“Honestly when do you ever get a chance to sit like this across from someone and talk to them for three hours without checking your phone? Without anyone coming into the room? Without anyone interrupting you with something you have to do or some place you have to be?” — Joe Rogan
Want to create a great podcast? Me too. Still working on getting it to ‘great” (or even ‘good’), but I did create a podcast.
This journal is about making the first eight episodes of Active Recall. If you’ve thought about starting a podcast, this might give you an idea of what it’s like.
|Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
|Grit by Angela Duckworth
|Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
|The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
|The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
|Creative Confidence By Tom And David Kelley
|(Sort of) Hitman by Bret Hart
|(Sort of) The 5-Minute Journal created by UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn
We didn’t originally set out to do this, but we discussed one book in each episode.
I co-host with Wally, who I’ve known since middle school. We have a group chat with Jason (friend of the pod). For the past few months, we’ve sent email updates with our annual goals. Sometimes we do group video calls. It’s a mastermind in format, not in quality of minds.
This year, I read Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelestein. He talks about how hazy memories can get:
I’ve always kept a haphazard diary. It’s a good thing to have because we forget so much. As a reporter you meet so many people, cover so many tragedies, write so many stories, it’s hard to keep track of what’s gone by and where you have been.
Shortly after that, I started reading Bret Hart’s autobiography, Hitman. It’s packed with stories with small details. How’d he remember all of that?
Ever since I’d gone to work for the WWF I’d carried a tape recorder with me all over the world, recording a diary of my life.
Journalist covering Tokyo gangs, former WWF champion with the winged eagle belt, and… blog person. People will definitely want to hear about the small details of my life.
- I recorded voice notes on my iPhone when walking to and from work. Often it was going through prompts from The Five-Minute Journal.
- I recorded voice notes at home with a better mic. I emailed them to friends as attachments.
- I started uploading them to SoundCloud, which led to embedding them on my blog.
At this point I wanted to try to do it for real. Wally said he’d be happy to co-host, but what are we going to talk about?
Podcast recommendation: Half Baked Ideas
These sections could also be titled Why I Love Podcasts So Much. Any good ideas we have are probably inspired by (read: directly ripped from) one of the podcasts in these blue sidebars.
The first podcast I listened to was Bill Simmons’s podcast when he was on ESPN. I read his column for years and started listening to the podcast in the summer of 2008 because my brother recommended it to me. He had guests on like Dave Dameshek and Adam Carolla, so then I checked out their podcasts.
Dameshek and Carolla were radio guys, but Simmons also just had his college buddies and other friends. In the comment sections, some people would complain about him having his friends on his show. I don’t think he cared a bit. I loved that.
Friends bring years or decades of chemistry and nobody is plugging things so the conversations flow better.
Whenever Bill Simmons had Kevin Wildes on, they’d go over some of Wildes’s half-baked ideas. Sometimes Dave Jacoby would join. When Grantland was in full swing, Wildes and Jacoby paired up for a few Half-Baked Ideas episodes of their own.
These are my favorite podcasts. Period. I’ve listened to some of these many times over. I was hoping to link to more but RIP Grantland now also includes a lot of Grantland’s old podcast feeds.
Wildes and Jacoby are now doing bigger things at ESPN. Wildes produces SportsNation and other original content. Jacoby had a podcast with Jalen Rose which is now a daily ESPN radio show.
Way before SportsNation and Half-Baked ideas, they had their first show, It’s the Shoes (YouTube has an episode with f-a-b-o). Of course, there was a time even before that. From an old Kix and the City interview with Wildes:
When I graduated I went and wrote for a local newspaper, then my old boss at Letterman brought me to ESPN. At ESPN I just worked my way up from fixing the copy machine, to, fixing the bigger copy machine, until they begin to finally trust you and you get to work on the ESPY awards and random other projects.
Don’t dress for the copy machine you’re fixing now. Dress for the copy machine that you want to fix in the future.
|Bill Simmons & Kevin Wildes
|World’s Greatest Dad Competition
|Kevin Wildes & David Jacoby
|Grown man sleepy-time books, America’s Team Olympics
Book: Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
As soon as we could, we did a test episode to figure out how to set things up. We’ll include this as a bonus in the 2027 season ten limited edition boxed set.
Wally kicked off an email thread.
Subject: “Questions, Ideas, Topics, for May 11 podcast”
We went back and forth figuring out a rough outline. Then we filled that outline in with paragraphs.
The day came. I opened up Screenflow, fired up the Blue Snowball, and Wally threw his stock iPhone earphones on.
We started talking about flow and Wally asked what book I was talking about. I happened to be reading Creativity at the time so I had it right by the desk. Then we sort of just stayed on that topic the rest of the episode. We became a podcast about books.
In his other book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about the autotelic experience:
The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding.
On the opposite end, there are exotelic activities. You practice so that you’re better when it’s time to perform. Even better if you find activities combining the two. Again, from Flow:
Surgeons usually enter into their long period of training because of exotelic expectations: to help people, to make money, to achieve prestige. If they are lucky, after a while they begin to enjoy their work, and then surgery becomes to a large extent also autotelic.
With enough exotelic preparation, recording an episode becomes an autotelic flow experience. A little bit of grit goes a long way.
Podcast recommendation: TADPOG (Tyler and Dave Play old Games)
On TADPOG, Tyler and Dave discuss one game for each episode. For a few weeks I would search through their archive and listen to an episode each day. If there’s a SNES game you enjoy, they have an episode for it. If you don’t know what SNES stands for, you will not enjoy it.
There are a lot of podcasts that are created as another media channel to go along with their blog and ebook. TADPOG is entirely on the other end of the spectrum. They do it because it’s fun and a great way to keep in touch with each other. It’s the spirit I’d want to try to have with Active Recall. And it’s not something you just have a formula for.
|Ep. 174 — Chrono Trigger
|Ep. 118 — Mortal Kombat II
|Ep. 144 — Earthbound
Book: Grit by Angela Duckworth
For this episode, we pulled excerpts and Wally did a short Q&A using a checklist from the book itself. In later episodes, the weekly book was sometimes more thematic instead of actually talking about the book itself.
One Grit chapter covers raising gritty children. Angela’s household has a “Hard thing” rule. Part of that involves guidelines for quitting:
You can quit. But you can’t quit until the season is over, the tuition payment is up, or some other natural stopping point has arrived. You can’t quit on a bad day.
We decided 12 weeks is our “season”. We decided we’d make it at least to week 12, even if we had to push through to do it. That’s when we’ll decide to continue or not. We haven’t had a bad day yet. We’ve definitely made bad content but every single recording session has been energizing and engaging.
At this point, we closing in on a format to follow, though we still need to hire a Fiverr voice actor for our intro:
Each week, Tim Ferriss breaks down a different top performer from a broad range of fields. On Active Recall, we break down the same two average performers: ourselves.
Podcast recommendation: Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn
I stumbled across Pat Flynn’s podcast in 2012, a few weeks before moving to New York. I don’t remember how I came across it, but I’m glad I did. It was through listening to Pat Flynn’s podcast that I started thinking that you don’t have to be someone from traditional media to start a podcast.
I went back and listened to these episodes specifically when trying to get Active Recall up and running.
|SPI 051: Tim Ferriss on Promotion from Scratch, Accelerated Learning, Experiments Gone Wrong, Publishing, and More
|SPI 110: Tim Ferriss on Podcasting, Productivity, Experimentation, and if He Had to Start Over
Book: Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
In Barking up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker relays some decision-making advice from Barry Schwartz:
Good enough is almost always good enough.
This was not our best episode. I thought about re-recording this episode on the off chance that Eric Barker listened to it. But we decided, if anything, we’d publish this and do another episode in the future on the same book.
In week 1, we did super detailed outlines. Once we started filling it in really thoroughly, it became harder to have a conversation. I suggested that we have the outline and each of us can write as much as we want but we don’t share that part with each other. That way we know the topic but can respond to what the other person is saying.
At this point Wally had a Zoom H1. I ordered a Zoom H1 to have matching recorders. We clipped our lav mics on and were ready to rock. Halfway in, it felt more like whispering to each other in a library. We didn’t know how to use our equipment and that probably wasn’t the best time to learn. So we ripped the lavs off.
There’s always going to be better equipment. The bar for good-enough audio quality is actually pretty low. In two of our earlier episodes, we used EarPods and the audio was fine. I always remind myself of what Tim Ferriss suggests: mono and loud enough.
I can go and on about hardware and software details (and probably will in a separate post), but here’s a rundown of what we used:
|Ferrite (on iPad)
|Zoom H1 + lav mic
|Zoom H1 + lav mic
|Screenflow, Ferrite (on iPad)
|Screenflow and Auphonic (MacOS)
|Screenflow, Auphonic (web)
|Screenflow, Auphonic (web)
In week 9, we started using two Rogue Amoeba programs: Audio Hijack (recording) and Fission (editing)
Podcast recommendation: Tim Ferriss
You’ve probably heard of Tim Ferriss before. If not, check his podcast out. This is where I learned about a very important question:
“What would this look like if it were easy?”
It’s the question that helped us record past, say, three episodes. There are probably people out there who wanted to start a podcast but are tangled up in XLR cable spaghetti.
If I notice I’m struggling with pre-show notes or post-show editing, I ask if I’m making it harder than it needs to be.
I also started using that as a driving question in other aspects of my life. There are times where grit is worth it. At other times, we make things way harder than they need to be.
|This is where I got the “mono and loud enough” guidelines.
|I admire David Heinemeier Hansson and Basecamp’s view on work life balance being a part of a sustainable business.
Sustainability and consistency have been themes for me this year.
|I’m all-in on episodes with people talking about writing habits. Birbiglia goes to a coffee shop first thing in the morning and writes for at least three hours. Sometimes five.
|He talks about writing being blissful. In the sense that most writing isn’t actually writing. It’s planning and editing. When he can really sit down and just write, that’s bliss.
|I admire his approach to life. He works on what he wants to work on and helps so many people out.
Book: The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
“Like Tai Lopez?”
“You know, that guy with like a Lamborghini but he pans over and says they’re not as valuable as these books.”
I told my friend I started a podcast and that we talk about self-development books. He used to have a podcast about comics.
Every Wednesday, he’d buy a bunch of comics during lunch and go through as many as possible in a couple hours after work. His friends were doing the same and they’d do a group call for their podcast. They did over a hundred episodes.
The book we went over is The Slight Edge, which is about how small things always add up over time. Both good and bad. We’ve been making small adjustments each week in an effort to keep things easy. Sometimes we’re wrong about the idea and the adjustment makes things harder.
This is the week I started writing a short journal entry as soon as I could after recording the podcast. As for day-to-day, I still write daily and it gives me things to talk about when it’s time to record.
After a few weeks of thinking through using our names or nicknames or if we should combine them or not, we decided on a show name.
Welcome to… Active Recall!
Podcast recommendation: Short Story Long with Big Black
Stop when it’s not fun anymore. My friend with the old podcast said they stopped when it stopped being fun. On this episode of Short Story Long, Drama talks to Big Black about pretty much the entire run of Rob and Big. Early on, he told himself if it stops being fun, he’ll walk away. In the later seasons, it stopped being fun for everyone. They stopped.
One thing we do each week is ask if it’s still fun. The answer has been “yes” every single week so far. If it turns into a “Yes, but…” then we can probably solve that before it turns into a clear “No.”
Book: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
We clearly didn’t follow one of Ryan Holiday’s request: Please, Please for the Love of God: Do Not Start a Podcast
But we did use a lot of what Ryan explains in his book, The Obstacle is the Way. We can re-frame our obstacles as challenges. We don’t have listeners, but it’s an opportunity to learn about promoting and sharing work. That led to me starting this podcast journal.
In writing this retrospective of the first eight weeks, I’ve been looking at the show notes posts. Some are better than others. This episode has good show notes. It might be a good idea to bring the book-a-week format back in some way.
It provides structure. It provides a theme.
Our current obstacle is that we don’t have listeners. We’d like to increase that, but it’d be good to have something worth listening to.
Pulling some ideas from Ryan’s other book, Ego is the Enemy, it wouldn’t be worth beating ourselves up over not having listeners. We haven’t earned the right to feel badly about not having an audience. We still need to get our reps in.
In his post about not starting podcasts, he calls out people doing it because other people are doing it. People who won’t put the work in and have yet another thing to expand their personal brand.
Wally and I started our podcast because we thought it’d be fun. We aren’t setting out thinking we’ll make a lot of (or any) money doing this. We’re taking the time to try and improve each episode. I’m writing this to organize my thoughts around what we want to accomplish with the show. At the very least we aren’t sending automated emails asking for interviews.
But we will build this brand, baby! Please leave us a review on iTunes.
Podcast recommendation: Stay healthy with Robb Wolf, Fat-Burning Man, and Shawn Stevenson
After listening to ESPN podcasts, health and fitness podcasts were probably next. Mostly because I got interested in the paleo diet, read Robb Wolf’s book, and found out he has a great podcast.
Podcasts are my favorite way to consume health-related content. The long format is that you get a good sense of people’s personalities that doesn’t come across in articles or distilled sound bytes.
I first learned about the principles through Robb Wolf. If you want someone as the lead representative of your wellness community, he’s on the short list. I’ve listened to other health & fitness content and it often take that step beyond confidence into arrogance. We’re right here’s why these other people are fools.
Robb, and the other health podcast hosts I listen to, don’t stray into arrogance.
When Robb Wolf appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast he brought up Rome vomitoriums and how they were where people would vomit to eat more food. Joe calls him out on this (2:40:12) and explains it’s not true.
Robb says well that sucks that I can’t use that story anymore. Joe says sorry and Robb replies, “No no. I am properly chagrined.”
He’s okay being wrong. That gives me confidence that the other things he talks about are very much right.
|I learned about this through his book Sleep Smarter but he talks about all aspects of health.
|Joe DeFranco Triple H episode
|This is the one that’s not so aligned with the paleo/primal stuff I try to follow. Podcasts are the best way to step out of your echo chamber and learn from people with other perspectives.
Book: Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley
Directive applied to the podcast: We’re trying things out, doing new segments to see what works and what doesn’t. After this episode, we tried one that was all podcast recommendations and we also did a recap episode. That led to this journal, so I’d say it was successful in that sense.
This was the last book-a-week that we did. Mostly because we couldn’t really finish reading a book each week. I read the ebook previously so I bought the audiobook to listen to in the week leading up to it. During free-writing sessions in the week, I wrote about different parts of the book. Surprise: knowing the material is a good thing.
This episode starts rough but it picks up in the middle. It was our best attempt at balancing the planning phase. We had an outline but didn’t overdo it so that it would still be conversational rather than each of us taking turns saying what we wrote.
After this episode, we decided to get away from the book-a-week format to try other things. After a few episodes away from it, I’m actually thinking that was a good way to go. It’d be great if we had a little more variety in the books that we cover.
(It also reflects my personal reading material, which I’ve written about needing to mix up and followed through by not mixing things up at all.)
Moving forward, I’ll refer back to how we prepared for this episode to try and repeat what was successful. It seemed like the right amount of planning.
I’ve mentioned many times that we did this to have fun. This was the week that we acknowledged that it’d probably be a good idea to start sharing it more with other people.
We started telling more friends and thinking of ways to promote it.
Podcast recommendation: Showrunner
If you have a podcast and want really tactical things, then go listen to the Showrunner. Each of them has their own shows and they share their knowledge. It’s one of those which is great for digging into the archives.
I was listening to the Showrunner podcast and they did a top list of things to do with your podcast to start the year. One thing that stuck out was the guidance to “not be someone else”.
There’s a balance there with trying to do things others do. There’s the proper, Austin Kleon-esque Steal Like an Artist method. And then there’s just trying to be someone you’re entirely not.
We’re still trying to figure out what we want to do with the podcast. Why would a stranger want to listen to it?
First, people want to be entertained. That’s the entire point of listening to a podcast. Even if a show’s intention is to be educational first, being entertaining is a major step toward an idea being sticky.
Still, there are hundreds of thousands of other options. And that’s just podcasts. There’s an infinite amount of other things you can do. It’s us vs. the entire rest of the internet.
Entertaining doesn’t have to mean a laugh a minute. That’d be extremely hard and we’re not good enough. But we’ll continue aiming to be interesting and fun.
Before we can waste your time, first we need to convince you to listen to us. I think the book was a good hook. You might be able to learn something. And that is the entire premise of the title.
Second, people want to learn something. It’s best done if you’re entertaining. Not to say that’s easy.
|No. 086 10 Tips for a Better Show in 2017
|No. 092 The ‘Create Anything’ Framework
|No. 062 Beware: Authenticity Is Not Transparency
Book: Hitman by Bret Hart
Directive applied to the podcast: This was actually the end of the book a week format but we did talk about Bret Hart and wrestling.
This was one of the most fun episodes to make. We talked about wrestling and Jason dialed in and we continued to talk about wrestling.
As mentioned in The Showrunner sidebar above, this episode is probably where we try least to be like other shows. We grew up watching wrestling. Not the most applicable type of uniqueness. But it’s something.
Growing up, wrestling and videogames were probably at about the same level of weirdness. Gaming then became kind of cool and has settled back into mainstream and normal. Wrestling, on the other hand, is still a weird thing. More often than not, I’m greeted with blank stares when I bring up wrestling. So more often than not, I don’t bring up wrestling.
But I’m also greeted with a giant smile if someone else knows who like Papa Shango is.
Podcast recommendation: Cheap Heat! & The Masked Man Show
I keep up with wrestling through a couple podcasts. One of those podcasts is Cheap Heat, a wrestling podcast with Pete Rosenberg and Uptown Malcolm aka Stat Guy Greg. Before Grantland was shut down, David Shoemaker was Pete’s co-host but now he has The Masked Man Show as part of The Ringer Podcast Network.
Which makes me think of the three camps of podcasts that I come across. These are broad categorizations but I think a lot of podcasts would be able to fit into one of these three buckets
- One host who mostly does interviews: That host is an expert and will interview other people in the same field. Health and fitness podcasts will have health and fitness people on. Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss come to mind as people who interview experts in any field because they’re interested in mastery. Joe Rogan, and Bill Simmons does this also, will also have regular guests. They’re a part of the show and in some cases end up with their own shows. Bill Burr is the one person that comes to mind who has a solo show that rarely has interviews and isn’t scripted. He’s also Bill Burr.
- Two hosts: This is what Cheap Heat is. Single hosts like Joe Rogan and Bill Simmons sometimes have regular guests and it’s pretty much a two host show. The distinction mostly is that the host isn’t interviewing the other person. Bill Simmons became an excellent interviewer. He interviewed Obama during his time in office.
- Narrated, scripted to some extent, and produced: This is Serial and the other NPR-type shows. Serial was the first podcast a lot of people listened to. I listened to Serial and the first season of Startup but these kinds of shows aren’t in my rotation. These are harder to make and likely more of a craft because there’s a whole lot more planning and editing.
Putting these in buckets reminds me of professional wrestling. When a group is talking about podcasts, I wonder if any of them have put on Joe Rogan and his friends to listen to in the background like a baseball game on the radio.
|Cheap Heat podcast
|The Masked Man Show
|The Steve Austin Show
Week eight: it’s two people, talking
Book: The Five-Minute Journal created by UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn
We didn’t do the book-a-week and this a journal not a book you really read. But we talked about it more than we talked about the actual books in some of the book episodes.
In the spirit of that journal, a podcast themed entry…
What are you grateful for?
- I’m grateful I can catch up with Wally for an hour each week
- I’m grateful for the early supporters, our real-life friends. They listen to us and as embarrassed as I still am to talk about it, I’m really really glad people listen.
- I’m grateful that other people share their resources to make it easy and that there are just so many podcasts to draw inspiration from (aka steal segments from)
What will you do to make the podcast great?
- We’ll keep working on improving it. It’s part hanging out with a friend and it’s part craft. The ratio is up to us. We aren’t going to become Howard Stern or Larry King when it comes to interviewing. But we won’t just turn on the mics and blab, either. Well, we probably will but we’ll try to edit it out.
- We’ll continue trying new things.
- We’ll start sharing more and putting effort into that. Our suspicion is that it’ll be more fun if we have more listeners because it will open up the opportunity to have more listener interactions.
What 3 amazing things happened through the podcast
- I’m becoming a better speaker outside of the podcast in my day to day.
- I’ve gotten a few messages from people saying they enjoyed listening to an episode. I didn’t tell them about the show directly, but they sent a nice message about it. Making not-complete-garbage: it’s a good feeling.
- We got our first review!
Podcast recommendation: Powerful Joe Rogan, Jocko Willink, and the power of podcasts
Some of the one-host interview shows go over an hour and it’s in that second hour where the conversation turns. A lot of guests on shows are promoting something. They can sleepwalk through thirty minutes and are prepared for an hour.
After an hour, things usually where things get deeper.
Joe Rogan goes long. Often it’s over 2 and sometimes 3 hours.
The Joe Rogan quote at the very top of this post is from episode 962 with Jocko Willink. It’s one of my favorite episodes ever from Joe Rogan’s podcast. (And there are a ton of good ones.)
When I recommended Joe DeFranco’s show earlier, I mentioned how important it is to get outside of your echo chamber. Joe Rogan is entirely outside of the tech, blogger, lifestyle design, productivity bubble I usually stay in.
On this episode, he talks about his approach to life and his day to day:
“Get obsessed with life improvement. Find things that you enjoy doing that are difficult. Do them and get better at them. Seems so simplistic. Seems like a ridiculous and idealistic point of view. But it is effective. And be nice to people. It’s not so hard.”
In my usual bubble, it’d take 27 Medium thought pieces to capture that. (And I’d probably end up reading all of them.)
It’s easy to start a podcast. It’s easy to make it harder than it needs to be. I’ll continue focusing on making it easy.
Have we been successful?
We said we’d keep doing it as long as it’s fun. I still look forward to Thursday mornings to record and catch up with Wally. We’re gonna keep doing it.
In looking back at the first 8 episodes contrasted with the recommendations of podcasts I really enjoy, a couple things stuck out.
Active Recall doesn’t revolve around a single topic: We’re going to go back to the book-a-week format. It just really helps to tie an episode together. In the same way TADPOG episodes are cool to search for by individual SNES games, people might be able to search our (future) archive for books they enjoy.
Neither of us is well known for something else: Not an easy fix. To start working on promoting and sharing the show, we kind of have to assume people would enjoy our podcast but just don’t know about it. We’ll continue working toward improving each episode so that’s less of an assumption.
I’ll be trying to build our online audience. I was thinking of different things to do. Then I thought it could be really cool to do a journal about creating a podcast.
It’s been very fun talking to an audience that would fit around a large dinner table, but if we stay at this size forever we may as well actually host dinners with a large table. There’s something special about this format.
For the third time, I’ll grab a quote from the Joe Rogan episode (#962) I started this post with. Jocko Willink explains what’s special about podcasting:
“That’s why I think this podcast audio format is so powerful, because the people that are listening to this right now are sitting in the room with us. They’re here. With us.”
With as large a listenership as Jocko has, he eventually meets some in person:
“They look me in the eyes and they shake my hand. And they know me. And… I kind of know them too.”
We’d love for you to get to know us.
(Thanks so much for reading!)
Now I can get back to working on my free PDF: Can You Get Productive? “Shoryuken!” (Sure you can!) : THE Guide to Productivity with Video Game Analogies Instead of the Marshmallow Study