100,000 monthly downloads
Launched in August 2006
1 episode a week
Hello! What’s your background, and what’s your podcast about?
My name is Steven Schapansky, and I’m a part of several podcasts (Lazy Doctor Who, The Memory Cheats, Hockey Feels), but the podcast that has probably had the most effect on my life is the Doctor Who podcast Radio Free Skaro. Since we started in 2006, we’ve done over 600 episodes, and we’ve had hundreds of guests on the show from the cast and crew to other fans and podcasters eager to share their experiences. We’re probably the world’s most popular Doctor Who podcast, but we’re also excited in finding ways to reach new audiences to try to better represent Doctor Who’s diverse fandom.
What was the motivation behind starting the podcast?
My eventual cohost Warren and I used to work midnight shifts at a TV station in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It was there that we discovered a shared love of Doctor Who and would endlessly fill our evenings talking about it. Warren then suggested that we should do a podcast about Doctor Who, basically replicating our conversations as podcast material.
I had no idea what a podcast was at the time. (This was c.2005). It took us a few months of stumbling around and planning, but we finally launched the show in 2006, long after Warren had left the TV station (and mere months before I would do the same). We had no real idea what we were doing! I just showed up and talked, sort of becoming the de facto host of the show. A year later, we added a third host, Chris, and we’ve kept the same lineup ever since.
What went into launching the initial podcast?
This was the early days of podcasting. The smartphone was still a couple years away. Many people were downloading MP3s and putting them on their MP3 players. We thought of none of this when we started! We also assumed we wouldn’t edit our shows, apart from putting on music at the beginning and end. (I might have assumed that we couldn’t edit at all…) This was actually beneficial, because we treated it as “live”, so we would only say things that we were comfortable with ending up in the final product.
As we were now both in separate locations, we recorded over Gizmo at first (we moved to Skype about 30 episodes in). I had an awful headset microphone, and Warren just used his built-in laptop microphone. It sounded awful, we were raw and unpolished, but those early episodes allowed us to become more confident with ourselves as podcasters before we started becoming a more well known entity in the Doctor Who fan world.
How have you attracted listeners and grown podcast?
We didn’t know much about recording a podcast, so we certainly weren’t aware of ways to promote ourselves and build an audience. For the first two years, we just sort of existed as one of the handful of Doctor Who podcasts at the time.
That changed at around December 2008, more than two years since we started. We had been invited to appear on another podcast, recorded as a sort of call in show with other listeners. We were quite nervous and excited for the opportunity, but once the show started, we were staggered at how poor quality it was! It was stilted, was rife with technical issues, and we were just waiting for the whole thing to end as quickly as possible.
We said to ourselves, “this is the best Doctor Who podcasting has to offer?” So we made a concerted effort to start promoting our own show on fan forums and on the relatively new concept of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. All three of us became more involved in the production of the show as well.
Our big breakthrough came at the Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles in February 2009. We had never been to a proper Doctor Who convention before. There we met several people who would become lifelong friends, and we also introduced many people to our podcast. We talked about how wonderful a time we had at the convention on our podcast, and that compelled a large number of listeners to attend their first Gallifrey One in 2010. Many of those people became our friends, too, and most of them also started up their own Doctor Who podcasts! By 2011, we had started taking an active role in the convention, and since 2012, we’ve hosted the official live kickoff show.
The most important thing we’ve done to increase our listenership is to be consistent. We release new episodes every Sunday, and we haven’t missed a week since 2008! Listeners like their set schedules, and we’ve managed to build a larger audience that way.
What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue with having the podcast?
It took a while, but eventually the prospect of making money became an avenue we explored on the show. At first, some people told us that they would like to wear Radio Free Skaro merchandise, so we set up an online store for that. That brought in a tiny amount of money, but it did help spread the word a bit.
We also attempted Google Ads on our website. Those paid us next to nothing, and the clutter it caused on our website was undesirable. That initiative only lasted a few months.
Our most lucrative revenue driver has been Patreon. We’ve got a small cadre of supporters who kick in money for each episode, and we like to try to funnel that money back into the podcast by using it to fund extra trips to conventions or other Doctor Who-related events.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome when it comes to running the podcast? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Part of me wishes that we had started the podcast when we initially planned to in April 2005. We would have been first out of the blocks (as it stands, I believe that we were the third Doctor Who podcast), which might have led us to more opportunities by default of being the only game in town.
But then I remember how unpolished we were in those early days, and perhaps it’s better to have made our biggest inroads when we’ve actually been, well, listenable…
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think the biggest reason we’re still going strong after almost twelve years of weekly podcasts is because of planning. Our episodes usually feature two main segments: the news of the week, followed by a feature, which usually consists of a discussion panel, a commentary, or an interview. The news we need to record as close to release as possible so it’s timely, but the features can be recorded whenever, so we often bank a lot of our features weeks in advance. It keeps us from being overwhelmed each week, and it’s also a safety net in case a feature recording falls through.
What’s your advice for podcasters who are just starting out?
My main bit of advice that I tell everyone who is starting a podcast is make a show that you would want to listen to. What’s driven us on Radio Free Skaro is that often if we want to hear from a particular person or creative type, or hear a certain topic discussed somewhere, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. The passion to create something that would be at the top of the list in your podcast queue comes through in the way that you’re producing it.
Where can we go to learn more?