Monday, February 27, 2006

Weekend Article About Podcasting (Jawbone Featured)

For those of you interested in reading the article written by our friend Chad at the Medina Gazette for show 97, what follows is a transcript. Unfortunately, there are no digital copies online to read. So here is the article in whole. Thanks Chad!

(BTW, I look like I'm turning into a werewolf in this photo. Unfortunately, this is how I look most of the time. Kinda sad really. Also, I just recieved the paper copy of the paper and this photo is HUGE! There are also a few nice photos of Nora and I. Pretty interesting stuff.)

Listeners plug into digital podcasts like Jawbone Radio at any time
by Chad Buterbaugh

Podcasting has disseminated through Cleveland. This form of new media has officially gone mainstream.

But before exploring the world of Jawbone Radio, the Lakewood podcast that recently celebrated its first birthday, here's a brief evolution.

By 1995, the Internet was a regular-schmuck utility available to anyone with a phone line. Codgers working in the television, radio and print industries asked not for whom the bell tolled.

People started building Web pages from the comfort of home. These dealt with important socio-political issues of the day, like "Lord of the Rings" references in Led Zeppelin lyrics. However, some lacked the wherewithal to design whole databases. For them, a simpler technology soon arose — blogging.

Blogs, short for Weblogs, were user-run message boards about a broad array of subjects. All the blogger had to do was maintain the board, post the occasional message and respond to messages posted by other surfers. Banter ensued. Yet still there was a thirst for something more complex.

Enter podcasting, the happy medium between blogs and Web design. Podcasts are bite-size audio files of music, talk or both. They sound a lot like radio programs, but unlike radio, they're created with digital technology, which makes them downloadable and easy to archive. This gives listeners the benefit of plugging in whenever they want instead of having to bend around a programming schedule.

Check this out. If you like jazz, go to Inside of five minutes you'll hip-deep in guitar so mellow it could melt wood. What's more, you'll get an exclusive interview with the guy that plays it, one Barry Greene. And if you like what Mr. Greene has to offer, you can revisit him every time you're online.

Now, back to Lakewood.

Len and Nora Peralta are the husband-and-wife team behind Jawbone Radio, a weekly podcast they produce from their attic. Len runs his advertising business from home, and Nora does the accounting. After the work day is over, and after their five kids have been put to bed, the couple climbs the steps up and up, past the bedrooms and into a space where they're still two Baldwin-Wallace undergrads producing a late-night radio show.

They sit on opposite sides of a Starfleet Command-style computer table that's loaded with an Apple PowerBook, an iMac flatscreen and a clunky old PC that Len "dumps stuff on when he runs out of space." Amidst a jungle of wires stand several Star Wars action figures.

Len's counterbalance is Nora, his wife of 13 years. She plays the foil to her energetic husband. If he tries to keep a program schedule, she tries to mix it up. Nora grins constantly. After a year, she' still bemused by Len's show.

And it does belong to him, as far as maintenance goes. After every recording session, he uploads the show onto the Internet. Later, he tidies up the Jawbone blog and checks the Jawbone e-mail account. No advertisers, no money. This is DIY all the way.

"It's the reinvention of radio," he said. "It really is on the cusp of listeners taking back their content."

Together, the Peraltas mix up an inviting charm — Len with his "Warcraft" references, Nora with her sleepy Cleveland accent. Their brand of talk entertainment is the same kind you'd get from your co-workers. They discuss Valentine's Day presents, the face transplant lady and what's really up with "American Idol." And they do it mercilessly, just like you would.

The familiar topics have earned Jawbone a true-blue fan base around the city and as far away as Australia. In a way, Jawbone has the world's ear, which keeps them friendly but guarded. (Once, Nora had to publicly apologize to a French-Canadian for a misunderstanding about body odor.)

"It's kind of hard for me to believe that anybody's listening, which is why it's so easy for me to be glib," she explained.

It's a big podcast, but the technology is still new, and Len isn't that impressed. Bragging about your podcast is like saying you're a tall midget, he quipped.

Actually, Jawbone has no way to count every listener. What numbers they have are guesstimates based on fan response and tracking software . A good way to put it in perspective is with a BBC report from last July, where entertainment writer Darren Waters gave Jawbone the nod as a podcast worth listening to.

Then there's Len's bit of investigative journalism, entitled "In Search of Bill Watterson." In the 16-minute podcast from November, he attempted to unearth new information on Watterson, the "Calvin and Hobbes" creator who hasn't given an interview in more than a decade. It has become Jawbone's most downloaded show at more than 5,000 hits.

On Feb. 11, Jawbone turned 1 year old. A day later, Len and Nora recorded their 97 th show. Both agree that 2005 was the year of experimentation. This year, they believe podcasting will go corporate.

"There are some shows that are starting to get sponsors," Nora said. "My prediction is that there are going to be some practical business uses for podcasts."

Not a bad guess. Major networks have begun distributing content via podcast in the past year. So have some magazines and daily newspapers. Even General Electric has produced podcasts aimed at listeners within the company.

So that puts big media outlets in the same camp as attic podcasters like the Peraltas. In theory, both have the power to speak to a worldwide audience. That's why Gary Hanson, a journalism professor at Kent State University, agrees that the next step is to figure out how podcasts can make money.

"Like a lot of the other new media, there's still some question as to what the business model would be for it," Hanson said. "That's an area that, like a lot of the Web, is still up for debate."

Yet no matter how many corporate giants pop off their own podcasts, it's still a technology that's super-accessible to the average person. GarageBand, for example, is a program that comes standard with most Apple computers. It has all the basic podcast-making tools.

Still have questions? Then check out the MacCast, a podcast that covers all things Apple. Now entering its third year, it's run by a private user completely independent of Apple Computer, Inc. Hanson listens to shows like that and wonders how long it will take for companies to corporatize the new medium.

"What happens when the delivery system changes?" he questioned. "Will the revenue stream follow?"

Right now, Jawbone isn't getting paid. Nora doesn't expect that to change in the future, and while Len would like to make the show viable, he's happy enough doing it as a hobby for now. The focus isn't on money, which might be the attraction of this entire virtual community — all are welcome.

Like Len said, "Anybody who has some extra cash, broadband, a decent computer and a mike can sit down and start expressing some views."
Printed with permission of the Medina Gazette.