A devout fan of tuning into the aural pleasure of a podcast while driving long distances or working around the house, Frank Konsella launched his own “Crested Butte is Home” slate of episodes this past June.
“I thought it would be a fun thing to do, but at the end of the day it was definitely a business decision too,” explained Konsella, a real estate agent, who hoped to highlight in an innovative way that which is special about the area.
Konsella is among a growing number of Gunnison Valley residents who’ve launched podcasts on a variety of topics. Some are aimed strictly at bolstering a business — or are in themselves a commercial venture. Others delve into hobbies and topics of interest.
An accomplished ski mountaineer, blogger and co-author of a backcountry skiing guidebook, Konsella himself has been featured as a guest on popular web-based shows such as the “Adventure Sports Podcast” and Cripple Creek Backcountry’s “Totally Deep.”
Yet, his own podcast profiles a wide range of community members. Guests have included locals who specialize in mine reclamation, landscape photography and rum-making, as well as an avid “shed”antler gatherer.
“I think it helps (visitors) develop a better sense of this place that they like to visit or have another home in,” he said. “I’m interviewing people on subjects that I know nothing about.”
Podcasts typically come in the form of audio files which have surged in popularity because they can be listened to at a computer or through a smartphone — meaning virtually anywhere — and offer a break from modern culture dominated by screens. They’ve been launched by traditional media outlets, companies specializing in specific products, athletes, artists and aficionados of all things.
And a common motivation among local podcasters is that the media form is relatively cheap and easy to produce — while offering creative control that traditional channels lack.
“I think what we’re finding now is that audio content fits better with the way people live their lives,” noted Gunnisonbased podcaster Alan Wartes.
A booming business
Today, anyone who has something to say can find an audience via the platform. After surpassing 50 billion alltime episode downloads and streams earlier this year, Apple announced that it is now home to more than 525,000 active shows, with more than 18.5 million episodes available, including content in more than 100 languages.
But that’s not to say that podcasts are lacking in value. Podcast advertising revenue in the U.S. totaled $314 million last year, up 86 percent from 2016, according to a study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
After first launching the local affairs podcast ThinkRadio in October of last year, Wartes recently unveiled a split of his offerings into three separate podcasts with a foundation of the “triple bottom line” — a concept based on the idea that success is best measured by what’s equally good for society, the environment and business.
“ThinkRadio Presents” is now the umbrella for Wartes’ three podcasts — “ThinkPeople,” “ThinkBusiness” and “ThinkPlanet.”
Wartes’ interest in audio was sparked in 1978 when he was an undergrad majoring in mass communications at Texas Tech University and became involved in the school’s radio station. He later left school for financial reasons and joined the Army, but telling stories remained central to Wartes’ life. He’s also a writer, media producer and journalist who previously worked for the Gunnison Country Times.
Through print journalism, however, Wartes yearned to tell more of his sources’ stories.
“You would have these hourlong conversations with people that needed to be cut down to a single quote,” he explained.
‘I wanted to do a talk show’
A conversation a few years ago with Western Colorado University Communication Arts professor Terry Schliesman sparked an idea in Wartes’ mind. Schliesman noted that KWSB, the university’s radio station, was open to any community member interested in gaining access to the airwaves.
“He meant music,” Wartes recalled of the conversation with Schliesman. “I wanted to do a talk show.”
Initiatially, Wartes did just that — recording ThinkRadio episodes which aired on KWSB but that Wartes also hosted on his website, alanwartesmedia.com . Since then, Wartes has outgrown the space and its scheduling requirements. Instead of producing the episodes at the university station, Wartes has built an audio-visual studio within the ICELab at Western.
His episodes now air on Crested Butte-based KBUT and are available to be picked up by other public radio stations.
Over the last year, ThinkRadio has hosted guests that run the gamut — from poets and musicians to politicians and leaders of national movements. But with bigger aspirations, such diversity of guests could be considered a weakness when attempting to target a larger, regional audience.
“If you go to a programmer or a podcast audience, you have to be able to say what you’re show is about,” Wartes explained, noting that the concept proved difficult previously.
Now, with episodes that fit neatly into three separate categories — commerce, community and the environment — finding an audience either on public radio or via the internet is much more feasible.
‘We have a vast amount of knowledge’
A specialized approach for finding an audience is a path taken by other Gunnison Valley podcasters as well. Earlier this year, fishing guide Cameron Rhodes launched “The Guided Trip.”
Its episodes — focused on fly fishing primarily in the Gunnison Basin — aim to convey knowledge to the average angler that professional guides may find common.
“We have a vast amount of knowledge and we’re always wanting to learn more,” Rhodes said of guides.
Content of the shows have included discussion with a Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist about the annual release of salmon fry — resulting in a feeding frenzy for trout that anglers target — to a fly fishing guide school hosted by Willowfly Anglers for the first time this past summer.
Rhodes listens to fishing podcasts himself but saw an opportunity to improve upon the content.
“I thought I could make them more entertaining and come out with a different perspective than other people have,” he said.
That kind of creative control bypasses traditional “gatekeepers” — such as radio station programmers, or publishers in the case of print.
“In some sense we’ve lost something by that because in some cases the gatekeepers legitimately say, ‘That’s a stupid idea,’” Wartes noted, “but if you’ve already got access to an audience and an interesting twist, the equipment you need to make this work is less than 2,000 bucks, and the expertise you need can be learned in a weekend watching YouTube tutorials.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)