The creators and hosts of The ForceCast, RebelForce Radio, and Tosche Station Radio discuss what it takes to make a great Star Wars podcast.
We live in a world where technology advances every single day. Developments over time mean equipment and software are more accessible, and that affects fandom. Fans can start blogs in mere minutes to discuss their adoration for Star Wars, and they can do so for free. It's also easier than ever to develop a podcast, and it's an area of fandom that seems to have exploded -- in a good, blowing up the Death Star kind of way.
When I say easy, I don't mean to discount the hard work that goes into developing content, scheduling, and producing a podcast. People who bring shows to us put in countless hours just because of their love of Star Wars. However, it is simpler to get a podcast going now than it would have been five years ago.
This is evidenced by the plethora of Star Wars-related podcasts out there in the galaxy. Some are more general with news and interviews, and others focus on specific topics such as the books of the Expanded Universe. The variety you can choose from offers further proof that Star Wars fans are incredible; they continually showcase their passion for the saga in new ways and across different mediums. I touched based with the hosts of a few of my favorite podcasts to ask about their history, why they do what they do, and what advice they have for those who would like to start their own podcasts.
The first Star Wars podcast I ever listened to was The ForceCast when it was hosted by Jimmy McInerney (Jimmy Mac) and Jason Swank. Now, they deliver Star Wars news and more every week on RebelForce Radio.
On how long they've been hosting a Star Wars podcast and why it's important for them to express their love of Star Wars in this medium:
Jason: I've been involved for nearly eight years. To me, podcasting is like talk radio on steroids. What makes talk radio such a powerful medium is the relationship that is formed between listener and hosts. It's like talking to your neighbor over the fence. It's quite intimate in a way. Podcasting is even more extreme that way as today's online communication tools allow for instant engagement and feedback. Star Wars, to me, is just as important as any professional sport or political ideology and so it deserves the type of platform that a talk show distributed via podcast can provide.
Jimmy Mac: I am a lifetime career radio producer and, over the years, I would always try to incorporate my passion for Star Wars into my profession any opportunity I could get. This included recording interviews at media events and conventions, coverage of the Special Editions and prequels, on air trivia contests, stuff like that. Basically, I became known in Chicago as the "Star Wars Radio Guy". This all culminated with me producing and hosting an hour long radio special for CBS Radio's WCKG in Chicago. This included a bunch of interviews I conducted at Star Wars Celebration II and III. I recall it being one of the most fun experiences I ever had in radio.
Following the release of Revenge of the Sith, the need for mainstream coverage of Star Wars on the radio had diminished. At the same time, podcasting started to emerge. I bought my first computer in 1994 and have been seeking Star Wars content online ever since. I always wanted to contribute to the online fan community, but it seemed like you needed to know how build websites and techie stuff like that to be a player. Not really my specialty. I found that podcasting combined my two biggest passions: radio and Star Wars. It was a perfect medium for me to give back to the community that had given me so much over the years.
On how they've seen the Star Wars podcasting community grow over the years:
Jason: Well, there are a lot more of them now! When we started, there were only two other that I can remember. Now there are dozens and dozens. And that's great. People go online searching for Star Wars podcast and we've been around long enough that even if they start listening to someone else, they usually find themselves listening to us also.
Jimmy Mac: When we first started podcasting, there were very few weekly Star Wars shows. Maybe two or three were consistently producing shows. It's been wild to watch the genre explode over the past few years. I think it has a lot to do with the growth of social media. Many have learned that podcasting and social networking work hand-in-hand together very well. It has leveled the playing field to a degree. Also, a new generation of fans has grown up with the internet and the technology to produce podcasts has become more and more accessible. I have known many listeners who grew up listening to us and now are in their twenties and podcasting themselves! Its always fulfilling when I meet someone who says we inspired them to enter into the field of podcasting. It's a fun way to express ones fandom and more people are beginning to realize it.
On the challenges of delivering a podcast every week and keeping it fresh:
Jason: The fact that it's not a full-time job. No matter how much you love your hobbies and passions, there is always real life... spouse, kids, job, etc. to get in the way. But I've always said that it's like "poker night" with the guys (and girls); it's my escape from reality for a few hours each week and so I hope it's an escape for our listeners, too. As for keeping it engaging -- we've never been challenged there. Jimmy and I are not shy with our opinions. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don't. But that spirit keeps people engaged. It's drama.
Jimmy Mac: Whenever you do anything once a week, it can be a grind. The biggest challenge is to find a fresh and new way to present content each week. I don't ever want RebelForce Radio to fall into a rut. I am constantly looking at new ways to reinvent the show while still respecting the tradition. Its work, yes, but without a doubt, it's a labor of love.
On the coolest moment they've experienced as fans because of podcasting:
Jason: Well, I think that's yet to come as we're headed to Anaheim to host the Behind the Scenes stage at Star Wars Celebration in April. Honestly ,there have been so many. For me, sitting at a table talking to Mark Hamill (my childhood hero) was the most surreal and rewarding moment so far. Whoever said, "never meet your heroes" obviously never met Mark Hamill.
Jimmy Mac: I have had so many amazing opportunities, friendships, and experiences due to my involvement in Star Wars podcasting but the one that stands out the most is when I visited Dave Filoni at Lucasfilm Animation when they were based out of Big Rock Ranch. I had spent the day next door at Skywalker Ranch, which was amazing experience in itself, then drove down the road to Big Rock. Dave showed me around and then invited me into the screening room to watch a new episode of The Clone Wars. As we settled into to watch the season four episode "Deception," Dave leaned over to me and said "By the way, you're sitting in George's seat." I was floored.
That was a moment in time that I will never forget, but it's the friendships I've made via Star Wars podcasting that will last forever. That is the best!
The ForceCast is the official podcast of TheForce.net. Hosted by Eric Geller and Erik Blythe, the weekly show features commentary, news, interviews, and more. The show began in 2006, and Eric and Erik took on hosting duties in February 2013. But, Erik initially started The ForceCast in 2005 -- he just took a break. Back then it was called "the podcast for TheForce.net," and Erik believes it was the first ever Star Wars podcast.
On why they choose podcasting to channel their love of the saga:
Eric: Podcasting is a great way to tell stories because it allows you to express yourself more richly than text. Our listeners don't just learn what we think about the news; they hear how we feel about it. I enjoy writing for TheForce.Net, and I consider myself to be fairly expressive in text, but you can do more on a podcast than you can in a blog. Also, I'm pursuing a career in journalism and I have a lot of respect and admiration for the hosts and correspondents on NPR, so this is a way for me to apply what I know about broadcast journalism to my favorite hobby.
Erik: Having a conversation with someone about Star Wars allows one to dig deeper and look at what's going on beneath the surface. Star Wars means different things to different people, and through podcasting, we have a way to share these conversations with thousands of people and get feedback on points of view we hadn't considered ourselves. It allows us to actively participate in one of the best fan communities in the world.
On how they decide what topics to cover each week:
Eric: We take our stories from the front page of TheForce.Net. If there's a big conversation happening in online fandom, we might make that our discussion segment. If a new book was announced, we'll try to interview the author. Building the show is not actually that difficult, except in dry news weeks, in which case we'll try to find a topic of enduring interest to focus on. Honestly, the hardest part of our show prep is knowing that our show could be outdated the day after we record it. We record on Wednesday nights and release on Friday mornings, but there have been a number of Thursday afternoon news events. I've learned to accept that as part of the cost of doing business, but it's still frustrating when it happens.
Erik: Choosing what topics to cover is definitely the biggest challenge. Sometimes big news breaks, and it's easy. Other times we have to skim through the entire Star Wars universe and find a topic about which we feel we have something interesting to say. We try to focus on topics for which we can provide a fresh perspective or that warrant deeper analysis. Fortunately, we have a long way to go before the well runs dry.
On their most memorable moment as a fan that came about because of the podcast:
Eric: We really enjoyed putting together our Star Wars Reads Day 2013 episode last October. We had four amazing guests: authors Aaron Allston and Timothy Zahn and Lucasfilm Story Group members Leland Chee and Pablo Hidalgo. It was awesome hearing from Leland and Pablo together about their work at Lucasfilm -- and remember, this is before most people knew anything about the Story Group. It was also great to talk to Tim and Aaron, two of my favorite authors, about their previous work and their hopes for the future of the franchise. Tragically, we lost Aaron just a few months later, but I will always remember how generous he was with his time and how funny he was during our conversation.
Erik: I've had several great fan moments, but one of my favorites is our recent interview with Vanessa Marshall of [Star Wars] Rebels. That was the only time I've felt actual sadness in having to end a recording session. Vanessa is an absolute delight, a die-hard Star Wars fan, and is now my favorite Star Wars celebrity. If I could make her a permanent host on The ForceCast, I would.
Hosted by Nanci and Brian, Tosche Station Radio kicked off in January 2012 and is the official podcast of Tosche-Station.net. They release new episodes each week and cover all things Star Wars as well as general geek culture.
On why they started their podcast:
Nanci: I'd been listening to podcasts for several years and really liked the medium. I never thought I'd be part of a podcast until Brian got the idea to do one and roped me into it. I'm really glad he did, because as much as I like blogging about Star Wars, sometimes you just need to have a good discussion with friends.
Brian: I wanted to create something that replicated the sort of fun you'd have talking about Star Wars with your friends at a convention or similar gathering. The podcast gives us a means to discuss Star Wars in a way that's much more conversation and banter oriented than the more laser-focused blog posts we do the rest of the week.
On topics they cover on Tosche Station Radio:
We talk about everything Star Wars, especially the books, films, and animated series, as well as all aspects of geek culture. For the first year and change of the podcast, the primary focus was Star Wars literature, though with the Lucasfilm sale and the announcement of new films we've obviously branched out to discuss other subjects as well. Our podcast is divided into segments where we discuss news, rumors, and the written content we have on the blog. Each episode we also delve into a specific, in-depth discussion topic like diversity in Star Wars and things we're looking forward to in the sequel trilogy.
On their most awesome fan moments:
Nanci: There have been so many of them, honestly, that it's hard to pick just one. One year at Dragon Con we went to talk to Tim Zahn before a Star Wars authors panel, and asked him if he'd be willing to do an interview with us. Mike Stackpole leaned over and said, "Oh, you should do their show, they're really good." It was all I could do to contain my squee.
My most precious memory, though, is interviewing Aaron Allston. I'm so glad we got the chance to talk to him. He was very gracious and you could tell he really loved talking to the fans.
Brian: It's so hard to choose just one moment. All of the interviews we've done have been so much fun, but for me it was actually an event at Dragon Con 2013. Being able to sit on and moderate a panel discussing diversity and representation in the Star Wars universe because of things we've discussed on the podcast was such an incredible honor.
On what to keep in mind if you want to start a Star Wars podcast:
Nanci: Sometimes podcasting can be frustrating because it seems all you hear is negative feedback. Ignore that and focus on the fact that you're talking about a subject you really love. Remember to have fun with it, and others will have fun listening to you.
Brian: Your first bunch of episodes are going to be rough as you feel out just what you want your podcast to be. The important thing, though, is to have fun with it. You're going to work out the kinks and you're going to sound more and more confident with practice. As long as you're having fun, your listeners are going to have fun.
I have interviews with hosts for three more podcasts to feature soon, but in the meantime, please check out RebelForce Radio, The ForceCast, and Tosche Station Radio if you haven't already. Want even more podcasts? You can find an extensive list at EUCantina and just by searching iTunes.
Tell me about your favorite Star Wars podcasts, and stay tuned for part two of my interviews with podcast hosts!
Amy Ratcliffe is addicted to Star Wars, coffee, and writing. You can follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek and keep up with all things geeky at her blog.