Categories
Life Podcast

Why do podcasts like mine want more listeners?

This might seem like a really obvious question: why do I, an academic and independent podcaster, want more listeners? Of course it’s because we want our content in more ears, right? But why do we want our content in more ears?

I have two shows right now: one that’s a history podcast called Consolation Prize, made by academics but targeted more toward history-lovers who aren’t in academia (though many of our current listeners are academics); and one that’s for kids, called Big If True, about random big things in the universe. Both of these shows need listeners, and here’s why.

Minifigure with headphones and laptop

Why listener numbers don’t matter

Before I get to why we do want listeners, there are few ways in which listener numbers DON’T matter to me.

I don’t care about ad revenue.

It’s important for us to say at the outset that we don’t need listeners to drive ad revenue. Many podcasts survive only on ad revenue, and I don’t have any problems with ads in podcasts. Goodness knows I’ve bought things because of podcast ads, so they clearly work (research bears this out). However, at this moment in the life of both of my shows, no one would advertise on our show anyway because…we don’t have enough listeners! But even if we do ever hit that mark, ad revenue is never going to be a primary driver of listenership. For starters, I don’t know that we’ll ever even do ads. Certainly there are some ethical issues with placing ads on a kids’ show. And since Consolation Prize is run by an academic unit, there are likely some complicated legal issues with ad revenue there as well.

So will my shows always be ad-free? I can’t make any promises, but signs point to yes, or limited ads at most.

Listenership isn’t an ego trip.

There are some podcasters who seem to view their listener numbers as some sort of validation of their worth, or, less charitably, a trip for their ego. I won’t lie that it feels good to see the listener numbers go up, but we don’t want listeners solely so we can brag about the number of listeners.

Girl listening on her bed, with headphones on

We do need listeners, however!

Listenership numbers still matter. Here are a few reasons why.

We think our shows have value.

For both of the shows that I helm, I think we’re telling stories that people need to hear. (If I didn’t, it would be stupid for us to have a show.) I’ve become increasingly convinced that podcasting is an effective way of disseminating information, and I think our shows do a good job of it. So of course I want people to hear it. Plus, we put a TON of work into each show, and so it’s nice to see that other people value the work as well.

We want to showcase other people.

We love having guests on the shows because it gives other people a chance to show off what THEY do well. That’s why I love having junior scholars on Consolation Prize; it’s why we reach out to scientists and historians and other people. It’s so fun to spread the news about all the amazing scholarship and adventure that’s happening in the world, and we want our guests to get as much great feedback on their work as possible.

Bigger numbers breed better content.

There are a lot of ways bigger numbers breed better content.

First, bigger numbers mean more incentive for guests to come on the show. Naturally, if people are going to sit down for an interview, they want to be heard by a lot of people. So the larger audience, the more likely prospective guests will say yes. Plus, the likelihood of a guest having heard of our show and thus be more interested in coming on the show goes up if the listenership is bigger.

Second, bigger numbers mean more revenue through other means. We don’t have a Patreon or microdonation system set up yet for either podcast, but it doesn’t seem worth it right now because of the small listener numbers. The numbers just don’t support us even bothering with the setup of those accounts. But at some point, Big if True in particular is fully self-funded, so it would be nice for us to make a little bit of money in order to improve our setup and expand our outreach.

Third, bigger numbers, of course, is a self-fulfilled prophecy: the more people who listen, the more other people who listen. Right now, I know probably 75% of our listeners personally in some way. It sure would be lovely to get people to listen whom I DON’T know personally. Everyone says that word of mouth is the best advertisement for podcasts, so the more mouths words can come out of, the better.

So, what’s the conclusion?

Well, there are a few takeaways:

  • Listen to my shows. 😂
  • Actually, that’s it. Listen to my shows. 😂

Categories
Life

The Halfway Point

If we take literally the Bible’s accounting of our days as “threescore and ten,” then today is the halfway point for me: 35. Happy birthday to me. 2020 hasn’t shaken out quite like I expected, but it hasn’t been without its joys and comforts. So here are a few professional-ish things I’m grateful for today.

I accomplished some stuff this year.

Despite everything, I did do some stuff this year. And some of it is, if I may say so, pretty darn good. I’m really proud of it.

  • I signed a contract with Johns Hopkins University Press for my book about the First Barbary War. I still feel a tremendous amount of impostor syndrome about my dissertation work, but one thing that has helped me as I’ve revised it into a book is the advice and mentorship of a senior scholar of naval history (and, in fact, the person who wrote the book that really truly sealed my interest in naval history). He has read all my chapter revisions so far and has given me gracious and incisive comments. I didn’t make my original deadline for delivering the book to the press because of covid, but I will deliver it in 2021.
  • I started a podcast about the history of US consuls. This podcast came out of my work on the Barbary consuls of the First Barbary War, but it has honestly been the most interesting and generative scholarly work I’ve done in a while. Plus, working with the Consolation Prize team has been a tremendous privilege and learning experience.
  • I survived and even learned a lot from teaching online. The emergency shift caused me to overhaul my entire strategy for teaching, and it was really productive for me. A ton of work, uncompensated for the most part, but my teaching is better for it. (Nonetheless I’m ready to be back in the classroom, maybe for fall 2021.)

I learned from a lot of people.

I got the chance to be involved in some pretty fun stuff this year, some of it only possible because of the virtualization of everything due to covid. A few stand out.

  • The podcasting sessions from the VCU+ICA Community Media Center were fantastic for learning more about podcasting and hearing from experts in the field. (I hope there will be more in the spring!)
  • I got to talk about Star Trek and the First Barbary War at NavyCon 2020-A, which was great fun. But I learned much more than I imparted, I’m sure—specifically, I learned the term FICINT, and I look forward to delving more into that in 2021.

It feels like I should have done, or maybe did do, more. But I can’t remember any more things. Hello pandemic year.

I started some things.

These are more personal, I suppose. Though it feels like work has been all-consuming this year, because the amount of time it takes to teach online, shepherd a kid through online school, and do good DH work from home turns out to be astronomical, I’ve also tried to do some things for myself.

  • I started exercising for real. I got an Apple Watch, which has really kept me on track, but I started before that. I’m probably in better shape than I’ve been in ten years (which is a VERY VERY low bar). Mostly I’ve been doing strength and cardio in my bedroom. I started running, but I have had persistent feet problems (some of which predate the running) that have prevented me from getting into a routine. I’m hoping we can get those fully resolved in 2021 so I can get serious about training; I really want to do an adventure race in fall 2021. Have I been watching too much World’s Toughest Race? Yes. I also got a stationary bike for Christmas, so I’ve already been doing some work on that.
  • I started developing a podcast with my daughter. She insists that she loves online school, but it hasn’t been awesome for her. So she and I came up with this podcast idea. Its external goal is to learn about cool stuff out in the world; its internal goal to help her feel enthusiastic about learning in general after a hard year. I’m pretty excited about it. (OH, by the way, we’re launching it today, so please please please go listen and share with your friends!)
  • I listened to a lot of podcasts. I listen to them partially as professional development (both for content and for structure and style), but mostly I just listen because I love learning new things. I feel like I’d lost some of my own joy in learning over the past few years, and podcasts have really brought that joy back for me this year.

Looking at these lists, it seems like a poor accounting for an entire year. But we’ve survived this year. We didn’t get sick; we didn’t have any severe mental health issues; we went to church on YouTube; we went to school on Zoom; we spent a LOT of time together as a family; and we survived. I don’t take any of that for granted. I’m extraordinarily blessed to have had such a boring year, where the only major events were good ones, not terrifying or heart-crushing ones.

So, as I enter the back half, or, as my running app says, “it’s time to turn around and go home,” I’m looking forward to what 2021 will bring. I have hope that, though it will be a long slog out of the turmoil and sorrow of 2020, the arc is bending in the right direction.

Categories
Life

Top Ten Podcasts of the Year

Yeah, I talk about podcasts a lot. One might say I’ve become mildly obsessed with them. But I’ve learned so much from listening to podcasts, and I’ve learned SO MUCH from making them, that I have opinions–a lot of them–about what makes a good podcast and about my favorites.

Spotify told me that my top listened-to podcast for the year was Throughline, from NPR. What Spotify doesn’t account for is that I listen to a lot more podcasts on the Overcast app on my phone than I do on Spotify (though more on Spotify now that I’m not commuting anywhere, since March anyway). And the number of listens doesn’t necessarily line up with the way I feel about podcasts. So I decided I’d make my Top 10 list for the year, just for fun, going from 10 to 1.

10. HowSound. This one is on my list because it’s been incredibly helpful for me as I’ve learned about podcasting myself. I’d actually give it a tie with Gimlet Academy, which is where I first got my start in thinking about what an episode should sound like.

9. The Incomparable Game Show. It’s not all serious over here in Abby’s Podcast Land. I don’t listen to all of the game shows, but I listen to many of them, especially Inconceivable and Random Pursuit. (Honorable mention for silly game shows: Go Fact Yourself.)

8. Preble Hall. The only naval history podcast I know, so how can I not love it? I also assign this in classes.

7. Believed. This one is a short-ish series, and full disclosure, I haven’t actually listened to all the episodes yet–but it’s because they’re so heavy and hard to listen to. It’s about Larry Nassar and the sex abuse tragedy in USA Gymnastics. Phenomenally well-produced.

6. The Heist. A similarly short series, but I learned more about Steve Mnuchin than I ever wanted to.

5. Twenty Thousand Hertz. Between being an audio producer now and a lifelong amateur musician, I love this show. It ticks all the boxes. My kids are big fans of the Jurassic Park episode.

4. 99% Invisible. I’ve actually only just started listening to this one, but I listened to like 5 episodes in a row recently, which I think is a pretty good indication that I like it. Someday I’d like to get a story on 99% Invisible—still looking for the right pitch.

3. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. This is actually the one show that I listen to within mere hours of its release almost every single week. It just makes me happy. It’s my life aspiration to be famous enough to be a guest for “Not My Job.” A ways to go before we get to that point, though (unless they’re looking for a person who produces a very low-volume niche podcast).

2. Throughline. Throughline is ONE of my favorite podcasts—Spotify wasn’t misrepresenting things. I have learned a lot through listening to this podcast, both about history and about podcast production.

1. Reply All. If you know me at all, you knew what this was going to be. Reply All is my favorite podcast and it’s not close. My favorite episode ever is still #116, Trust the Process (the Sports-Sports-Sports section), but I can’t think of a single episode I don’t like. Special shout-out to new host Emmanuel Dzotsi, who produced my favorite newer episode, #167, America’s Hottest Talkline.

Now, I listen to a LOT of podcasts. So narrowing down to just 10 was very challenging. Some honorable mentions include DIG: A History Podcast, Code Switch, Conversations at the Washington Library, and others that I’ve surely forgotten.

What are your top 10?

Categories
Digital Humanities Life Pedagogy

It’s Going OK

Over the past few days, I’ve been wrestling with a bizarre type of guilt: guilt that things are working. Like everyone, I moved my classes online after spring break at George Mason University. I teach two classes in the history department, one a 46-person class called “The Digital Past,” and one a 13-person topics in digital history course, where we’re learning about podcasting for history. I’m going to focus on the good in this post: “The Digital Past,” otherwise known as HIST390. I may write about the extreme challenges of the other class at a later time—it hasn’t ALL been working.

[I’m deliberately leaving out all discussions of how the rest of my life has changed because of this, though perhaps that’s not fair. It’s not like I can compartmentalize the different parts; they all bleed together. And I haven’t been dealing with any family members being sick or being homeless, or any other points of anxiety that have been overwhelming many of my students. I am immensely privileged in a lot of ways, and I acknowledge that.]

I don’t want to minimize the amount of disruption this move has caused. In the first frantic days, I couldn’t sleep at night for worrying about how I was going to make it all work. How was I going to teach a class about technology when my students had inconsistent access to technology? How was I going to do workshops about writing and editing with my podcasters when I couldn’t see them? How was I going to do activities with primary sources (particularly in a class where most students have little experience with reading historical documents and need a lot of prompting)?

After those first few days, things have settled into something of a rhythm. I wouldn’t say the transition has been “easy,” exactly (or inexactly). But there are parts of the new system that I’ve really liked. I want to highlight those.

Return to the essentials

The first time I taught HIST390, I tried to do WAY TOO MUCH. The second time I taught HIST390, I tried to do Way Too Much. This time, I tried to do way too much. Moving online has prompted me to reorient my entire course with an emphasis on the essentials. I’ve posted before about learning outcomes and how they guide my course preparation. However, that guidance doesn’t preclude my trying to do too much, as my course evaluations from my first go at a graduate class last semester made painfully clear. The kind of stripping down I had to do to make HIST390 work feels kind of like that exercise: write what you want in a page. Then write it in a paragraph. Then write it in a sentence. Then write it in a phrase. I started out three semesters ago teaching this class in a page. This semester, I started out with a sentence and I’m ending with a phrase.

In my reframing of the course, I have had to sharpen my focus on what I think really matters. What can I adjust or remove and still meet the learning goals? Much of my “assessment” work has gotten the axe. No more reading blog posts; actually, no more readings. Asking students to demonstrate minimal understanding of a digital tool instead of using its more advanced features. Changing two weeks on databases into one week on audio.

Instead of “assessment,” I’m focusing on understanding, giving them more time to work on projects with more support. I’ve tried to reframe the projects not as checking up on skills, but as an opportunity for creativity and showing off knowledge. I gave them more options for which projects they have to do, since if they struggle with them they don’t have easy access to face-to-face help from me. And it’s going fine. Students are still learning. In fact, the projects are going better than any other semester because I’ve relaxed my time expectations.

To be honest, I don’t miss most of the things I’ve removed. Sure, there are a few things that I’m sad we can’t do, and when I next teach this class face-to-face, I’ll add them back in. But I’ve realized that I’ve always been too aggressive in my course plan. So when we go back to face-to-face, this focus on the essentials is going to make a difference in how I teach this class.

Increased class participation

This one was a huge surprise to me. One of the things I read about asynchronous teaching (which is how I’m doing it) is that it exposes the learning process in a way that synchronous teaching doesn’t. That has certainly held true for me. At the beginning of the semester, I had set up a Slack group for my class. I do require them to join the group, but in the Before Time it mostly got used for tech support. In the After Time, I have used it for class discussion. And it has been GREAT.

In the Before Time, I often broke my students into groups for group discussion. But really hearing the discussions of 46 students, or giving each student a chance to contribute in those discussions, felt pretty impossible. The setup of our classroom was not well-suited to discussion, and it always felt hackneyed.

In the After Time, I broke up my class into groups of 3 or 4. I gave them each their own Slack channel. Now for every class period, they listen to me talk on a podcast episode, or listen to or watch something else. Then they answer discussion questions or do other activities within their Slack group channel. Sometimes I link to a primary source and have them discuss it. Sometimes I have them reflect on how the course materials fit into their lives. I’ve had them make things and photograph them and post to their channel.

I like this way so much better than the in-person discussions. I can “hear” all the discussions; the groups are small enough and asynchronous enough that everyone can have their say. I get to see them thinking through some of the questions in a way that I’d never get in a face-to-face discussion. I always despaired of good discussions in my classroom; I feel like this is finally fulfilling my hopes.

Not every person participates, of course. It would be irrational to expect that. But I’d say I know more about more students’ individual circumstances and personalities now than I did before the break. They’re not particularly shy about their lives, and I really like getting to see the course material come alive as they make connections to themselves. I’m already thinking about how I can use these tools to facilitate asynchronous discussion even when we go back to face-to-face.

Experimentation with form

One of the unexpected benefits of this move to online has been the chance to experiment with new and different ways of presenting materials. I’ve always been a huge proponent of using a wide variety of methods and techniques to communicate history–from one perspective, that’s the whole point of this class. But I’ve rarely had the opportunity to practice what I preach and innovate in my delivery of material.

But now innovation is upon us, whether we wish it or not. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want to do synchronous class meetings; they make me extremely anxious, and I don’t find them a good teaching or learning environment (no shade on those who are doing synchronous; it’s just not for me). So that meant I got to get creative with content delivery. I’ve chosen to work mostly in audio—no surprise to those of you who know me; I’ve recently become rather enamored of audio.

I started out with just voice recordings. Over time I’ve developed my “lectures” into real podcast-sounding deliveries, with theme music, an intro, a conclusion, and other things that help good audio stand out. I’m not arguing that I’m making something good, necessarily, only that I’m concertedly trying to do so.

It’s hard to communicate with just audio when you’re used to being able to use gestures, facial expressions, and other visual cues to get your point across. I do miss being able to scribble on a white board. But I’ve found the challenge of experimenting with audio immensely rewarding. I’ve taught myself a lot about the form and the mechanics, and my students seem to appreciate the work I put in.

It is a LOT of work. I spend several hours on each 20-minute episode, editing it, selecting and placing the music, re-recording when needed. But there are a lot of moments when I find the work therapeutic: it feels good to make something every week that I’m proud of. My students have also found it therapeutic to make things, it seems. Every time I’ve asked them to do something hands-on, like draw a map of their house, they’ve thrown themselves into it with a right good will.

There’s a pretty decent chance I’ll never use these podcast episodes again. But having to write a script, edit it for clarity, and then listen to myself talk it out has been valuable to me—once again, I’m back to the essentials. What do I need to include in order to get across the point I really care about? Condensing the speaking part of my class from 50-60 minutes into 20 has made me really consider what I care about.

Am I a Jerk for Liking My Class Right Now?

Sometimes I feel like a jerk for liking my class right now. I’ve heard from many colleagues about how they’re struggling to adjust to this new reality. The rest of the semester is just about survival for them, and they believe that the students are getting an inferior product now. And maybe that’s true. And I’m sympathetic—in my other class, I feel like we’re hanging on by a thread and a giant ogre is standing over us with a huge pair of scissors.

I am likewise fully aware that my students are not feeling good about their lives right now. Many of my students are in extremely difficult situations, where classwork is the least of their concerns (rightly). All of them are living in the perpetual fog of covid-19, and I’m there too. Life is not comfortable for any of them, and it’s downright bad for some.

I also know that if we stay online for the fall, much of the work I’ve done for this online class will need to be re-done; it’s very specific to this semester’s students and work. (Plus there’s the whole first half of the class which hasn’t been online-ized.) I’m not saying that this class is better online, either, or that the university should dispense with face-to-face classes forever. Teaching online from the outset, with students whom I don’t know and can’t tailor instruction to out of the gate, is a whole different beast from this switch midstream. To be honest, that kind of online teaching scares the snot out of me. This ain’t that.

So when I say that this class is working for me, it kind of feels like I’m betraying my colleagues and my students who are just barely making it.

And yet it wouldn’t be fair to say that these last 6 weeks have been universally horrible. My students are responding really well to these new ways of teaching and learning. They’ve told me (and I think they’re being honest) that they’re enjoying the new forms, and they’re finding our Slack discussions useful. Not everything has worked, but a lot of stuff has worked. Students are making historical connections to their own lives. They’re learning in real time about how to understand the digital environment where they live and are now even more immersed in.

I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned new skills, new ways of showing empathy, new ways of communicating, new ways of managing my own and my students’ expectations. And most important, what I’ve learned this semester is going to make future semesters better, online or face-to-face. I think it’s a mistake to miss the good in the midst of the bad. We all need a few successes to hang our hats on right now. This class, for the moment, is where I’m going to hang my hat.

Categories
Life

Parent-Friendly Professional Development

Recently, I asked on Twitter how to make professional development opportunities such as conferences, seminars, and workshops more accessible to parents. I was thinking specifically about summertime development opportunities, which are more likely to be multi-day trips away from home.

The responses to my Twitter query confirmed my suspicions: there are no easy answers. Let’s face it—balancing parent life with professional life means compromises have to be made. Parents often forego professional development opportunities because the labor of finding childcare and organizing travel is just too much. It’s not a requirement for professional development meetings to provide childcare. But acknowledging the need goes a long way toward telling parents that they are welcome and their contribution is desired.

I fully recognize the struggles of funding professional development. It’s expensive to put on a conference or a week-long seminar, and childcare is a big expense. Organizers have a million tiny details to consider. Free childcare isn’t really cost-practical for most academic organizations (we can’t all be WWDC). Furthermore, one size doesn’t fit all. Childcare needs look radically different between a weekend conference and a 6-week residential fellowship, or something in between. Offering childcare for kids of school age is vastly different than for younger kids. But every little bit helps.

You should always assume that childcare will be an issue for your particular participant pool. Are you running a graduate-student conference? Grad students have kids. Are you running a conference for predominantly male participants (yes, naval historians, I’m talking about you)? Men have kids. And some naval historians are women! Is your conference just one day or on the weekend? Kids don’t magically disappear on the weekends, and many of your participants may be solo parenting.

With these things in mind, here are some ideas I’ve received on Twitter or have considered myself for including parents in your planning. I wouldn’t expect all of these from any one conference/seminar, but I’d argue that the first two should be provided for absolutely every one:

  1. Provide resources for on-site or near-site childcare. Maybe there’s a daycare in the area that will accept short-term kids. Maybe there are some students in your university’s early childhood education program who would be willing to provide paid childcare in a nearby room or gym to your professional venue. Maybe you can compile a list of available sitters on Sittercity or Care.com. Are there camps at your university or in your county that run concurrently with your conference/seminar? Tell attendees about the possibility of sending their kids to one of those. How you manage this will depend on how long your conference/seminar is, but it should be done. This is true even if you provide grants to assist with childcare costs. All the money in the world won’t help a parent know where they can find reliable and trustworthy childcare in an unfamiliar city. (BTW, this includes childcare during evening plenaries or cocktail hours or whatever. If you want adults to socialize with each other, then their kids have to be somewhere safe.)
  2. Sometimes parents need support even if their kids can stay home while they travel. Provide a nursing/pumping room for moms. Pumping rooms include four major things: (1) a chair that isn’t excruciatingly painful to sit on; (2) a table to put the pump/bottles/etc. on; (3) an outlet; (4) A FRIDGE TO STORE THE MILK. The fridge doesn’t have to be in the same place, but it should be close. And notice that none of these four requirements is a bathroom. In fact, pumping in a bathroom is gross and should be avoided if at all possible.
  3. In the same vein, provide a room for parents with small kids to detox. This is especially helpful at conferences. It should have some chairs. This should NOT be the same space as the nursing/pumping room. (Bonus if there are kid-friendly snacks available!)
  4. Consider kids in your extracurriculars. Many conferences offer field trips for their participants. Consider offering field trips that kids could come along on. Provide lists of interesting attractions in the area (walkable is best!). Where can a parent take their kids when everyone’s tired of conferencing?
  5. Consider offering multiple ways of access to your content. Sometimes parents just can’t get away (e.g., when the big annual meeting coincides with the start of the elementary school’s second semester). Perhaps you can make sessions from your seminar available online in real time or as recordings. Or you can post papers or notes from sessions online. As a few people pointed out, face-to-face interaction is one of the purposes of many professional development events, but more diffuse dissemination brings more people into the conversation, even if that conversation is asynchronous with the event (who knows–it might even keep everyone’s mind on the topic after the event is over!).

Most importantly, none of these suggestions will do anyone any good if you do not tell people about them. If you don’t announce on your website that you’ll have childcare options, people with kids may pass your CFP by. If you don’t put the information about the location of the nursing room in your conference program, nursing moms will miss more sessions than necessary because they have to find somewhere on their own. If you don’t tell people up front that you’ve thought about this issue, they’ll assume you haven’t thought about it and will either have to find their own solutions or just not come to your event.

These suggestions are all low-cost in terms of money. All they require is some commitment and some legwork to find the resources or spaces necessary. Implementing one or more of these ideas will signal to your potential participants that they are welcome even if they have kids. I’ll be working to incorporate them myself as I plan events.

 

What suggestions do you have for making professional development opportunities parent-friendly?

Categories
Life

Opening Day Radio

Opening Day, no matter what the weather, is a signal that winter is truly over, and the joyous days of summer are on their way. For me, baseball is a sport meant to be imbibed in one particular way: radio. Don’t get me wrong—going to a ball game in person is a great experience. Everyone should go see a real MLB game in person at least once in their life. But listening to the Atlanta Braves on the radio is the pinnacle of sports.

I love the Braves because of my mom. I don’t know how my mom became a Braves fan. But from the time I was pretty little, she tuned in to our local (Greenville, SC) station on the Braves radio network for almost every game in the season. When I was very young, I just tuned out the noise. But as I got older, I began to listen and follow the game. By the time I was a teenager, I was a diehard Braves fan. Yes, yes, I joined the club in the good years—Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Chipper Jones—but I wasn’t a fairweather fan. (Witness: I still love my Braves, even though the glory days have been a bit elusive for the past decade.)

My mom and I at Turner Field, 2008

There’s nothing quite like straining to keep your pinky on the stereo while stretching as tall as you can, making a human antenna to get the broadcast on a bad radio day. Or trying desperately to find another station to listen to the game when the normal station inexplicably broadcasts the Clemson game instead. As I began to love the Braves more and more, these sort of frustrations became part of the joy of being a part of the Braves radio network rather than a deterrent.

When I was in junior high, I used to go with my mom to church choir practice, which was at 4:15 on Sundays. Most days I’d just sit in the sanctuary while they rehearsed. But some Sundays, the Braves game would be in the later innings when we arrived at church (if it had started at 1:05 or so). On those days, I’d sit in the sweltering car and listen to the game, hoping it would wrap up before the heat in the car became too much to bear. On very rare occasions, even Mom would stay in the car to listen, though under almost any other circumstance it would be totally unacceptable to be late to choir practice. Enduring the heat made me feel like a true fan.

In my childhood, it was a rare treat to watch the Braves on TV when they were on the FOX Saturday game of the week. But I was usually glad to return to the radio broadcast for the next game: the FOX commentators just didn’t stack up to Joe, Don, Pete, and Skip. My experience with the players was always mediated through the Braves radio commentators—the players themselves were virtual strangers. I barely even recognized their faces or their swings. But I loved them no less for their distance.

Radio commentators are a little like historians. They introduce their listeners to people they don’t know (and will never meet) by giving rich description of the events, context for the players’ actions and attitudes, and background information about every aspect of their professional lives, plus a frequent dose of humor. Commentators have unique voices that become familiar and beloved, but the best ones focus their broadcast on the players and the sport, not themselves. So here’s to you, Skip, Don, Pete, Joe, and now Jim (and others), and go Braves!