As podcasts continue to grow in popularity, the pressure to have a clever concept can be an all-consuming anxiety that leaves little in the way of actual deliveries. But the hallmark of a quality podcast doesn’t necessarily have to be concept-driven. Sometimes, charismatic, enthusiastic hosts who speak authentically about their subjects are as engrossing as any big idea.
Passion breeds passion, and after sitting down with the members of two Queen City podcasts, the ticket to their success is not to fake it, which leaves a growing trust between them and their (growing) listeners.
Finding a voice
“They have to get their jitters out first,” says Brad Hargis about his fellow cohosts of The Cinema Guys, a Cincinnati-based podcast centered on all things film.
Hargis mixes the sound while cohosts Justin Dunn and Ashley “The Cinemaiden” Ostendorf prepare for the night’s recording — giggling and choosing their favorite Guillermo del Toro-directed movies. In this episode, they’re recapping his latest, The Shape of Water. It’s a friendly, welcoming environment as they set up at Hargis’ dining room table, one that they’ve mastered from months and months of work.
“When I take off my headphones at the end of recording , I just think ‘That was literally just a conversation between us and people just want to listen to our conversation,’ which is half-crazy and half-cool at the same time.” - Ashley Ostendorf, aka "The Cinemaiden"
The Cinema Guys began in the summer of 2016, but the idea was long in the making. “Justin and I were going to the movies a lot on the same night, and at the end of every movie, we would have such fun conversations that I was like, ‘This would be more fun to record and talk about,’” says Hargis. “It took us almost a year to get if off the ground.”
When they first started, the pair had big ideas for their little podcast. “We were like, ‘We’re going to do a movie podcast, we’re going to talk about movies in a big, grand-scope kind of way,’” says Hargis. “But when we started doing it, we realized we need to focus more locally.”
For them, that meant reaching out to businesses like Paper Street Trading Company and gathering other local podcasters together.
“There was a podcast group that was kind of meeting, but not really,” says Dunn. “I owned a coffee shop/art gallery and I just wanted to talk to other podcasters, so I was like ‘Let’s start meeting.’ Now a group of Cincinnati podcasters meets monthly.”
Building the conversation
While they knew they’d found their angle, there were still kinks to work out. “If you listen to the first episode, it’s painful,” says Dunn. “It’s just me and Brad; we were kind of reading what we were saying. It was just weird. And then when Ashley joined, her personality glued all three voices together really well, and that’s made it into a really good podcast. I think she definitely made it what it is today.”
Ostendorf first came on as a guest. What she brought to the conversations stuck, and they invited her to be their third cohost, keeping her identity hidden under the guise of "The Cinemaiden" — until now. The experience has been endlessly rewarding.
“It’s never forced,” she says. “When I take off my headphones at the end of recording, I just think ‘That was literally just a conversation between us and people just want to listen to our conversation,’ which is half-crazy and half-cool at the same time.”
Dunn agrees. “My brother-in-law started listening in North Carolina and he said ‘I feel like I’m just sitting down and talking to you, this is exactly how we’d talk about movies.’”
With each new episode, The Cinema Guys grows in popularity; Cincinnati Magazine named them one of five top local podcasts to listen to. They were also invited to the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Mini Maker Faire and did a live Q&A at Paper Street Trading’s Wonder Woman Day.
They’ve also watched Cincinnati’s increased visibility as a filming location over the last five years. “We have noticed an influx of film,” says Hargis. “We’ve reached out to the films that have come through here to no avail. Bruce Willis is one of my all-time favorite actors, and when we found out he was in town, I tried to reach out to see if we could interview him.” He's still waiting for Willis’ response.
The future is bright for The Cinema Guys, and although their hopes are big, they’re also reachable. “I have thought a lot more in the last couple of months about doing more with it,” says Dunn. “I’d like to partner with theaters and be able to set up a booth when they have events and help them out. I’m not thinking of making money necessarily, but just being bigger.”
Dunn also thinks a live podcast event would benefit the city. “You could just walk in and step into different podcasts from around the city and see what people are talking about. I think that would be a cool event. I know New York and LA have tons of those; there really are a lot of different podcasts in Cincinnati.”
The one thing they don’t want to lose is the friendly, inclusive atmosphere the podcast provides for them and for their listeners alike. “I grew up watching a lot of movies on my own, but I attribute watching movies to friendship,” says Ostendorf. “When I watch a movie, I like having that shared experience.”
When asked what advice they have for other podcasters: “Just do it,” says Hargis. (“That was going to be mine!” Dunn and Ostendorf say, almost simultaneously.) “We talked about it for almost a year back and forth. Once you get that first one out of the way, it’s like ‘Oh, we can do this.’ I would do podcasting every day if I could make money off it.”
The Cinema Guys podcast is available in the Google Play and the Apple Store, as well as on iHeart Radio. You can also listen to the podcasts on their site. Next up is their thoughts on the new movie Hostiles, starring Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike.
Wandering no more
Singer/songwriter Yoni Wolf was feeling antisocial, and a little square. “I felt like I was a loner, doing the whole monk-hood thing — writing songs in a room by myself. I also felt like I was becoming one-dimensional, like music was the only thing I did. I just felt I needed another outlet, something not as heavy and dense as the music was.”Yoni Wolf (Provided)
Wolf grew up in Cincinnati but moved to California in his early 20s. In 2004, he formed the indie-rock band Why?, which he still performs and tours with today.
“I make albums and then we go and play songs around the world,” he says. “That’s what sort of gave me the ability to do the podcast.” He started reaching out to people he knew in cities he was visiting, other artists or musicians. “Basically, whatever town I was in, if I knew someone there that was interesting to me, I would try to get a conversation with them.”
Thus in 2013, his podcast The Wandering Wolf was born — a play on both his last name and the nature of being a musician on tour. “It gave me an external outlet and something to focus on in my downtime,” he says, “because there’s so much weird downtime on tour. I was able to edit during those times, just pop in some headphones and edit.”
Initially, Wolf's hopes for the podcast were a little more complex. “I was like, 'Alright, I can do prank calls and radio plays and interviews.' I thought I was going to do a bunch of different voices, but then I ended up settling on interviews because that’s sort of what resonated with me most when I first started messing around with it. It's a pretty typical format for podcasts, of course, but it felt right. And that’s what I enjoy about it most, just talking to people.”
Keeping the conversation going
“Be strict at the beginning. For beginning a new creative endeavor and figuring out what it is and what you want it to be, it’s good to sort of impose deadlines on yourself.” - Yoni Wolf
For the first two years, Wolf was vigilant about releasing episodes and stuck to a strict interview and upload schedule. “I never missed a Wednesday. It forced me to have conversations — I had to have at least an hour-long, in-depth conversation with one person every single week, which is not necessarily normal for me. I can easily go into a zone and not see people much.”
That strictness has lead him to a loyal audience of listeners, as far as areas of Africa and Asia and everywhere in between.
The combination of travel and music has opened doors for Wolf to take his podcast and transform it into different forms of entertainment. He recently finished work on a pilot episode of The Wandering Wolf for television. “We got a grant from People’s Liberty and put some more of our money into it and made it a really nice pilot. We’ll see where that goes. It’s a very funky, different, alternative-style travel show. I like doing it as an audio podcast and will continue to do that, but that would really be the logical progression of the show.”
Wolf thinks his unwavering schedule those first few years helped shape his success as a podcaster in Cincinnati, and it’s advice he gives to others who want to try their hand (or voice) at the medium.
“I like imposing deadlines on myself; it’s part of my personality I guess,” he says. “Be strict at the beginning. For beginning a new creative endeavor and figuring out what it is and what you want it to be, it’s good to sort of impose deadlines on yourself.”
He recalls times when he had to put out episodes and struggled to find guests. “There were weeks that I had to put out a podcast that I didn’t know who I was going to talk to. And then I’d just think, 'You know what, I should have a conversation with my father or my mother.' I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t had a schedule like that. I would’ve waited to talk to some other music friend I had in another town or whatever. So yeah, I think that strict schedule initially is a good thing. You’re forced to learn about yourself and what you’re trying to do."
Tell us: What's your favorite local podcast?