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Closing out the C-Realm Podcast

I don't remember exactly when I first heard the word "podcast." It was some time in early 2006. At a guess, I'd say late February. I don't remember where I first encountered the term, but once I understood what it meant, I did a search for "cannabis podcast" and found The Dopecast. I then did a search for "psychedelic podcast" and found The Psychedelic Salon. Both shows were in their early days, and astute listeners can find the fingerprints of these two podcasts on the C-Realm Podcast.

I sent an email to the Dopefiend, the creator of the Dopecast, and he read it on his podcast. As far as I could tell, the Dopefiend read and responded to every email he received. That impressed upon me what a small community of listeners had gravitated to his show. It surprised me because his show had very professional sounding production values.

At the time that I discovered podcasts, I was selling insurance in northwest Arkansas, and my business focused on the Medicare market. I didn't have an .mp3 player, and so I listened to podcasts on my laptop. Frequently I would be dressed in my suit and tie, groomed to visit with senior citizens in their homes to get them signed up for a Medicare Part D drug plan, and I would drive to their homes while listening to the Dopecast or Psychedelic Salon from my laptop which sat open on the passenger's seat of my car.

Within a few months I purchased my first .mp3 player. It was a Zen Creative device that looked like this: . It could only hold a few podcasts. After a while, I discovered that it had a built-in microphone that looked like nothing more than a pin hole in the body of the devise. Shortly thereafter, I took the devise to the office of a lawyer in Springdale, Arkansas and asked his opinion about a video that instructed young people how to resist being pressured by overbearing police officers into consenting to a search of their car. I bought a $14 headset microphone, downloaded Audacity, a free, open-source audio editing program, and assembled my first podcast. I signed up for a free account with PodOMatic and posted my first episode on Wednesday, October 1st, 2006.

The day I posted that first episode just happened to be a Wednesday, but I knew that I wanted to do a weekly show, so I posted a new episode every Wednesday thereafter for the next couple of years. I did take a week off in 2008 when I was on an ayahuasca retreat in the Peruvian Amazon, and I've taken a couple of Wednesday's off in the 9 years since I posted that first episode, but they were always announced in advance. In all that time, I never missed a self-imposed podcast deadline.

By the third episode I figured out how to record Skype calls, and then all the technical elements were in place. I have upgraded my equipment and my audio production chops since then, but by that third episode, I had the fundamentals under my belt to create several hundred podcast episodes.

Lorenzo Hagerty, the creator of the Psychedelic Salon Podcast, was my guest on episode 9: Athiestic Faith. Years later, he mentioned in an interview that my contacting him and inviting him to be a guest on the C-Realm gave him the encouragement he needed to continue podcasting at a time when he was feeling discouraged. Up till then he hadn't been sure anybody was listening to his show or getting anything out of it.

On October 10th, 2006, I heard Terry Gross interview Moises Naim, editor and publisher of Foreign Policy magazine, about his book book, Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy, which had just been released in paperback.

I was excited because I had read the book in hardcover the previous year and posted a favorable review to Amazon.com. The author contacted me via email to thank me for posting such a generous review, so I had both his email address and an "in" with him. I sent him an email reminding him of the review and asking him for an interview. He agreed. You can hear that conversation in C-Realm Podcast episode number 11: Illicit Maps, which also features a conversation with Rick Doblin, the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

The Moises Naim episode was huge for me because it meant that I had interviewed someone I first heard on National Public Radio's most high-profile, long-form interview program. This contributed greatly to my sense that I'd really found my calling with this podcasting thing.

The fact that it felt like a career, took up a huge amount of my time, dominated my self-identification but did not pay was a deadly combination for my marriage. Particularly since the work I could do for pay, selling insurance, was something I hated and which also required self-motivation on my part. I had no boss, couldn't be fired for slacking off, and was receiving residual compensation for past work. Not enough to maintain a middle class lifestyle, but enough that it allowed me to crash and burn in financial slow motion. And all the while, I kept podcasting.

I'll spare you a detailed account of the next decade. Readers of this blog are likely familiar with the thematic arc of the podcast over that period as well as the fact that I moved from Arkansas, to Maryland, to Tennessee and finally to New York City during that time.

In 2012 I created a second weekly podcast called the C-Realm Vault which would only be available to paid subscribers. Finally, after 6 years, podcasting started to provide me with a reliably regular income. Not enough, but in conjunction with living rent-free with Olga, it allowed me to pay my child support, buy groceries, keep my truck serviced and fueled and continue my podcasting career.

On Wednesday, February 17th, 2016, I will post episode number 500 of the C-Realm Podcast. That will be the last episode in the series. Thereafter I will continue the weekly C-Realm Vault podcasts, and I will create a new free podcast that I will update once a month, but the free weekly podcasts will be a thing of the past.

On a recent trip to Arkansas I discussed cult groups, off mic, with C-Realm guest Dan Krotz. We noted that cults tend to put their members to work without pay. I don't remember if it was Dan or me who said that only damaged people are willing to work for free. People who are firm in their self-worth expect to be paid for their work, and that struck an immediate chord with me.

I have been pouring my heart and soul into the C-Realm Podcast for most a decade. It has been a vehicle for personal growth, put me in touch with an amazing network of people, and helped me establish a reputation as a patient and thoughtful interviewer. And the listeners have supported my efforts with their donations. I wasn't working for free exactly, but all told, I would have made more if I'd remained consistently employed in a minimum wage job over that period.

I announced my intention to end the C-Realm Podcast on the Friends of the C-Realm group on July 29th, and most of the responses I received were positive. A couple of people interpreted my scaling back from producing 8 podcasts a month to 5 as quitting and posting something to the effect of, "Nice knowing you." Most everyone else realized that I wouldn't lie fallow or retreat into a straight job, and several well-wishers expressed their anticipation at what I will do after I bring the free, weekly podcast to a close.

At present, my plan is to use the time I will free up by discontinuing the C-Realm Podcast to do more writing, get back to work on the C-Realm webcomic, and start video blogging on YouTube. I'll say more about my vlogging ambitions in another post.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 9th, 2015 05:34 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised you lasted this long.

You could easily get an income from the C-Realm, but you and I both know it would involve a compromise too egregious to consider. Advertising is creeping into podcasting with no positive effect.

The problem is a simple one. The advertisers know their traditional outlets—radio and television, to say nothing of print periodicals—are dying as media. The younger audience simply does not tolerate ad delivery, choosing instead to eschew clock slavery (timed broadcasts) and print subscriptions.

So advertisers are forcing their way into public, well, consciousness by whatever means available. At the same time, though, there has been precious little development in processes and technologies that would allow podcasters a non-commercial income.

Micropayments? Can't do 'er, they're manure. If you could net a penny per show from each C-Realm listener, you would keep the show going, right? There is right now no way to send someone a one-time penny payment without incurring 25¢ of processing fees.

And I believe that micropayment status quo is being maintained simply to prevent the rise of non-commercial media that would compete for eyes and ears.

This same conflict arose during the rise of radio. Seriously, I encourage you to read Tim Wu's The Master Switch. Monied forces did everything they could to suppress non-commercial radio. (Television was not nearly as much of a challenge, since it took too much capital investment to build a station for mere amateurs to attempt.) But radio was largely amateur in the early days.

A cartoon from 1922.

This was not a fringe view. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover weighed in with: "It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter."

The rest is history. Public radio is now too commercial (for my taste, at least).

No matter. The important thing for me to do is not to rail against the forces that minimize divergent voices with interesting things to say. It is, rather, to thank one such voice for the excellent service he has provided over the years.

So Thank You, KMO. I look forward to whatever you deliver next.

[Sorry for all the edits.]

Edited at 2015-08-09 05:35 pm (UTC)
Aug. 9th, 2015 10:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jim
A penny a listener wouldn't make the venture sustainable. That would only bring in thirty five to forty bucks a week. A dime each plus the income I derive from the Vault would do the trick.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to getting into video production, so I'm not "giving up" or "throwing in the towel" or anything like that. I'm stepping down from 8 shows a month to 5 and branching out into another medium with it's own demands and stylistic strictures.

Thank you for your very generous support over the years.

Edited at 2015-08-09 10:40 pm (UTC)
Aug. 18th, 2015 07:09 pm (UTC)
I've avoided some of the yammer on FB. I've followed you on LJ since before there was a podcast, so the presence or absence of the free weekly is just change. Everything changes. I hope this change for you is a good one.

I do also hope that the community that grew up around the podcast will not collapse, though - the FOTCR are an odd but worthwhile bunch. And there's not a good "replacement" for the sort of open inquiry you have held space for.

p.s. Google "Rio Cali MP3 player" to see my first one. I had a 512mb SD card full of Terence McKenna and Lorenzo...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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