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Podcasts: Not your father's radio show

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Sitting in your home listening to a broadcast of news or stories or what have you has been around since the radio was invented. It’s making a comeback, of sorts, only this isn’t the same as old granddad sitting next to the radio listening to “The Shadow” or to Orson Welles scare the heck out of the whole country.

One of the hottest things around today is the podcast, a program that is recorded digitally and can be downloaded off the Internet and heard at the leisure of the person who downloaded it, over a smart phone, computer, iPod, tablet or other electronic media device.

The programs can be music or talking or anything the podcaster wants it to be, and the number of people podcasting as well as listening is growing daily. And because podcasts now include videos, there appears to be no boundaries, say a couple Peorians who have their own podcasts and watch as the popularity of the podcasts grows. 

“It is the new hotness, there’s no question about that,” said Tim Van Autreve. “Podcasting isn’t all that new, of course; it has been around a while. But it seems it is really growing in popularity. There are a lot of them out there and the subject matter is endless.”

Marc Bolton, Van Autreve’s partner on the podcast Comic Nerds Unite, called the podcast “a radio show on the Internet. The Internet has made it so easy no for anybody to do their own podcast and produce whenever they want.”

Van Autreve said most podcasters today are members of GenX, the generation that popularized the medium, such as him and his partner. “These were people who were raised with technology. They know how to do it and they have something to say.”

But do they have listeners? “That doesn’t really matter, at least to some,” he said. “I mean, we want listeners. But we’re having fun regardless.”

Comic Nerds Unite, which began in September 2013, is gaining listeners, according to Bolton, because there is a strong interest among adults for comic books. Podcasts make it so they can follow stories or hear reviews and such without hitting the comic book stands each week. “There are a lot of collectors out there who are older, but didn’t want it known they were into comic books because of the perception they are for kids. But when the Marvel movies started being made, comics became mainstream. Comic book nerds became cool and comics started gaining ground,” Van Autreve said.

The impetus behind Comic Nerds Unite was the enjoyment Van Autreve, Bolton and others of their friends got sitting around talking about the latest comics or the vintage comics there were reading. They threw the idea for the podcast around when they heard of others doing it but didn’t go for it until film maker Kevin Smith started his own and urged others to, as well. “It seemed like a natural extension,” Van Autreve said.

At first the podcast was named “Nightwing Loves Power Girl,” blending the names of some of their favorite comic book characters. It was changed, Bolton said, “when we realized we could probably get sued because we didn’t get permission to use those names in our title. Plus, we weren’t growing in the number of listeners so we thought that name might have been limiting us. It didn’t say that we were comic book enthusiasts.”

Van Autreve’s wife Jen, who sometimes guests on their podcast with other friends, came up with the name Comic Nerds Unite. “It fit us well and we’ve seen significantly higher (listener) numbers. Plus, we learned how to promote ourselves a little,” he said.

The podcast airs about once a week and is usually done through the magic of technology. Seldom are Bolton and Van Autreve in the same room or even the same building when they record. “Skype and software magic,” Bolton said.

Each of their podcasts has commentary about a specific comic book or a collection of books. They show started out doing news clips about the comic book industry “but we realized pretty quickly that doing that dated us and we wanted listeners to be able to pick us up any time. If the first thing they heard on the podcast was industry news that was two or three weeks old they’d stop listening right then.”

Van Autreve said there are many comic book podcasts on the Internet but he and Bolton believe they are somewhat unique because they mostly discuss older comic books and critique them for their listeners.

In fact, Bolton said, sales of actual comic books are way down the last 20 years because of the Internet. More are published that way than printed. “The fall of the comic book really happened in the mid-90s when Marvel went bankrupt. It changed the industry,” he said.

While super hero comics are more their style, Van Autreve said there are many genres available, including horror stories, quirky love stories, coming of age, real-world stories. “It has become another method of story telling and you can pick the genre you want,” he said.

Each of their shows lasts about an hour, but podcasts have no length limit. It largely depends on the listener. “One of the nice things about it is that you can listen at your own pace,” Bolton said.

Bolton, who tests and cleans printers for State Farm and thus works largely alone, enjoys a longer format. Van Autreve, more limited in his listening time and basically has the 35 minute commute to his job at Vonachen Supply, likes a shorter podcast.

Each week the partners learn more, they said, and they recently started a spinoff podcast called Star Wars Nerds Unite with Jen Van Autreve and their friend Josh Mason part of the crew. “We’ve only had four episodes so far and it’s already more popular than Comic Book Nerds,” Van Autreve said.

They have made friends through podcasting and have learned there are many local podcasts, so far.

One can find Comic Nerds Unite on iTunes or Stitcher (for droid users) and also find a plethora of other podcasts. Some may be episodes of real radio shows or television shows. “There is a nice mix available. You aren’t limited to what you want to listen to any more than you would be if you were picking out a book to read,” he said.


About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).