Thanks for All the Fish: Some Reflections on Podcasting

This Saturday we recorded our 200th episode of the Catholic Weekend show on SQPN, featuring clips of memorable moments from the show over the last four years.  You can watch the recording of the episode, or download the podcast by following this link.  We recorded the episode on a rather large Google Hangout featuring all of our regulars and our CEO Father Roderick, as well as several guests who have been on the show before; we also played audio feedback and read email feedback from a number of our listeners.  And of course, we laughed a lot.

It also gave me a chance to reflect on podcasting itself, now that I have been involved in it for nearly two years.  I won’t pretend to be an expert in journalism or broadcasting, but I hope I have learned a little bit from my experience so far.  And I think podcasting can be seen as a hearkening to the past, a radical departure from the present, and a promise for the future.

Podcasting speaks to the past, first of all, in that it reminds us of the early days of radio programming, with people setting up radio stations in their basements.  They talked about whatever interested them, played whatever music they liked, and oftentimes never knew how many people were really listening, but still kept trying to hold true to good standards of quality and content.  However podcasting can also at times remind one a bit of community access programming on cable, which still exists in a number of places, including here in D.C.  I remember during law school, I was fascinated by a local community cable show in South Bend run by a couple of teenagers, who filmed very complex adventure stories which seemed to have no point or resolution whatsoever.  It was not great art, but it was certainly different.

Podcasting is also a radical departure from the present pre-packaged, pre-determined type of media we have become so used to consuming.  For example, a news program owned by an entertainment conglomerate will just so happen to find nice things to say in their reporting about a new film being produced by that entertainment company, even if it is not very good at all.  They will also run advertisements with tie-ins to products related to some other aspect of that film or another product from that media empire, or by one of its affiliate companies or major shareholders.  And of course, most of us never really stop to think about these things, or analyze the relationships between the various content providers and advertisers.

Another, related reason as to why podcast discussions of events are often so much more interesting than what one hears or watches in today’s media environment, i.e. why there are fewer lengthy discussions and more curt sound bytes, is that those who put out the content we see on the major networks and the 24-hour-news channels have ad revenues to think about, and a short window of time in which to make their sales.  By contrast, as most podcasters will tell you, you are not going to become wealthy putting out a podcast.  In fact, in most cases you won’t even be able to make any money off of it all, whether for yourself or for anyone else.

However there is that question of promise, because today’s podcaster, doing something they love in their spare time, may find their career taking quite a new turn.  Recently a friend of mine who has been podcasting for quite awhile on a historical-business subject he loves, suddenly found himself negotiating a book deal from a major international publishing house; they had become aware of his work through his podcast.  What is particularly interesting about this step up in visibility is how it creates not only a larger audience for his work, but it also adds him to an increasing pool of new talent which more people can dip into when they are seeking information.  There are many smart, talented, and interesting people we might not otherwise have heard of, who are passionate about the subjects they follow, and who are getting their chance to become known to more and more people through podcasting.

Not everyone should be podcasting of course, any more than everyone should be blogging: some people are better writers than they are speakers, or vice versa.  Some people are not good at either activity, and are happy to be content consumers rather than content generators.  However I can say from my own experience of doing both, there is a spontaneity to podcasting that I quite enjoy for its uncertainty.  It’s a bit like putting on a play or even arguing in court, where even if you think you know what your part is and what is going to happen, you can never be completely certain that everything is going to go to script.

However much longer I am permitted to be on the Catholic Weekend show then, I want to say to both SQPN and all the listeners, to quote one of our co-hosts quoting another: thanks for all the fish!


Tomorrow: Celebrate SQPN’s Catholic Weekend Episode 200!

Tomorrow, Saturday November 30th, beginning around 10am Eastern, we will be recording the 200th episode of the Catholic Weekend show on SQPN, and I hope you can join us!

Catholic Weekend is a community-based show, in which we regulars and our guests discuss what is going on around the world and at home, with a lot of laughter and humor interspersed with our more serious discussions.  During the recording of the program our viewers/listeners get to watch us recording on the Catholic Weekend homepage via livestream video feed.  They can also participate with us and other listeners in a dedicated chatroom on the site, which we often check and refer to during the broadcast.

To mark the occasion, we are asking our listeners and past guests to send in feedback recalling some of their favorite memories of the show over the past 200 episodes.  You can do so in the form of audio files, voicemail, or email:

Audio Files/Email:

Voicemail Feedback Line: (862) 200-SQPN

If you have never caught an episode of Catholic Weekend before, tomorrow would be a great time to drop by.  Even if you are not Catholic, over the last few years there have been a number of very memorable moments on the show, in terms of guests, stories, and even just plain silliness, which you may enjoy listening to.  This anniversary episode will give a great overview of what we try to do at SQPN to create an online community, particularly through this program where listeners and viewers can join in regularly, or just dip into when they have time.  Even if you can’t stay for the whole show, video of the episode will be uploaded to the Catholic Weekend YouTube page so you can watch it later, and the edited audio of the podcast will be made available in iTunes.

I have been tremendously grateful for the opportunity to co-host Catholic Weekend for nearly two years now, as it has given me the chance to meet many smart, fascinating people, who do their best to integrate their Catholic faith into their daily lives.  It’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long already, particularly since I started out just as a listener downloading the podcast and periodically sending in feedback.  I certainly never intended to get involved in putting out a weekly show, but obviously Someone Upstairs had other plans.

So this is a good time for me to take a moment to thank Father Roderick Vonhögen, our CEO at SQPN, and my co-hosts Jeff Nielsen, Maria Johnson, Steve Nelson, and Angela Sealana, for not only becoming my friends, but continuing to prove themselves wonderful resources for fun, inspiration, encouragement, and growth.  It is not easy to be a Catholic in the present age, when practicing the Christian faith is something so much of the world does not like or understand.  Yet knowing there are good people doing their best to struggle along with you, makes this show and the relationships which have grown out of it very special to me indeed.

Thank you all, for the great experiences we’ve shared so far, and Happy 200th to Catholic Weekend!


Denver Diary: A Visit with Greg and Jennifer Willits

This weekend I was in Denver for the wedding of two good friends of mine, and I will have a few blog posts this week based on my experiences there.  Rather than post chronologically however, I wanted to make this first post about two people I met in Denver who, if you listen to the show or follow Catholic new media, you are very much aware of.  And for those of you who do not know them, allow this to serve as your formal introduction to some amazing people.

On Saturday I had the great opportunity to meet Catholic media pioneers Greg and Jennifer Willits, a couple whom I have listened to, admired, and learned from for a number of years now.  Their humor and banter makes you stick around to hear what they are going to say next, but beyond that mastery of good broadcasting there is a frankness in discussion and a drilling down to key issues which all of us face in a highly secularized world, which Greg and Jennifer speak to effectively, in a way all of us can relate to.  And in embracing the call to evangelization they have done so much, that even attempting to summarize their many projects and achievements to date would take a rather lengthy blog post in and of itself. So I will direct you to the About section of their website and you can see just some of the things they are working on.

Greg picked me up at my hotel in downtown Denver early on a very cold Saturday morning, and we drove out to gracious Rancho de Willits, where I got to meet Jennifer, several of their children, the very friendly family dog, and the more skittish family cats.  We recorded Episode No. 199 of  the Catholic Weekend show – and if you’re doing your math properly you will note that our 200th episode is coming up this Saturday – and then we recorded Greg and Jennifer’s show, The Catholics Next Door.  I then had to head back into Denver for the remaining wedding festivities, but it was great to be able to talk on the drive about not only Denver, which in many ways is so different a place from what I am used to on the East Coast, but also about media, the Church, and finding one’s vocation in the world.  It’s a conversation which needs to continue over pints at some point in the near future.

Just as the CNMC in Boston was a rather surreal experience – though obviously in a very good way – so was chatting with Greg and Jennifer on their show, at their house.  If you have listened to or watched them over the years, they’re exactly the fun, passionate people you think they are.  Yet as much as I enjoyed doing these shows with them, and getting to know them in person, there was a little moment that occurred when I first arrived which really struck me, and impressed me about the sort of people they are.

Two of the Willits boys were heading off to a weekend retreat for their confirmation preparation, and as in any family when the kids have to get going somewhere, there was much running about making sure bags were packed, permission slips were signed, and coats were put on.  Then just before it looked like all was ready to head out the door, everyone stopped.  The family prayed together, with Greg leading them, asking that Our Lord would bless his sons on their retreat, drawing them closer in love to Christ.

We know that the Patriarchs prayed over their children in this way of course, and I was reminded of some of those stories as I saw this, even though at present Greg has not gone with the full-on Jeremiah beard.  Yet apart from saying grace before meals, I wonder how many of us in our families or with our friends take the time to pause, gather together, and invoke the aid of the Almighty, when there is something important we are about to set out and do.  It struck me as a wonderful example not only of good parenting and family life, but also of the importance of stopping what you are doing and being quiet, even if only for a few moments, before plunging into a big project or some maelstrom of activity.

In any case, thank you again to Greg and Jennifer for a terrific time on Saturday: it was an honor and privilege for me to visit you and your family, and to be on your show.  To listen to The Willits on Catholic Weekend you can follow this link, and to listen to me on The Catholics Next Door, you can visit this page, and of course both episodes are available to download in iTunes.  And be sure to check back here tomorrow, when I will answer the question: just how dry IS the Mile High City?