2/03/2009

The early days of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network



I began experimenting with the Charlottesville Podcasting Network four years ago this week. At the time, I was looking for an interesting project to work on here in Charlottesville. I wanted something else to keep me here, because I had a very important reason to stay.

At the time, a third of my income came from was producing stories for WVTF Public Radio on a regular basis. I wanted the radio stories I produced to have the chance to be online. I felt I was putting much time into them to have them merely go out two or three times over the airwaves. The second third came from managing the bar at Court Square Tavern, and the other third came from miscellaneous freelance work I could find.

One of those freelance sources was working with Katherine McNamara of the journal Archipelago had mentioned something to me about wanting to create something called Charlottesville Public Broadband. I had worked with her on a project on the DNA sting, a project that I don't believe got completed.

Sometime in January 2005. Katherine had come over to talk about ways to distribute multimedia content. I had done some recording work for her, and some editing work, and we both felt that we needed some way to solve our distribution problem. Somehow during that meeting, I found out about podcasting. I clicked on a podcast feed, saw the gobbledygook of something called RSS, and felt I was in way over my head.

But, I tried to think my way through what I didn't understand. After thinking about podcasts for a while, I realized what podcasts could mean. This was before iTunes had added support for podcasts, and before "podcast" was a word of the year. The programs at the time were very rudimentary, and the interface was clunky. I didn't even have an iPod.

But, I somehow thought that people would be interested in this, and that I should get on board quickly. I set up a very very basic website using my rudimentary knowledge of HTML, and announced that the Charlottesville Podcasting Network would soon be distributing several channels of programming. Somewhere there's a CD-ROM that has a back-up of that very first page.

I hope I never find it.

Since moving to Charlottesville, I had wanted to create a group of fellow audio producers. I thought that this new distribution possibility might allow for a new outlet to be created. One day, I had lunch at Bodo's on Preston Avenue with Luke Church of 3WV and WVTF Public Radio. I wanted to pick his brain about the potential for producing things for online.

By happenstance, Waldo Jaquith was there. I'd never met him before, but knew who he was. I had first come across his name when his name made the assignment board at WVTF when he was running for City Council.

I told Waldo what I wanted to do. He was pretty skeptical about anyone wanting to hear the content, but he told me that I should be using Wordpress. After the meeting, I went home, purchased a server, purchased the domain name, and installed Wordpress. I had no idea what I was doing, but Wordpress quickly began to make sense to me.

I began experimenting with different audio files that I thought I could use. Content included radio essays from Janis Jaquith. I did a much longer version of a story I did for WVTF on the possibility of a new nuclear reactor at Lake Anna. I even did some experimental podcasts which good taste prevents me from posting publicly.

And here I am now, four years later. This thing I created has led to so much personal gain for me. I've made a lot of friends, helped boost awareness of what podcasting is all about, and I've managed to put together a network that distributes
some interesting things.

And, of course, I have a place to produce stories and podcasts on subjects I care about. Today, for instance, I was able to finally post my edited version of the Piedmont Council of the Arts' Creative Conversation from January 13, 209. This is a 45-minute condensed version of what was a longer conversation. For the first time in a while, I've actually edited something, filling in gaps with narration. I hope that the audio will be useful to the community.

That's why I do what I do. I'm fueled with a passion to create great radio, a passion to bring people information. I'm typing this post while finishing up a podcast for my day job at Charlottesville Tomorrow. And coming up, I've got some great news for the future of programming at CPN.

Over the next few months, I'll be reposting some of the highlights here as a way of examining what worked, what didn't. I'd like to spotlight some of the work done by Deepak Singh and others. Working on the site has been among the most meaningful professional experiences of my life, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to do this work.

2 comments:

Waldo said...

I seem to recall that you were trying to find some software that would let you write RSS, from scratch. That seemed like trouble. :)

Sean Tubbs said...

Indeed! I didn't really understand how databases could power websites, and generate the code automatically. Your direction was absolutely key and set me straight very quickly. I'm amazed by how much I know now four years later, but also astounded by how much left there is to know.

But, these days, I want to get back towards producing more content.