The Plane Crazy Journey So Far

Recently, while attending the Dawn Patrol event at the Royal Victorian Aero Club, I was very fortunate to happen across a couple of people who are listeners of Plane Crazy Down Under.  One of them, a young lad just starting out on the path to getting his PPL, briefly startled me with the words, “I feel like I already know you!”  It’s odd when I hear people say that to me, but it is something that serves to remind me of the power of this still new world we know as “social media”.

And I think it serves as an important reminder of the increasing responsibility we are taking on by choosing to venture into the field of episodic broadcasting – podcasting as the trade name goes.  It allows us to work in niche markets and preach to the converted; talk directly to the listener about subjects that are of direct interest to them without the often sweeping generalization that comes from mass market, “old” media.  In my view, this means being always relevant, always informative, and always interesting.  The challenge lies in doing this without taking ourselves too seriously, and not taking the requirements of our audience for granted.

The over riding difference between radio & podcasting is that the subscriber takes the time to download the show and listen to it in the time that suits them, using the method that suits them.  In this way, it is a far more personal medium than more traditional media.  A podcast is a show that is listened to because the listener has a personal interest and is not likely to be found playing away in the background while doing the house work.  It’s this personal choice that makes the medium unique. On some level, each listener has something that they find common with the host, something they personally identify with perhaps, and this leads to a greater intensity in the listening experience.  The feeling that the host is sharing a part of their own life experience with them is a powerful one.

I describe myself in the show’s bio as a podcast junkie so I feel qualified to talk with some level of knowledge on the subject these days.  In fact, as I type this, my iPod has about 160 un-listened to shows loaded up, awaiting their turn in the queue.  I’d listened to podcasts for a couple of years before starting out with my own, often wondering which subject to cover, and how I could make a show that would be in some way unique in it’s genre.  In my own personal listening experience, I found myself identifying most closely with the aviation shows.  In this field I could find a wide range of shows covering everything from airlines to student pilots, and despite the fact that I hadn’t been anywhere near as active in this field as I would have liked, I still had the flying bug so these shows certainly spoke directly to me.

When Grant & I decided to take the big step of starting our own show, we quickly determined to make it one that would stick to the genre, but hopefully be a little different to the “virtual hanger” type shows.  There were many such shows already out there, all of them great, and many of which we follow to this day.  We wanted to make a show for the aviation enthusiast, by the aviation enthusiast;  a show that is fun to produce and easy to listen to.  In focusing on the industry in Australia & New Zealand, we already had one point of difference, the next challenge was to try making it sound – ironically – like a “real” radio show.  I have long held an ambition to learn the craft of radio announcing & voice overs, and PCDU would become a kind of home schooling project for me.  It allows me to learn about the craft, while talking about a subject area that fascinates me as an enthusiast.

This is the goal of what we do.  Keep it informative, keep it fun, and build a community of aviation enthusiasts.  In our disclaimer, we point out that we don’t claim to be experts.  We’re just opinionated enthusiasts who like to comment on the world around us.  We achieve this by covering news events, by meeting fascinating people, covering what we consider to be interesting specialist subjects, and by having an often light hearted bit of fun in between.

We try to make each show different from the last and we always have a number of new segment concepts kicking around.  The biggest change we made to our show format was to introduce paid advertising.  We did this chiefly because we were extremely uncomfortable with the “tip jar” concept, and asking our listeners to dig into their own pockets.  We do accept donations of course, and we sincerely appreciate them, but if we can get advertisements to do the job, so much the better for all concerned.  The idea behind the fund raising effort for PCDU however, is that we can generate enough revenue to cover our operating costs.  Our sound quality is high, for example, because we have spent a lot of money on studio quality equipment, and it’s advertising & donations that have funded this.  Not that we’d mind at all being able to live off the programme, but this would be a bonus, not a goal for now.

A listener recently told me that he sometimes found our work boring because we don’t challenge our guests too often.  My response to that notion lies in what I tell all of our guests before we start recording – this is not hard journalism.  We aim to keep it light for two main reasons.  First because it suits the easy listening style of the show, and second because we generally want our guests to enjoy the interview with the hope that they will want to come back some time.  Our interviewees all receive their own custom pre release edit prior to publication.  It is extremely important to us that they are happy with the edit before it goes out to the world, and it helps us to establish a positive environment of trust with them.  The only exception to this rule has been the politicians we recently spoke to.  In short, we are not Sixty Minutes, and have no desire to become so.

There’s an ever increasing number of podcasts coming into the market, some of which are more intense in their nature, and our view is that if our audience wants to listen to that style of show, they’ll head that way of their own accord, or start telling us to change.  A recent new entrant into the Australian aviation new media scene, for example, offers quite a contrast to ours in this regard.  And this is good news for listeners because those looking for a mix of the light & heavy subjects can now have their listening appetites satisfied on both those levels.

And podcasting has another great advantage here because it gives people the chance to listen to as many shows as they like, when they like.  As more podcasts have come along in this part of the world of late, we initially worried that our download numbers might suffer a little, but in fact they have remained constant – perhaps even risen slightly, so this is proof positive that podcasting works!

The only real measure of success in this new field is the number of downloads each show receives.  As I’ve stated in a previous post, it can become very tempting to focus solely on these numbers at the expense of creating consistently good content.  In the words of Podcast Answerman, Cliff Ravenscraft, “If just one person listens to your podcast, you should feel honoured.”  With this in mind, it often overwhelms me to think that our shows have been collectively downloaded over 40,000 times at the time of writing.  Our segments are still going out to the Airplane Geeks each week, and we were recently thrilled at being asked to produce content for Flight Time Radio.  It reminds me often that, even in this more competitive environment, people still seem to enjoy the work we produce for them, and that is something that we will never take for granted.

Our pockets are not as deep as some, nor are our networks as extensive.  This means that we are not able to tempt listeners with giveaways and the like, and we’re not able to promote as widely as we’d often like to.  The fact is that although our audience isn’t as large as some, every listener we have comes to us based purely on reputation, and the style of content we produce.  To all of you, we say thanks.  Grant & I work extremely hard to produce the show to the best of our abilities, and of our knowledge.  Your continued support is truly humbling.

Some recent external events, however,  have lead me to question whether our commitment to the show is really worth the effort.  Caused me to consider whether the considerable sacrifice of family time, for example, is really achieving the things we set out to do.  In fact, it is really the genesis of this post.  I have spent the better part of the last two days going over my motivations and goals, wondering if perhaps, I’d be better off making a podcast about trains, for example, instead – or maybe just giving it all away and trying for a spot on community radio.

During the course of this self indulgence, I considered many things.  The young man at Royal Vic last week, who reminded me so much of myself 20 years earlier at the now defunct Schutt Flying Academy, just next door.  To think that I might have some small influence on his world is an awesome responsibility.  The constant calm words of my co-host in my head, telling me not to worry about stuff and just concentrate on what we’re doing, not to worry about what others are doing. To see my 12 year old son now starting to take a real interest in the science of recording – it gives me a sense of satisfaction and of pride in him.  To see my family rejoice at their recent Royal Melbourne Show achievements gives me a sense that doing something you’re passionate about is a very worthwhile pursuit.  And I think this a great determining factor for me.

Another thing that stuck with me was a phone call I received from Grant a few weeks back, just out of the blue.   He called and said, “Mate, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy working with you.”  This came during a time of considerable stress for me, and it was like a tonic.  He is truly a unique person, and a true friend.

It’s not about how many big name guests you have on the show, and it’s certainly not about becoming some sort of new media star.  It’s purely about having a passion for podcasting.  More than anything else, I believe this has been at the heart of our success to date.  We love doing it, and our audience seem to appreciate that.

In light of all of this, how could I even contemplate walking away?

Introducing PCDU Commentaries

We’ve added a blog for the Plane Crazy Down Under team to use when making their comments & observations about the aviation industry & environment down under. Called PCDU Commentaries, it’s where we’ll post our thoughts about aviation that arise as we read the news, interview people and produce the show.

To kick things off, we’ve rolled in some articles that Grant wrote on his Fly Me Friendly blog along with a couple of new ones only found at PCDU Commentaries.

We hope you’ll check it out and subscribe to its RSS feed.