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Adventures in (longer) podcasting

About a year and a half ago, I started a podcast for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary called 2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Since it was recorded as a live radio spot, the two-minute format was pretty much baked in. By the time I added the intro, outro, theme music, and sometimes sound effects, the average episode was 3-4 minutes long. In November of that year, with about 30 episodes online, I was promoted from Education Director to Executive Director and my priorities shifted drastically. We kept the radio spots going for another couple of months, with the new education person, Courtney, helping out. Then it faded away.

I learned a lot doing those first 30 episodes. Some of my key takeaways were:

  1. Adobe Audition is a great audio editing tool. There’s definitely a learning curve, though. When you switch from recording or editing a track to editing a multitrack session, it feels like they yanked the whole user interface out from under you and made you relearn key parts.
  2. If you’re used to working with websites, blogs, web-based advertising, or the print world, you’ll be quite surprised at the statistical data you can’t get on a podcast. You can get “hits,” which is a wild overestimate of your reach, or “downloads,” which is a wild underestimate. The host (PodBean in my case) can tell you all about your listenership on their platform. When you try to figure out what’s going on with Apple/iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, and their ilk, you’ll find that each one gives you different information and some barely tell you anything at all.
  3. On the other hand, simple stats can give you a feeling for trends and which topics are wildly popular and which ones people didn’t care about.
  4. A good way to compare episodes is to look at how many listeners (or downloads, or hits, or…) you get in the first two weeks. You still need to consider trends, though. A wildlife successful episode from two years ago may have gotten 200 downloads in two weeks, but if your podcast is much better-known today, 200 downloads in two weeks might be considered a flop.
  5. No matter where your podcast is available, marketing is on you. If you don’t promote it, the podcast hosts and aggregators won’t, either.
  6. Creating written transcripts sounds like a great idea, but nobody cares. Most of our episodes never had a single visitor to the transcript page, so I stopped doing them.
  7. Unless your reach is a lot better than mine, don’t expect listener feedback. Except for some friends that probably didn’t listen to it telling you how great it was. And that one friend that says statistically, you’d maximize listenership by making each episode six minutes longer, using shorter episode names, adding comprehensive show notes, inviting more guests, speaking with a Scottish accent, hiring a professional editor, releasing each new episode at 5:23 pm on a Friday, and having Taylor Swift write you some new theme music. We all have that one friend.

A few months ago, after nearly a year off the air, I decided I missed doing the podcast and I wanted to bring it back. I took a look at the stats and found that, lo and behold, I still had listeners! The download rate had dropped dramatically during the hiatus, but we were still getting a few thousand feed hits (a few hundred downloads) per month. Yep. It was definitely worth reincarnating. This time, though, I wanted to bring everything in-house and escape from fixed-length format imposed by the radio world. If a topic takes ten minutes to cover, I’ll spend ten minutes on it. If it takes an hour, I’ll spend an hour.

Since I hadn’t been paying for air time or studio time for a while, I had a few bucks in the budget to pick up a couple of USB Blue YetiCaster microphones with Radium III shock mounts and Compass broadcast boom arms. I ordered the equipment and went to work analyzing statistics (I love putting statistics on spreadsheets) and deciding what topics would work well for the new longer format. In the meantime, I started editing and releasing the last few recordings from 2018, which had never been published as podcasts.

The first episode in the new format was a 21-minute monologue about wolves. Even though we’d just come back from a year off the air, it broke our record for best first two weeks. The next was a 20-minute dialog with Courtney about chronic wasting disease. It did even better. Last week, we released the third, which spent 43 minutes discussing how animals end up in wildlife sanctuaries. It featured a phone interview with Laurie Wolf, Acting Education Bureau Chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It hasn’t been up for a full week yet and it’s done almost as well as the CWD episode did in two weeks.

Clearly, the longer and more flexible format is working, although I’m not going to count my chickens before curiosity kills the cat that’s crying over the spilt milk. We’ll keep experimenting, and if you’re interested I’d love to have you give the podcast a listen! You can visit or search for “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” wherever you listen to your podcasts.

2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem


My new job has given me the opportunity to dive into some new and interesting projects. For quite some time, I’ve wanted to play around with podcasting. I’ve been on other people’s podcasts (The Successful Author Podcast with Julie Anne Eason, for example), and done various radio gigs, but I’ve never had my own podcast.

Here’s how it came to be.

YWS Logo color - smallAs Education Director at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, part of my job is outreach. Outreach isn’t the same as advertising. Outreach has to have an educational component to it. But walking into a new job at a little 501(c)(3) nonprofit and getting attention with your outreach programs can be … challenging.

Back when my wife and I owned Red Lodge Books & Tea, I had a little segment I did once a week on FM99 radio called This Week in Books. By “segment,” I mean “60 second live advertisement.” Each week, I’d give the radio host a topic and he’d throw a few (mostly scripted) questions at me. Remembering this segment turned on the lightbulb in my head.

For those who haven’t dabbled in podcasting, you can broadly separate podcasts into two production styles: casual and professional. Anyone with a quiet spot and a smartphone can do a casual podcast, but that’s not what I wanted mine to sound like.

Serious podcasting requires a bit of an investment in equipment and software, and a studio to record in. I have enough in the budget for hosting and some professional audio editing software, but not enough for a studio.

So I went to FM99 and set up a weekly segment again. Just like the old book segment, this one would be completely live. Unlike the old book segment, this one would be recorded. Thus was born Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m., I go to the studio with my notes (and sometimes a few sound effects on a flash drive) and sit down with morning host Les King. I give him a heads-up on what we’re doing, and we talk for a couple of minutes on live radio. When we’re done, I have a professional recording from a professional studio on my flash drive.

I go back to the Wildlife Sanctuary, load up the script in Adobe Audition CC, and clean it up. Usually, the sound editing is pretty simple: clean up a false start or two, trim the beginning and end, and add a canned open and close. Sometimes I have to re-record a piece, and sometimes I add animal sounds in the background.

Episode_4_-_Bobcat_vs_LynxOnce it’s finalized, I type up the transcript — which is sometimes completely different from my original notes because it’s unrehearsed live radio — and create an “album cover” for the episode. Friday morning, the podcast goes live on the podcast section of the Sanctuary’s website along with iTunes and various aggregators.

If you have an interest in the critters of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, I hope you’ll give it a listen. Most of the episodes run 3-5 minutes (despite the name), and they cover a variety of topics related to this ecosystem and our wildlife sanctuary. As of this writing, there are seven episodes up, covering Sandhill Cranes, feeding wildlife, bobcats & lynxes, what the greater Yellowstone ecosystem actually is, porcupines, bear safety, and Swainson’s Hawks.

UPDATE JANUARY 2020: Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem hast morphed into a longer-format podcast called Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. See this blog post for more info. Also, I’m now the Executive Director at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.


One for the bucket list: Giving a TED talk

My bucket list is an eclectic — and rather lengthy — collection of things. I’ve crossed some cool stuff off of that list: competing in a rodeo, being profiled in Forbes magazine, playing guitar at a wedding, giving a guest lecture at U.C. Berkeley, getting a U.S. Patent (two, actually), getting a teaching credential. I have a few “almosts” as well. I haven’t given a commencement address at a university, but I gave one at a high school. I haven’t ridden an elephant, but I’ve ridden a camel.

Recently, I got a “close enough.” One of the items on my list is to perform standup comedy in front of a live audience. Last week, I was master of ceremonies for a comedy show raising money for a local veterans’ center. As emcee, I performed a bit between comedians. I’m crossing that one off.

In a few months, I will be achieving one of the most exciting “almosts” of my life. Giving a TED talk is on my bucket list. I will be giving a TEDx talk in March.

TEDxBozeman logo

What the heck is a TED talk?

TED started out almost 30 years ago in 1984 as a conference bringing together people to talk about Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The current format for TED talks coalesced in 2006, when the first six talks were presented. Between their website and other venues like podcasts and YouTube, TED is on the cusp of its one billionth view. TED’s current tagline is “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and it lives up to that promise very well.

TED talks are highly polished and well-produced. Each talk is limited to a maximum of 18 minutes. Some are only a few minutes long. I download TED talks to my iPad and watch them at the gym and on plane rides. I watch them on my computer. Sometimes I run them through the AppleTV so I can watch them on the big living room TV set. I’ve watched a lot of TED talks on an amazing variety of subjects — they’ve moved far beyond the original scope of tech, entertainment, and design. If you’re unfamiliar with TED, here are a few of my favorites you might like watching to get a feel for how it works:

These five videos represent things that appeal to me. They carry themes that represent big parts of my life: books, storytelling, public speaking, science, nature, technology. There are thousands more. Scan through the available TED talks and you’ll find subjects that appeal to you. I can almost guarantee it.

Look through the list of presenters, and you’ll find an impressive roster of recognizable names: Malcolm Gladwell, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peter Gabriel, Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf, Temple Grandin, David Pogue, Annie Lennox, Adam Savage, Thomas Dolby, Jeff Bezos, Tony Robbins, Al Gore, Bono. Some of these people have changed the world! Can you see why my bucket list would include walking out on the stage where they’ve spoken?

The dream begins to form

Last month, I went to work and found a message waiting for me from a gentleman named Ken Fichtler. He is a co-founder of TEDxBozeman, and dropped in to ask if I’d submit a proposal for a TEDx talk. Let me back up for a moment and explain TEDx.

TED is all about ideas worth spreading. There are far more of those ideas than can possibly be covered in the main TED events. The TED people decided that they needed to give more people an opportunity to participate, so they created TEDx, where the “x” means “Independently Organized TED Event.” On March 23, 2009, the first TEDx event was held at the University of Southern California. Since then, there have been over than 5,000 TEDx events in 148 countries and 50 languages!

If you visit the TED website, their catalog of 1,500 TED talk videos is augmented by an astonishing 30,000 TEDx videos from conferences around the world.

And Ken Fichtler was inviting me to participate. Well, to apply to participate.

I contacted him and asked if there was something in particular that led him to approach me. Was it my poop books? My work with tea? My recent talks about censorship and book banning? As it turns out, he was familiar with my work in closed captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and that’s what he had in mind.

Being the cheeky fellow that I am, I went ahead and submitted two applications. One was what I’ve been speaking about lately, and I entitled it “Does Book Banning Work?” The other, more along the lines of what he was looking for, I titled “Does Closed Captioning Still Serve Deaf People?” I sent in the applications, and I waited. For three interminably long weeks, I waited.

The decision

Three days ago, I got word that the committee had met and made a selection. It has been confirmed. They picked the captioning application.

I will be presenting a talk at TEDxBozeman on Friday, March 21, 2014.

I am hyped. I am thrilled. I am humbled. I’ve spoken to some pretty big audiences before — 650 people is my current record — but this will be the highest-profile talk I’ve ever given.

Soon, I’ll post some more about my talk, although I’m not going to give away any details. You’re going to have to either attend TEDxBozeman or catch the video online if you want the whole story.

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