This interview was originally published here in Authority Magazine
By Tracy Leigh Hazzard
As part of my series of interviews about “5 things you need to know to create a “binge-able” podcast”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Billy is an award-winning podcaster who's worked in radio/podcasting since 2003, first at 90.7 WFUV with iconic on-air personalities Vin Scelsa and Pete Fornatale, and then at Sirius XM Satellite Radio. In 2016 his last podcast, Between the Liner Notes, won the Newhouse School of Public Communications' Mirror Award for Best Single Story – Radio, Television, Cable or Online Broadcast Media for its episode about the founding of MTV. His latest podcast about standing up to censorship is called Bleeped.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about why or how you got started as a podcaster?
When I was a freshman at Fordham University, I became very interested in audio technology. Fordham did not have an audio technology program, but they do have an amazing public radio station called 90.7 WFUV. One day, I walked into the station and asked the woman at the front desk if there were any job openings. She responded, “Well, we have one, but it’s in the engineering department and you’ll have to work Sunday morning. Is that something you’d be interested in?” Of course, I said, “Yes.”
Sacrificing my Sunday mornings while in college was a huge loss, but it was also the best decision I’ve ever made. Soon I began working with a couple of legendary freeform FM disc jockeys who taught me just how great radio can be.
When I left broadcast years later, I missed making radio shows, so I started my first podcast.
Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?
One day I was reading a book that had this weird footnote about a seal who was banned from the radio during the songwriters’ radio boycott of 1941. He could only play one song on a weird homemade instrument, and that song was part of the boycott. For some reason, I decided to find out more about that seal, and it turned out he was a very famous seal named Sharkey that starred in both Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies (Abbott and Costello’s “Pardon My Sarong”)
The seal’s trainer was named Mark Huling and he owned a seal college in Kingston, New York. Huling died in 1951, but his obituary mentioned a grandson named Gary Bohan. I found someone with the grandson’s name on Facebook and reached out. He responded, “Actually, my father, Gary Bohan Sr. is the person you’re looking for. I’ll put you in touch.” So I interviewed Bohan Sr. about his memories of his grandfather’s seal college, published the episode, and thought that was the end of the story, but I was wrong.
Six months later, Gary Bohan Jr. messaged me saying he loved the episode and it inspired him to write a book about his great grandfather’s seal college. He’s spent the last two years digging into his family’s seal training history, rummaging around forgotten archives, speaking to old business associates of his great grandfather’s, and most importantly, connecting with family. He’s uncovered so much forgotten history.
The fact that my podcast played a small part in a person rediscovering an important piece of their family history (and American popular culture) absolutely blows my mind. Gary Jr. and I still keep in touch. I can’t wait to read his book!
Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was working on an episode about the founding of MTV and was scheduled to interview a woman who worked for a record label back in the early 1980s. Her job was promoting music videos to MTV and she had amazing stories. We booked the interview two weeks in advance and the day of, I assumed we were both good to go. That morning, I carried my heavy equipment bag all the way to her apartment only to find out she had scheduled a dental surgery for the same time, and we had to postpone the interview. So, I had to carry my heavy equipment bag all the way back home with nothing to show for it.
The lesson I learned was, always confirm your interviews 24 hours in advance. I’ve never had this issue again.
How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?
I’ve been podcasting since 2015. Between four shows (two my own shows and two other people’s) I’ve aired roughly 80 episodes.
What are the main takeaways or lessons you want your listeners to walk away with?
My new show Bleeped is about censorship and the people who stand up to it. I hope people learn from Bleeped that, if they get censored, they can fight back and win. If they get the word out about what happened, there are so many great journalists and lawyers waiting to help them.
You are a very successful podcaster. Can you share with our readers the five things you need to know to create an extremely successful podcast?
Podcaster Influencer, Matthew Billy of the Bleeped Podcast shares the best ways to:
1. Book Great Guests: A polite and brief email will usually get the job done.
2. Increase Listeners: Appearing on other podcasts and having a great PR team!
3. Produce Like a Pro: Having great audio plug-ins and knowing how to use them. Mix to a LUFS meter to ensure the volume is consistent.
4. Encourage Engagement: The Breakdown with Shaun King is great at engagement. Each episode he presents a social problem and then tells the listener exactly what they can do to help solve it. In a recent episode, he spoke about how Illinois just banned 200 books from a state prison. He asked his listeners to tweet their disapproval to the governor and people did. Gov. Pritzker’s twitter feed was lit up with angry messages.
5. Monetize Your Show: Mid-roll ads and Patreon campaigns are the best. If your listenership is large enough, a great merch game will help too. Pod Save America’s merch game is on point.
From your vantage point what are some of the reasons why a person should consider creating a podcast series?
Podcasts are a blank canvas that can express so many things. They range from giving people real estate investing advice to telling moving and emotional stories. So, the best reason to start a podcast (no matter what it’s about) is that you have something to say or a story to tell that no one has heard before.
Nowadays it seems as if everyone is trying to jump on the podcast bandwagon. Are there people to whom you would advise to avoid podcasting and instead focus on another medium?
Podcasting is an amazing way for people to talk about what they love and express themselves, but if they think podcasting is a cheap, easy, and low maintenance way to do so, they best look elsewhere. Podcasting is a lot of work!
How has your position as a podcast host and a person of high authority, impacted your business, sales, and/or increased your opportunities? Can you share a story with us?
Two years ago, I won Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communication’s prestigious Mirror Award. I was the first podcaster to win this award. Most people in the audience worked for prestigious news outlets like the New York Times or CNN and probably viewed podcasts as something their kids made in their bedrooms. In my speech I said, “It’s an honor to be the first podcaster to receive this award and I hope to see more podcasters standing up here in the future.” I thought it was an applause line, but not a single person in the audience clapped. I guess they didn’t share my feelings.
But regardless of how the New York Times or CNN felt about it at the time, they must have taken my words to heart because they now both have podcasts :)
What makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category?
All Bleeped episodes are exciting and dramatic. Many times, the main character’s life was turned upside down by an act of censorship. Some faced the threat of imprisonment, some had their credit destroyed, and others had their homes taken away. But no matter how censorship impacted their lives, they all chose to fight back, and the battles are engaging.
Great production helps too!
What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or the content itself?
When the main characters of Bleeped’s stories were censored, they all had to make a choice. They could take the easy path, accept the censorship and move on with their lives, or they could fight back. They chose to fight. That bravery is what makes them special. The show is special because it tells their stories.
Where can our readers find you on Social Media?
Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
Is there a specific high-value guest (obviously still living) that you would love to interview on your show, and why? He or she might just see this when we tag them!
I would love to interview 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell about the rap group’s famous censorship trial.