Saying that someone has "a face for the radio" used to be an insult. But over the past seven years, independent podcasters revived a medium that had lost its allure due to shock jocks and overwrought advertising. Orlando's podcast scene is no exception, and there are plenty of independent local creatives fine-tuning the medium. Most of the city is familiar with scene heavyweight A Mediocre Time With Tom and Dan, but over the last few years the community has exploded, giving rise to dozens and dozens of worthwhile podcasts.
Many of the producers have some background in terrestrial radio or the audio industry, either from being in bands or having a cast member with professional training. All of them are committed to creating and broadcasting a quality show, whatever their focus may be, and they have a sincere love for their fans (and each other, most of the time).
For some, podcasting is a creative outlet that they work on out of sheer love of the craft, producing shows in home studios with self-funded equipment every week (and proudly sharing the results in their Facebook community, the very active Podcast Mafia). For others, podcasting has been a launching pad for other endeavors: Keep an eye out for The Nerdy Show's animated series Lightning Dogs and for What's the Fuss? Podcast's charity concerts. Ranging in topic from general news to bar banter to theme park gossip to geeking out, these are some of the podcasts we think deserve a closer listen.
The big dogs of the Orlando podcast community, Tom Vann and Daniel Dennis got their start on WTKS 104.1-FM's terrestrial radio station before setting sail for the uncharted waters of podcasting in 2009. They are known for their improvisational back-and-forth, their commitment to their fans, and their fans' near-rabid commitment to them (we see you, BDMs!). Tom and Dan have assists from Ross McCoy and Samantha Haar, but for the most part what listeners hear is well-honed banter from years of working together. The cornerstone of their success was initially viewed as a weakness: Before starting the podcast, a radio traditionalist told Dennis that Tom and Dan would never survive because it only had two hosts. He was wrong.
So you were "Morning Zoo" guys on terrestrial radio. What drew you to podcasting?
Tom: After we did the radio show, Daniel and I used to just sit in the office sometimes and we'd have our interns in there and they'd be laughing and me and Daniel would just be fucking around. We said, "Hey, we should record this. I bet the listeners would like to hear this. And if we put it on the internet we can do it uncensored." Daniel already had the know-how to do all of the audio stuff. We decided we should do a podcast on Wednesday, and we started it that Friday after we got out of work.
Dan: We'd stop and get some beers, eat some lunch, about 2 p.m. was our 5 o'clock, so we'd start drinking and talk some shit.
T: And we never changed that because we realized in podcasting, consistency is key.
Did you dislike the terrestrial radio model?
D: We disliked the radio business and where it was going. Definitely not as fun as it used to be.
T: We liked the format, though, of talk radio. We always say this just is what we do, we talk about stuff and try to make it funny and see where it goes.
Would you ever go back to regular radio?
T: We would not. They'll never be able to pay us enough to go back.
D: The amount of money we make now is based directly on how hard we work, whereas what we made before was never based on that.
T: We now have job security because if the show fails, it's us. We can't get fired, that kind of thing.
D: I try to fire him.
T: If me and Daniel don't die, we're set. We even got insurance on each other to make sure that didn't happen.
D: But mine was REALLY expensive because I think I'm going soon.
T: We realized this is how we make a living, we should protect it. It's called key man insurance. So if either one of us goes, the other one can take care of the person's family, and buy the other family out and get money into the business to figure out if it could survive.
Ross McCoy: (Points to Tom) Yes, (points to Dan) no.
Episode to start with: Episode: "The most recent episode on tomanddan.com"
A longtime talk radio fan, Swervey Jones started experimenting with podcasting around 2008. After a run of shows that didn't work out (including an entire podcast network that broadcast five shows a week) Jones hit his stride with The Swervey Jones Show in late 2015 after connecting with his co-host, audio engineer Trey Siwek. Jones is a hard worker who is as deeply invested in his own show as he is in the Orlando podcast community – he's known for listening to virtually every single local podcast when it airs and for animating Tom and Dan's Tom and Dan Toons! His show strives to present general conversation between Jones, Siwek and their guests in a way that's different from any other podcast in Orlando by seeking out the stories that no one else is talking about.
What's the focus of your podcast?
Swervey Jones: The main focus of the show is just general conversation. It's just things that we're into, things that have happened to us, little bits of things that happen in our life. We're a little nerdier than the other ones. I'll tend to ramble about comics and movies and stuff. The occasional story that pops up – and if we do a story, we try to go for something that we don't think anyone is going to talk about. I have this weird gift to get people to starting talking and open up, and I was like, "Talking's for me! I like doing it."
What do you think of the Orlando podcast scene and what are some of your favorite podcasts?
SJ: I think it's fantastic. The amount of love and promotion that everyone gives each other is unbelievable. I get to listen to pretty much all of them. I listen to Oh No Radio Show every week, I listen to BYOCB every week, I listen to all of the Tom and Dans, Burn It Down, Steezy's Trap House, What's the Fuss?, Tidbits, Cinema Crespodiso. All of them are my favorites.
What would you say sets you apart from some of the podcasts that are struggling?
SJ: It's networking. The shows that get out there and grind do better than the other podcasts that aren't out there grinding. Getting out there to events, talking to people, finding people who are into podcasts or at least interested in the idea so they might listen to a show or two.
Episode to start with: Episode 147: "Shaq's Grappling Hook"
A talk radio–formatted show with punk-rock roots, What's the Fuss? Podcast (or W.T.F.P.) got its first boost in listeners after Ross McCoy from Tom and Dan teased them on-air for having a name that was eerily similar to a little podcast run by famous comedian Marc Maron. Over the course of his attempted mockery, Ross mentioned W.T.F.P. roughly 35 times, putting the show on the map for thousands of podcast fans in the Orlando area. The attention was well-deserved: hosts Rocky Socha, Steve Etchie and Bill Helveston put lots of love and care into their show and they're the only show we talked to that has a strong background with a local charity that gives back to the Orlando community at a grass-roots level.
What's your podcast's origin story?
Rocky Socha: I had a charity called Planks for Nothing and I'd give skateboards and clothing away to kids. I needed someone to help me, so I got Bill. We started dropping clothes off around Lake Eola before we even had a podcast. And I knew he was funny, and I knew Etchie was funny, but I was gonna start a podcast no matter what because I had all of this material written. I knew that I wasn't a comedian because none of my jokes were going to be funny in 10 minutes; they're funny this second.
Why did you have a charity to begin with?
RS: I was homeless; I was a runaway. The charity thing happened because I got out of it. I hated that people had to deal with that. I was embarrassed, I hated it, and I was like, "Fuck it, I'm going to work." And getting out of it and helping other people, it really helped the wounds and it got rid of the embarrassment. And skateboarding and punk rock saved me completely.
What's your main focus?
RS: Music, interviews and comedy. It's all pretty much comedy and then we have a lot of guests and bands that we're into. It's pretty centralized around punk rock and a little bit of politics, but we really try to stay out of it. And if we do get political, we'll make fun of EVERYBODY because there's so much to make fun of.
Bill Helveston: It's a local idea. We want to promote the city. The community and the podcast community, they've accepted us and pushed us further than we could've gone this soon. That was my whole idea about it: Take this show, use the platform and promote things in this city.
Episode to start with: Episode 34: "Fritzkrieg Bop"
Owen Butler, the "Captain of the Shit Ship" at Oh No Radio Show, is a seasoned veteran of the Orlando podcast scene. A lifelong talk radio fan, Butler decided to start his own show in 2009 and bring the morning radio format to podcast listeners at night. His ear for radio and hosting skills are apparent the moment he turns on his mic, and his banter with co-hosts Tyler Whicher, Zack Mills and Tom Barile feels fresh and natural. They enjoy starting "pod wars" with other shows, and don't mind their reputation as the troublemakers of the Orlando podcast community. Their show is unique in its high levels of production and formatting, with segments involving YouTube clips, weird memes and other oddities that fans can follow along with on their website. Butler may call his crew the "Forgettable Foursome," but the culture they've worked so hard to create around their show is more than memorable.
How did you guys get started?
Owen Butler: 2009 was the very first podcast we did. I'd been listening to podcasts since 2004. We were not doing it consistently at that point. It was whenever you could get anybody together. We weren't necessarily live. It grew over a couple years before we settled down and said, "OK, we're doing this on a Thursday night." Part of getting more successful is seeing that consistency and seeing those same people popping into your Facebook group and engaging. I'd rather have a smaller listener base that is engaged than a larger listener group that is passive. I want REAL listeners, not numbers.
What's the focus of your show?
OB: With our show, it's a little more like a traditional 104.1 radio show. There's definitely not a real niche to what we do, and that's been something that's been great for us and also hurt us because you get these podcasts that have a niche and gain a following. Because we don't have that specific niche, it can be a bit more of a challenge to get listeners because you never really know what you're going to get with our show. But we like that about our show.
Where did your name come from?
OB: The origin of the name comes from a talking pothole on a commercial. It was a Geico commercial, and the car hits the pothole and starts talking. And it had this voice that was like "Ooooh nooo! Your tire just broke and junk! What are you gonna do?!" And we kept using that voice and saying "Oooh nooo!" So it just kind of fell into place as "Oh No Radio Show."
Episode to start with: Episode 268: "The Futon Experience"
Nerdy Show host and commander-in-geek Cap Blackard's experience in radio started on Rollins College's terrestrial station, WPRK 91.5-FM, in 2009. After generating some buzz from that show (and procuring Orlando Weekly awards in the process) Blackard decided to continue working on the themes they'd started with in a podcast format, and many of their fans followed. With the help of co-managers boR, Jessica Uelmen, Matt "Trench" Benson and Doug Banks, Nerdy Show gradually grew and spawned a number of themed spin-off shows, including tabletop roleplaying shows Dungeons and Doritos, Ghostbusters: Resurrection, State of the Empire (a Star Wars speculation show where hosts look for news in "Alderaan" places) and Nerdy Show Book Club. The number of shows grew enough to start the umbrella of the Nerdy Show Network, where fans can find themed audio dramas, music podcasts, video game news and more – if it's geeky, The Nerdy Show's got it covered.
Your podcast has been around for a while, and you guys have grown into a full network. Any new shows on the horizon?
Cap Blackard: Our latest project is Lightning Dogs: The Official Paw'dcast. It came from a bunch of random improvising on Nerdy Show. We were actually commiserating on what at the time was the death of dramatic animated television because a bunch of shows we liked had gotten canceled. We were cutting to a song break, which was a cover of the ThunderCats theme called "Lightning Dogs." And we were like – "Whoa, but what's that show? That sounds like an awesome show." What was supposed to be a 30-second track intro turned into a 10-minute-long discussion about anthropomorphic dogs from another universe that come to a post-apocalyptic Earth lorded over by the evil Glampire and a bunch of mutants and so on. We put that out there; we thought it was fun. Within 24 hours of that episode coming out, fans had given us $200 to keep talking about that.
That was in 2013 and every discussion we've had about that concept has been recorded. Every single meeting, every single world-building session. Because we're doing the show, we had this unique opportunity to have the moment of creative lightning striking. We've re-edited our original episodes, so now it's a documentary podcast show about the creative process. We're actively on the path to turn it into an animated series. We've got Greg Weisman, the guy who created Gargoyles, he's agreed to consult on our pitch bible for the show. That's where we are right now.
In our life cycle for Nerdy Show, we're at this point where we're trying to find more places where we can work on that creativity exclusively. Our meat and potatoes news stuff, we love doing it – it's how we get from Point A to Point B in our respective industries – but we're finding more ways to be creative in that sense.
That's the most you could hope for: You find yourself in an unexpected career and you love doing it, but it's not where you thought you were going to be. How can you build off that and make something new from it? And we have that now.
Episode to start with: Episode 277: "Con Artists"
Peter von Taborsky launched his one-on-one interview show, Scotch and "Good" Conversation, in November 2015. Von Taborsky sought to do something fairly ironic with the medium: Turn off everyone's cell phones, refuse to use the internet for reference, and get to know his friends and some of Orlando's most interesting people through good old-fashioned conversation. The show is loosely structured in a way that creates a genuine connection between him and his guests: He tells the guest three things he knows about them, then he shifts between roles as interviewer and subject, asking his guest seven questions about themselves while they ask him three. So far his unique idea has been a success – von Taborsky's palpable interest in his guests and his willingness to be open and honest when answering their interview questions (as well as letting his guests read pages from his high school diary) has struck a chord in Orlando and beyond.
What's the main focus of your podcast?
Peter von Taborsky: I like the idea of people coming to me, and having a one-on-one conversation with them. I like the idea of shutting off our phones, shutting off the computer. And if I'm talking to someone and we're talking about a record or a movie and we don't know who directed it, we don't immediately go to the phone. We don't immediately look it up. We try to figure it out. I have really talented, amazing friends, so I thought, "I'll just interview them and have them interview me." We'll get done with some podcasts, I'll sit with someone I've known for eight years and I'll say, "You realize this is the longest we've ever sat in a room and had a conversation?" And I love that.
Do you have any background in radio that helped you create your podcast?
PVT: In the '80s I went to broadcasting school and I got a job as an intern on a radio station down in South Florida. I think I did it for about two days. 1980s radio was ultra-wacky stupid horrible. It was just a whole lot of Hawaiian shirts and captain hats and guys on coke. I thought my whole life that was what I wanted to be when I grew up and then I realized it wasn't.
Jumping into the podcasting thing I really had no idea what I was doing. I record in GarageBand. In broadcasting school, we put everything on reel-to-reel and cut the tape. I looked at it and I was initially scared of it, but I realized it was the exact same thing as cutting tape, you're just doing it digitally. I have some really talented friends who helped me set up and write some music, and helped me get all my ducks in a row. Then I just took it out there and flew it up the flagpole.
Episode to start with: Episode 30: "Tossing furniture in the pool, fishing, whiskey, baby butt thongs & the beer pocket – a conversation with Jacob Kaplan"
When someone moves to Orlando, excited friends and family often say, "Why are you moving to the Magic Kingdom?" or "I can't wait to come visit you at Hogwarts!" While there's more here than Disney, Universal and the rest, theme parks make up the backbone of Orlando's massive tourism industry and the city's economy in general. But when blogger Ken Storey (who writes for Orlando Weekly, among other outlets) went looking for a radio show about the City Beautiful's central industry in 2014, he came up empty.
Storey decided to round up other bloggers writing about theme parks and create a podcast discussing Central Florida's tourism industry, covering lesser-known stories and smaller attractions, and hosting guests involved in the industry's technical side who were often overlooked by more fan-based podcasts. In October 2015, Orlando Tourism Report found a terrestrial radio home on WPRK 91.5-FM in Winter Park, broadcasting live on Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon.
Why did you start your podcast?
Ken Storey: If you go to any major city, you'll find radio shows covering the central industries of their town. Orlando was missing that. I didn't understand why no one was talking about the tourism sector from a local's perspective with the understanding that those listening are familiar with – and likely working in – the industry.
What makes your show unique?
KS: The idea is to elevate the discussion beyond the press releases and blurbs that most of the theme park community conversation involves. I honestly got some inspiration from how TMZ does its television show. I wanted to cover the news behind the news, so I created a team of bloggers.
Everyone involved in OTR has their own media outlet where they cover the basic story; then we come together to discuss the other aspects of the story.
What are the benefits to your podcast of having a terrestrial radio home and access to a professional studio?
KS: Having the live radio format has meant we can be engaged with listeners in real time as they tweet or call into the show. We never had live callers or live tweet responses when we were only a podcast. It's helped us get guests much easier.
Interviewing guests in person is much different than via Skype or WebEx. I've found that having the two hours of live radio with a guest sitting across the table from me has meant deeper and more meaningful interviews. At the same time, the radio show means that I now have twice as much work to do to prepare it for the podcast. There's a lot of technical stuff that goes into the radio show that a podcast alone doesn't require.
Episode to start with: Episode: "Orlando Tourism Report at International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions"