(First published in the Cochrane Times on June 10, 2015)
Out of a small corner of his Cochrane home, Jake Hirsch, 40, has built the foundation for a lucrative podcasting career.
Podcasting, though a relatively modern job description, is essentially a radio show made available on the Internet.
“It’s heavily unregulated, so people can really say what they want, what they feel and think,” said Hirsch. “It’s still the wild west of radio.”
Hirsch moved to Calgary after a long career in law enforcement in Texas to pursue an education at SAIT in supply chain management for the oil and gas sector. His family, living in Alberta at the time, had assured him the province was a “gold rush” of job opportunities.
“All of a sudden the recession hit,” said Hirsch. “It was quite possibly the worst time to be going into oil and gas.”
His brothers were laid off and struggled to find jobs, so Hirsch moved back to Texas in search of work.
He had first started podcasting out of his living room in the States with some buddies as a means to pass the time, but it was never anything more than a hobby at the time.
“As I was [looking for work] I just kept up the whole podcasting thing,” he said.
He pushed forward with Friday Night Lights (FNL), his first show, and started reaching out to people on Twitter, asking if they would like to be interviewed for the podcast. The number of people who responded surprised Hirsch.
He had built a rather formidable social network on Facebook and Twitter as a comedic writer and gained a listener base of 300 to 400 per podcast entirely comprised of friends.
“It was almost one of those ‘fake it until you make it’ type of things,” he said. “What was funny was my biggest audience was all oil and gas people.”
Unemployed for the first time, Hirsch moved from the States once again to Cochrane to be with his girlfriend. With the support of his loved ones, he gave himself a year to turn podcasting into a career.
“If I treat [podcasting] like a hobby, that’s all it’s ever going to be,” said Hirsch. “It was a big risk, but I’m the type of person that if I don’t set a goal, I’m never going to achieve it.”
Where Hirsch is from, people hoping to break into the entertainment business either went to Los Angeles or New York, so this going north for that was an absurd idea.
“Nobody ever said, I’m going to Canada to make it,” remarked Hirsch, who found the podcasting culture of Alberta to be rather barren.
He learned as much as he could about marketing and social media, searching harder for “big” interviews that would make his show blow up.
The first “big one,” he notes, happened in episode seven, airing June 10, 2014, when he interviewed Alec Sulkin, a television writer and producer most famous for his partnership with Seth MacFarlane on Family Guy (1999-).
The celebrity interviews kept coming, with guest like Spencer Rice, Lucy Decoutere and Lorne Cardinal, but Hirsch soon found himself interested in the stories of regular people and to his surprise his listenership expanded further because of it.
“I found those people did more for my podcast than celebrities did,” he said, noting the now 18,000 to 24,000 audience per FNL episode.
Most recently, episode 54 featured Barbara Spain, chef and owner of the Calgary restaurant Cleaver, a widow from Ireland with three children who decided to take a chance on opening a restaurant.
“Those types of stories inspire me,” said Hirsch.
He had the opportunity to interview one of his idols, Mark Breslin, co-founder of Yuk Yuks comedy clubs, about the history of Canadian comedy.
He had agreed to a one-hour meeting and the two hit it off, with Breslin even complimenting Hirsch’s interview style.
“That one hour meeting ended up turning into two and he cancelled his next meetings to continue to talk,” said Hirsch.
Hoping to capitalize on the positive encounter, he proposed a Yuk Yuks podcast to Breslin in an email that was promptly turned down.
Taking the initiative anyway, he crafted a six-page proposal about target markets, human resources, as well as a marketing and financial plan.
“I don’ think he thought I would do that,” he said.
Months went by with no reply.
Nearing the end of the one-year Hirsch set for himself and unable to be financially supported by unreliable ad revenue, he started applying for jobs again.
In his own deus ex machina moment, Hirsch received a reply from Breslin’s assistant informing him the podcast had been green lit, which saved his podcasting endeavour from the ruinous title of “hobby” again.
“It was like winning the lottery,” he said.
The podcast, where Hirsch conducts deep and personal interviews with comedians, will launch nationally in less than a month.
Though he will reach a much larger audience, the key to successful podcasting remains the same as day one for Hirsch.
“You just have to know how to tell their story, that’s it,” he said “If you tell a good story, you’ve got a good show.”