolla probably doesn’t get enough credit with his podcast is that he is one of the pioneers of taking podcasts to a next level. The difference between him and say another fine podcast, Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, is that there is a production value and constant evolution. Bill Burr’s is great because it is Burr ranting into a tape recorder for an hour about anything that hits him. He sounds like he is walking his apartment and talking mad-shit about everything. He loads that bad boy up into iTunes and calls it a life. Carolla started the same way with a simple recording set up and developed it into a studio. As Carolla’s show grew, he would talk about the show growing and the steps that went into to get his podcast into one of the top downloaded shows ever.

Carolla built a roadmap to a large successful podcast and if you started listening from the beginning, you’d see that there is some traction in his podcast.

By this time in my life, I had sold The Woodshed and had moved to Keys On Main as a bartender. Having the freedom to just pour drinks at night and handle human poop during the day, I found that I finally had enough free time to pursue new projects. Specifically, I wanted to start a podcast.

With help from my boss, George Kelly, who graduated from opera school or something like that, I started buying equipment and putting together the beginning touches on the SLC PubCast. It was a rough project that was made exceedingly easier with help from my buddy Gwyn Fisher. Gwyn is a computer guru and a proper cheerleader for any new venture. He did all of the tech side leaving me with the freedom to just talk into a microphone.

For four months, I put out a new podcast. Some of the guests were great, others not so strong but I liked the work. I felt like I have finally gotten into the swing of things when I got sidetracked. I got hired at the Salt Lake Tribune to cover prep sports and the SLC PubCast died.

I’ve talked about putting the podcast up nonstop for a year and haven’t followed through. If it isn’t money or time or projects, podcasting has definitely fallen to the wayside—hopefully not for much longer. I am going to try and get the show back off the ground in the next two weeks. Not because there was a huge outcry for me to babble into a microphone but because I miss having the discipline of doing something every week (or month). I will be dropping the name SLC PubCast and working with another title. In fact, I probably will try and do more than one podcast and help friends get involved with the format.

The point of entry to a podcast could be as easy as an iPhone or as expensive as Carolla’s studio but I think I’ll just settle with what I already have. Besides, there is another audio equipment at Keys to power a baker’s dozen worth of podcasts. Hopefully this blog isn’t another wordy press release with little to no follow through but I figure the more I put myself out there the more pressure I’ll have to finish something.

Phil was right. Podcast were for me. They are really the only entertainment that I have every day. I don’t watch television every day (that’s what Sundays are for…Jesus Pete do I watch a lot of TV on Sundays), listen to the radio or even music. But podcasts fit into my schedule. If it isn’t Carolla, it is the Sklar Brothers, the BS Report, Hollywood Babble-On, Bill Burr, Star Talk with Neil Degrasse Tyson, I am Salt Lake or the best one ever, The Dana Gould Hour. I could never join their ranks but it would be nice to do it again.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. You just read about the podcast, so sock it away punk. He honestly believes he isn’t a Carollatard.

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