Related article: Guest Appearances

Roderick on the Line as a technology podcast (RL243)

John and Merlin had been talking about technology for as long as they record the program and there had been multiple occasions where John talked about trouble with his computer: First, Tweetbot was getting worse and worse and would no longer show certain things, until they eventually stopped updating it. John would continue to use it until it ceased being functional and switched to the Twitter app, which he found awful. When he asked Merlin, he learned that he had to buy an upgrade, which was not at all clear to him as a lay-person, because he does not read MacWorld or other magazines. It is a black art!

Every time John and Merlin talk about technology, people are sending Merlin a lot of feedback on how he is supposed to help John.

Podcasting (RW62, OJR)

The wonderful thing about Podcasting is that every week he talks to his friend and afterwards the thing is done. Even if they won't make any more podcasts, they would have a body of work that is complete. This is in contrast to his musical career that to the present day is neither active nor officially done, but in a lingering state waiting for John's fourth album of The Long Winters to be finished. (OJR)

John is podcasting using Sony 7506 headphones from 1999, but in April 2017 he ordered a new pair, because they were so trashed and the plug would often play in Mono if not carefully inserted. (RW62?)

Podcasting feeling natural (RW85)

When John is podcasting, he does not even have the remotest feeling of trepidation, but there is no excitement in the form of ”Oh my god, Oh my god!” either. Podcasting is a completely natural thing for him to do! There is no dread of obligation either, which otherwise happens for most of the things that John puts on his calendar, like a doctor’s appointment or a birthday party or going to the studio. Podcasting feels natural because he is just talking to his buddies. He likes talking and neither Roadwork nor Roderick on the Line have any plan that could make it difficult. John could do 50 podcasts and never have the burden of it feeling like work.

Even the guys down at the propane distribution center get to talk to a lot of people during the course of a day. They have that Will Rogers feeling of ”I never met somebody who wasn’t my friend!” and they are ready to meet people all day long. Even in the small way that podcasting does feel like work because John is going to earn some money from it, it continues to feel amazing. He knows that it is seen as really hard work by some people, like "How do you even do a podcast?", which is not a question he ever had to ask. John was thinking of renting a little podcast studio while his house was getting worked on, but they are very expensive! There is a place in Seattle called The Cloud Room that has built a whole suite of podcast studios and for $2000 they will help you to record and produce some number of episodes. Who is that for? Are those shows like ”What’s new at our local boutique hotel? Tune in to our podcast!”

A lot of people probably want to do a podcast, but it isn’t their instinct and they don’t know where to start. You would think that getting up there with a guitar would be easy for John, but it continues to not be. John knows a lot of people who you can’t keep off the stage, because they would happily get up with anybody at any time with no dread, but most of them are not singers. They are instrument masters and they are good enough at their thing that they are never going to get caught with their pants down. With singers, it is rare to not have a little bit of feeling of ”I hope I don’t fuck this up!”

Who listens to John's podcasts? (RW79)

John is always curious who the great silent majority of their listeners are. There are certainly a lot of tech people, because tech people love podcasts There will also be a lot of commuters, because they have made choices in their life that make them drive for a long time. There are people who are working at a work bench or a station where they are able to do their work with one half of their brains and listen to a podcast with the other half. There are active duty military people. John would like to know if there is a serial killer listening to this podcast, but unfortunately they would never say that in a survey or send an email telling that they are a serial killer.

Nobody knows how many serial killers they have walked past. There is not even any evidence of their crime yet. Maybe you walk past them all the time, maybe there is one who goes to your grocery store? In the Midwest, there was this BTK Killer who was a dogcatcher and lived on this normal street with his normal family. That is how they are!

There are people listening to this podcast who live double lives. There could be someone with an assumed name, hoping every day that the US Marshals won't knock down their door. All those people who are currently living a lie know who they are, some of them are probably not even comfortable acknowledging to themselves that they are living a lie. That's how deeply they are living a lie, they cannot even say they are living a lie! What a cocktail party it would be if they could get all the people listening to Roadwork who are living a lie together in a room, watching them trying to connect with each other! Halfway through you would tell them that the reason for this party is that everyone in the room is living a lie. The doors are locked! Go! That would be super-fascinating. People keep a lot of secrets, even from themselves.

There are a ton of people listening who are interesting in their particular way. Some maybe think they are not interesting, but if you are interested in listening to this show, you are already pre-interesting. Then there are these other factors, all the different permutations of psychologies that we have access to in a way of this unidirectional broadcast.

Podcast on vinyl (RW39)

Dan suggested to release their podcast on vinyl! They would need to make 2-record sets because the episodes are 1,5 hours long. At the time there were 38 episodes. That would be a whole wall of vinyl. John is kind of into that! Imagine being halfway into a podcast and flipping over the record? They could also do some clip show with the best of all episodes and people would get it 9 months later. You could buy the entire set for something like $750, which is not that much if you are a fan! Let's call it $1000, because they also have to do the artwork and make it a beautiful thing. $1000 plus shipping! It would be a lot of work, but it would be a beautiful thing.

They would get into all the Podcast trade magazines because they would be the first ones to do it. Maybe they would even get into Wired and Jesse Thorn would interview them. You could join the record club and every week you would receive another double album, like a cheese to try! John spent most of his adult life trying to make 5 records, but they could have 40 albums that are already done. You wouldn't even have to remaster it and maybe the show could stop after 40 episodes and it would be a box set called "All the great shows". Then Merlin and Dan would disappear and you would never hear from them again. It would be like something from The Franklin Mint: You would have to get that stour watch while it is still available, a full proof set of Presidential Face Coins.

The A.I. that will replace them on the podcast (RL161)

When people will build the A.I. to replace Merlin and John on this podcast, John expects it to turn out as very boring crotchety guys with saggy pants. Merlin disagrees: The A.I. people come up with will not be robots that talk like them, but it will be real A.I. that will be able to take the stuff they are not articulating well, make it a lot smarter and draw connections. Merlin and John are pretty good at certain parts of this already, but they really need a super-smart robot that will connect all the dots. Merlin doesn't want a realistic walking doll, but an actual 1930:s idea of a robot that says clink clank when it walks. John's desire to not be around other people extends to robots. You could even tell the robots without hurting their feelings, but because of his usual anthropomorphizing, it would not be the robot's feelings that he would be worried about, but his own transference of feelings into the robot. It is the FL Smirnoff problem (??). John would feel social pressure to turn it on and interact with it, merely by having it in the house. If he already has ill or guilty feelings about his clothes, imagine how bad John would feel about a computer that walk! This is why he never turned on Siri, because he does not want an interaction with a thing he could disappoint.

2015-November: Recording in Jesse Thorn's podcasting studio in Los Angeles (RL181)

Away on the debut trip with his new RV, John was recording his podcast with Merlin in a professional podcasting studio in the "American Cement Building" in Los Angeles, originally built by The American Cement Company. The building showcases the power of cement. Cement is extremely expensive and it is the important ingredient in concrete: you have cement and sand and rocks and some water. Because cement is so costly, a lot of times when they want to cut corners they go a little short on cement and your building falls down. In this case it is built in a very distinctive 1960:s lattice-work, slightly reminiscent of the World Trade Center, but sturdier, less emulating birds in flight and more a natural lattice, a DNA-helix turned into a building, kind of like a shitty grill in a park, that kind of lattice. Exactly the same lattics you would use if you go inside someone's artery to open it up after it had been filled with plaque. It is made of stints, a square stint. The style is sub-brutalist, just kind of aggressive. It would be at home in Brasilia, but it is also at home in Los Angeles. It is a nice place.

John came to the American Cement Building after his original plan to record his show in front of a café, hijacking their WiFi turned out to be unfeasible. He thought about other people he knew who are doing podcasts in LA. He could call Michael Penn who has got a studio, but he is always doing soundtracks in there. Then there is Marc Maron, podcasting from his garage, but his neighbors are always using the wheat whacker and Marc has never invited John or Merlin to his program either. Should he go to Orange County? The people there are all wearing Chuck Taylors and their podcasts are all super-compressed high-energy podcasts. So he called his good friend Jesse Thorn from the Maximum Fun podcast network and luckily they had an opening this morning. As John came down to the American Cement Building - which is an actual office building with at least 14 floor - there were 4 employees working on their computers in the office of the Maximum Fun podcast network. No one in the office knew he was coming, all were "Oh, hello!" and the people who knew him already were like "I guess this is normal, John Roderick is here, making some chit chat with us and eating our donuts".

Then Jesse waltzed in. Jesse is a man who thinks things through. He is a thinker, a wise grown-up, he is possibly born as a grown-up, like he has always been 60 and he now has a very long beard which is made of 100% Alpaca. Jesse has quite a few men's wear accessories in his studio including a poncho. They have a shower and bathtub and there is even a clothes-steamer in the bathroom. Merlin warns John not to take a bath, because someone has certainly used it as a guest potty during a party, but John does not seem convinced. However, taking a bath there would anyway have been a violation of everyone's psycho-sexual space. All employees are unfailingly polity and no one would say "no", but then they are all sitting at their desks and they need to go to the bathroom and John usually takes his time when he is in the bath. For a moment he ruminated about going out and buying a couple of suits, just to be able to steam them in Jesse's studio.

They were really going above and beyond and after some technical work to get John set up (he even got a Sure SM7B, his favorite podcasting mic), there was a legitimate engineer sitting there, watching John through the glass. It feels like John could just live at Maximum Fun. There is an empty desk and he could just settle in. The problem is that John is useless for doing jobs. Maybe Jesse would get a little matching but slightly smaller desk and scoot it up to his so John would look up at him when he was working? Maybe John could co-work until they find the right position for him? John is watching Jesse Thorn from his recording studio while Jesse is looking at the computer. He is not pushing any buttons. Then he is pulling on his beard, then he is pushing on the side of his eyes. A few moments later, Jesse posted a photo of John on Twitter, showing him recording in the studio.

Listener feedback about the ending of the episodes (RW39)

Listener Brian from Indianapolis sent in some feedback titled "This is the end". He was disconcerted about the drop-off ending of the first shows, but eventually acknowledged that the John last comment of the show would only grow in it's profundity if it was let hanging in the air like that. According to Brian, even other listeners have complained about the abruptness of the ending and while the "Looney Tunes" ending was funny in its first show, it got very old very quickly. Now a line has been crossed with this "no-talent-8-year-old-who-has-practiced-for-literally-6-minutes-per-week-for-a-couple-of-months-on-his-sperm-donor's-beat-up-old-guitar-just-before-it-got-smashed-to-pieces-over-his-head"-ending is simply not tolerable and the tabletop-ending is preferable.

Brian is probably someone who enjoys the show, because he was paying several tributes to them, indicating that he cares. The length of the letter indicates that he is creative and intelligent, but he does not have an outlet for his creativity and feels a little underused. When putting a hot-take on the Internet you will get dumped on nowadays, no matter what you say. Everybody will be backing up their manure-trucks in your direction! He is probably a white guy in his mid-to-late 20:s and that is exactly the demographic that nobody wants a hot-take from. But if you give a hot-take to two middle-aged white guys on a podcast, then you dream that those guys will read your letter online. What a validation!

Podcasting is still a young science and people are confused if the conversation just stops abruptly. If that would happen on the radio, the first thing you would think of would be EMP. Dan's other podcasts have different kinds of endings, depending on the type of show. They had been trying to solve this problem by changing the ending in order to make people happy, which is normally never John's impulse. Instead, as people started to complain about the silence, it was John's impulse to ignore them. Then they did the Looney Tunes ending and got a lot of letters about it and decided to do the guitar recording thing. Now this one person doesn't like it, but just as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, "For every person here there were hundreds that didn't make it". They continue to banter a bit about this movie.

2017-August: John's sister's friends from Australia listening to John's podcasts (RL255)

In August of 2017 John's sister's good friend Kenna was doing a podcast with three very nice people in Australia and it turned out that they were all fans of Roderick on the Line. They might even be in the position to get John a Phoney Award! They wanted to say hello and sent John a video in their delightful Australian accent, just like little Koala-bears. They said "Put a shrimp on the barbie", "All spiders are deadly!", "Well, that's a knife!" or whatever and John didn't understand them. These people have a whole entire culture and Merlin and John have exactly 4 bullet points on them. They were having a little moment with each other, because they were probably thinking that this woman is from Seattle and they just asked her blindly if she knows John Roderick and as a matter of fact, she does! They wanted to know if any of John's stories are true, which is of course infuriating! One of the women said that Merlin is her Tuesday-husband, because if she would ever have an affair on her actual husband, it would be with Merlin. John immediately did a video of himself, which is a thing he never does, saying "Are my stories true? This is the thing you dare to say to me, you dingelings? My stories are even truer than I tell! I don't even tell the real true story because Merlin doesn't want to hear it!", which Merlin denies, because John is like Milton Berle, he just takes out enough to beat them. "You'd be engulfed in flames if I told you the whole story! Listen, jerks! You are podcasters down there in Australia, why have you not brought us to Australia?"

John didn't even mention The Phoney Awards because if they listen to Roderick on the Line, they know their job! They sent another video back and invited them down to the Headphoney Awards and John was just steaming mad, because they were having fun with it when they should have been working on it this whole time! It is another thing John would never do because it is 15 hours from San Francisco only to New Zealand, which is too much flight (Merlin apparently made the trip when his daughter was 4 years old). "Baked into the Headphoney Awards is comfortable travel to Australia, bare minimum, you are not going to put us back in steerage! There is a way to do it!" This is what John was learning from this short exchange: They didn't say "No! Hard no!", but "Sure, yes, but no to the thing that you are thinking and yes to the thing that I am thinking!" It is like a Silly-Putty-no: If you feel like a fresh silly putty, you take it out of the egg. You push on a silly putty and it will yield, but it is going to take you a while, because the silly putty is not warm yet. You have not warmed our putty yet, all you have done is introduce the egg. Yes, you want the putty to yield before it is warm, and that is not how putty works!

Scheduling the podcast recording (RL256)

For a long time, Merlin and John recorded their show on Mondays at 10:00am PST and Merlin published the show pretty quickly after that. John recently asked Merlin to start recording one hour earlier, because he has things to do and changing the schedule would help John conduct his life in a better way. At first, Merlin was skeptical in the "Are you sure you wanna do that?"-kind. All of Merlin's other shows except one start between 9am and 11am and he normally feels ready until he has to speak, at which points he realizes that he is not actually ready. As Todd Rundgren musically asks "Would it have made any difference?" to which John replies "Do you feel like I do?" (By Peter Frampton). Merlin always reminds John the day before around 9:00pm that they will be recording the show, which John really appreciates.

Recording at 9am it is not too early, because if they recorded at 10am John would simply stay up another hour. He just has to find another way to live. What if we did it at 6am? Then both would be mutually inconvenienced.

John starting a new podcast (RL258)

John is working on a new program, because he got podcast-envy of Merlin who has like 5 great award-winning podcasts and a lot of other people have a lot of podcasts. John doesn’t even know how many podcasts Dan Benjamin has. Merlin confirms that has 4 regular shows and is looking into getting another, but his co-hosts don’t know about that yet.

The How stuff works network hosts many podcasts, even some big ones, and some of them are starring John's good friend Charles ”Chuck” Bryant. John knows Chuck for a long time and he is one of the most wonderful dudes. John was talking to his pal Ken Jennings about doing a podcast together, but Ken has always been hesitant because people think he is Mr. Trivia. He won Jeopardy! 1000 times and he doesn’t want to do a trivia podcast because people would call it the jeopardy podcast with the jeopardy guy. Then ”How stuff works” reached out to John and asked if he knew Ken Jennings. As they told the network that they were already thinking about a podcast, the network was all for it and said that they don’t have any dog in that race and John and Ken can do whatever show they want. They even flew them to Atlanta! This is the new podcast world where people are realizing that not only is podcasting not going away, but it is becoming a bigger thing. The biggest podcast network is still NPR, though. Budweiser does not advertise on podcasts, it is still a small world (Note to John Siracusa: This is one of these times where Merlin just goes ”Hm” and let’s John talk). Public radio has historically been and will continue to be a large source of podcasts and talent for podcasts.

Ken and John wanted their podcast to solve a real problem. An apocalypse is looming, we all know it and Merlin is sitting all day watching zombie programs on TV. The apocalypse is going to be an aperture or a filter, and on the other side of it, a lot of things are going to be remembered, but a lot things are also going to be lost. For example we will have to re-learn how to make Maglev trains because that knowledge is going to be lost in the cataclysmic fires. We will need to re-learn how to hit on the top of a 13” black & white TV to make the picture come back. People are going to remember The Beatles, because people will dig around and will find enough Beatles ephemera, but nobody is going to remember The Animals. What Ken and John have in common is a tremendous amount of back catalogue knowledge about how they got to where they are. Their podcast will be a time capsule that is supposed to be opened by the futurelings of Earth, whoever they might be. Maybe they are steampunk-cockroaches or maybe the future is going to be Planet of the Apes. Ken and John are trying to catalogue as much of the very important but potentially ephemeral knowledge that wouldn’t make it through this apocalyptic aperture. When you are going to open this time capsule in the future, you are going to be able to flesh out and fill in your knowledge of human history up to this point. Their listeners are going to have access to this in advance. They are basically making these gold records, putting them to the outside of a box and sending them into space.

The new podcast is called Omnibus! It debuted on December 7th, 2017. In the press-text of the announcement, they were trying to add all those superlatives to John's name which he then had to edit out, but somehow it still slipped through that he was a legendary raconteur. Ken on the other hand has these real accomplishments like ”bestselling author”. The astonishing thing about Ken is that he is still truly famous! His Jeopardy!-streak happened 13 years ago when he was on TV all night and in the newspaper every day. John’s mom said once that she never watched a game of Jeopardy! and all she knows about it is that there was this one guy who won it a bunch of times. John told her that the one guy is their friend Ken, and she was like ”Oh, that’s the one guy?”. When Ken went over to John’s house the other day, his carpenter Sahm did recognize him as the guy from Jeopardy.

John building a new podcasting studio (RL258, RW82)

John was building a podcasting studio in his house where Ken Jennings is going to come over every week to record the Omnibus. Peter is in the basement (see: House), Sahm is on the roof and Ken is in the studio. This is the basement project, now it can be told! It is going to be the Ken Jennings delivery system! Ken and the legendary raconteur John Roderick and whatever possum is living in the walls right now. (RL258)

Even more than what John has been to Merlin and Dan, Ken is a Luddite who does not want any responsibility for the technical aspect of making a show. John actually has some technical knowledge from his years in recording studios, but his favorite place in a studio is on the couch at the back of the room watching other people hooking cables to things. Then he will say ”The rack tom sounds a little chocolaty” and everybody will nod and somebody goes out and moves a mic or a drum ever so slightly. Still, he knows how to plug things in and he does know the difference between a 1/4” cable and an XLR. (RW82)

Ken did not want to record the new podcast remotely, although the idea of Ken sitting in his house, just across town, and John sitting in his house seemed perfectly natural to John. Now he built this podcasting studio in his house as a place where someone like Ken Jennings can sit in and not feel uncomfortable. Right now the room also houses

  • a drum kit,
  • the remnant of a velours-covered water bed,
  • 6 amplifiers,
  • 11 keyboards,
  • 15 shoe-boxes full of patch-cables,
  • a couple of shoe-boxes full of all these weird HDMI-cables,
  • MIDI-cables,
  • Apple-products that used to charge something,
  • wall-warts from Blackberry and all kinds of stuff you don’t throw away just in case you are going to find that old Blackberry. (RW82)

Dan advises John to use put that stuff in a box for 6 months and then throw it away. (RW82)

John is using a new recording system which is somewhat confusing to him. He is pushing buttons and spinning knobs, nine buttons all told, but things are red-lining which he doesn’t like to see as a recording person. Until now he hasn’t been able to zoom in on exactly what these controls are all doing. He may have found a solution on the master mixer! Right now, John can hear a slow cycling of some kind of compressor or noise cancelling in his headphones which is giving him a rather weird experience. He didn’t want to show people how the sausage is made, but since he sounded great for Dan, it must have been something local. It was creating a very cool but unusual effect, like if somebody was sitting across the room at a 1176 Peak Limiter turning the knob. John is in kind of a love affair with the 1176 and he only likes his voice after it has gone through one of those boxes. This isn’t the kind of box where you would typically slowly sweep the knobs as you are recording, but it is more a set-it-and-forget-it-thing. (RW82)

When John is recording with Dan or Merlin, he does not do a double-ender, meaning he is not recording at his end, but Dan is recording John. If they did a double-ender, John’s audio would be amazing as opposed to just being acceptable, because currently it is affected by the limited dynamic range of Skype and the occasional Skype artifacts. Dan does already feel privileged for the time he has with John each week, so he does not even care if John records himself or not. People have accepted that this is how they get John on a podcast. (RW82)

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