There may be nothing that combines the old and the new better than a podcast. The technology that delivers an audio program through a computer or smartphone is fairly new, but the experience of listening to a podcast is reminiscent of old-time radio.
I am old enough to remember when people listened to soap operas, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Burns and Allen, the Lone Ranger and much more on the radio. Unlike television, radio did not turn you into a couch potato. There was nothing to watch, so you could be a multitasker. My mother could iron with “Queen for a Day” in the background and my father could read a paperback book while half-listening to a comedian. Your mind was free to wander, either to create images to go with the words you were hearing, or to drift to other matters. What you could never do with radio was zip through the commercials. We had no remote control to zoom past boring or irritating parts.
And that’s where podcasts have improved radio. You can listen when you want, pause the podcast when necessary, and skip ahead when desired. And since podcasts are cheap to produce, you don’t need to get hired by a radio station or network to have a show anymore, you can do it yourself.
I was reminded of all this while listening to “Roadtreking: the RV Podcast” featuring Mike Wendland and his wife, Jennifer. Like the old Tex and Jinx radio show with newspaper columnist Tex McCrary and his beautiful wife Jinx Falkenburg (now I’m really sounding ancient), the Wendlands are a married couple who banter entertainingly, interview interesting people and supply helpful information.
You can hear the Wendlands’ weekly hour-long podcast by logging onto their website at roadtreking.com or accessing it through iTunes, Stitcher and other services. The nice thing about the Wendlands’ website is that they post what they call show notes, describing each segment of the broadcast, and telling where that segment begins. That makes it easy to zoom past topics of little appeal and get quickly to what you are interested in.
The Wendland do not have a monopoly on RV podcasts. You can find others at livingthervdream.com, rvnavigator.com, rvdailyreport.com, and no doubt elsewhere. (Our Tech Tips columnists, Russ and Tiña De Maris, have stopped producing new content at yourrvpodcast.com but you can still hear programs they recorded from January to July.)
What makes the Wendlands stand out is their success with the format. Mike Wendland says their podcasts are downloaded 100,000 times a month. Since the series began last October, the podcasts have been downloaded a million times.
Why so successful?
“It’s a captive audience,” Wendland explains. RVers spend a lot of time on the road and are hungry for entertaining and useful information while driving. And so they turn to a podcast.
What sets the Wendlands’ effort apart from many others is that Mike is a professional broadcaster, with 18 Emmys to his credit. His journalism career took him from newspapers to on-the-air TV reporting in Detroit and at 69, he still films a weekly tech report that is distributed to 215 stations in the NBC television network.
The Wendlands began combining their interests in media and RVing when they purchased a Roadtrek Class B motorhome. In 2012, they started a blog catering to others who travel in small motorhomes, and built a following through promotion on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
The Wendlands post articles, photos and video segments at roadtreking.com, attracting lots of traffic, but it is the podcast that has generated a surprisingly large following since it was launched a year ago.
In the heyday of old-time radio, successful personalities like Arthur Godfrey and Don McNeill created a sense of intimacy, a feeling among listeners that they were with friends. The Wendlands have that same kind of appeal as they share with listeners their thoughts on travel and the RV lifestyle.
Keeping It Light
A key to the success of the show, Mike Wendland says, is the focus on positive news and entertainment. “People love hearing about the interesting people and places we visit, with no politics or bickering.” With the nation so polarized politically, he believes it is essential to keep politics out of the podcast.
To make the appeal of the show as broad as possible, the Wendlands avoid getting into deep discussions of technical matters. Listeners are invited to submit questions and comments through email or by voice at roadtreking.com but this isn’t the place to get answers to RV issues that would bore other listeners.
Mike and Jennifer still live in Michigan but are on the road about half the year. With their RV equipped with solar power and lithium ion batteries, they can camp and record their podcast just about anywhere. “We’ve done the show from very remote places like mountaintops and the deep woods of national and state forests,” Mike says.
If you aren’t yet familiar with podcasting, you may be surprised at the variety of podcasts that are available today—everything from professionally produced NPR programs to wacky shows by people you have never heard of. It’s wonderful that with today’s technology, just about anyone can create a radio show; the more difficult achievement is finding an audience, and that’s where the Wendlands have excelled.