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The Gabfest: An Interview with Slate’s Podcast Chief Andy Bowers

In which Andy Bowers reveals the history of Slate podcasting, how he grew a content empire, and the true origin of Slate’s anti-Panda agenda.

The New Oxford American Dictionary deemed ‘podcast’ the word of the year in 2005. During the early, hyped days of podcasting and ‘web 2.0′, tech companies raised money at crazy valuations, and were poised to break semi-famous hosts in to the mainstream, finally replacing a generation of cheeseball radio DJ’s.

And then nothing happened. A medium ahead of it’s time, early podcasting fizzled as quickly as it popped. Consumers were uninspired and confused, and traditional news organizations couldn’t successfully shoehorn old advertising models on to niche and deeply-vertical content. Podcasting was largely abandoned by many of it’s early evangelists and common wisdom stated that video and YouTube had won.

After a career covering politics for NPR, Andy Bowers moved to public radio’s cultural cousin Slate in 2003, and began work podcasting in 2005. Instead of getting lost in the hype, Bowers focused on creating shows that simply reflected Slate’s sparky editorial vibe.

An opinion-driven news magazine, Slate’s contributors follow the same ethical standards of traditional news organizations, but are also encouraged to form and fight for opinions. The initial impetus behind Slate podcasts was to capture this opinion-creation process on tape, and record this behind-the-scenes editorial chatter in a live discussion environment.

The format is simple: commentators from cultural verticals – Sports, Culture, and Politics – gather weekly in a round-table environment to discuss topical news. Slate hosts know the audience well, and programs often emphasize nuanced discussion over shocking clickbait. Success is derived from a balance of consistency, integrated live-read advertising, and informed banter.

Tight focus on smart conversation has helped Slate hosts develop intimate relationships with large audiences. During a recent live episode of the Political Gabfest in New York City  fan and subscriber Stephen Colbert remarked on the personal bond between listeners and content, stating, “I’m so excited to be the fourth person at this little table.”

Andy Bowers’ strategy has worked. Slate programs grew slowly and consistently during podcasting’s post-hype years. Over the past decade, podcasting has matured organically. Like Slate, personalities like Marc Maron, Jesse Thorn, Kevin Smith, and Leo Laporte all leverage the the medium’s inherent intimacy to talk with large audiences. And Slate  has become a cultural proving ground for ambitious personalities, professional athletes, politicos, and fellow podcasters.

In conversation, Andy is as cool and consistent as his content strategy. He’s somehow managed to grow an innovative product by avoiding the hype  and hyperbole of technology. Listen, as we discuss his formula for success.

Audio Enclosure

Categories: Audio Blog Culture Episode Interviews Media Podcast Post Archive Technology

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Dan Patterson

Journalist & Technologist

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