A scripted podcast may attract niche listeners, but it requires tedious preparation and can become repetitive in the long run. Going for a more spontaneous and unstructured style can keep your content refreshing and engaging. Tracy Hazzard sits down with Kate Wallinga of Ignorance Was Bliss to discuss some practical ways to run a show and garner a strong and loyal listenership. Kate explains how she has experimented and pivoted her podcast to find the exact model she truly loves. She also shares the tremendous impact of letting other podcasters fill in when she is unavailable, the right timing for the host to speak and to listen, and her strategy in finding guests that best fit her show.
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How Unstructured Style Of Podcast Can Positively Bring More Listeners With Kate Wallinga Of Ignorance Was Bliss
I have Kate Wallinga. Kate is a podcast host in that true crime area, but not. It’s an interesting model of what she’s got going on there. It’s a show about who you are and making everything sound normal. It’s from PTSD to podcasting to serial murder. She’s covering the genre but in a different way. I love the night title of the show, Ignorance Was Bliss.
Let’s know a little bit more about Kate. Kate Wallinga spent her professional life in the fields of mental health and criminal justice. Her favorite hardest, and most important work was specifically in the fields of correctional psych, forensic psych, and crisis assessment. After a series of major medical issues, she had to go on permanent disability. She spent a few years moping and resenting the world and then decided it was time to get over herself, find a hobby, and build connections outside of the house. Having worked in forensic psychology and crisis assessment, podcasting seems like the next natural step.
Ignorance Was Bliss is a show about how we become who we are and making anything sound normal from PTSD to podcasting to serial murder. It’s about people’s stories. Are you sure you want to know? Kate lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and four kids. She’s a storyteller, a story collector, and a herder of cats. I had so much fun talking with her. She’s got such an unusual perspective on the world. You’re going to enjoy this interview. Let’s learn it from Kate Wallinga, Ignorance Was Bliss.
Kate, thanks so much for joining me here. Ignorance Was Bliss. I like that title so much. I can’t even tell you how much I love that title. How did you come up with it?
My origin story is that I broke my back in 2014. Up until that point, I was working as a Forensic Psychologist and Crisis Clinician. My life went from being very full and unpredictable to feeling very empty and painfully predictable. I got tired of myself after a couple of years. It was on New Year’s Eve 2017 moving into 2018. I have four children and have been married for 1,000 years, and my father moved in with us.
I started to feel like I wasn’t playing the lead role in my own life anymore and that I was a supporting actor in a lot of other lives. Depending on who you ask, either, I went up to my husband gently and tapped him on the shoulder or I grabbed him by the shirt collar and pulled him in real close and said, “I’m starting a podcast.” He’s a smart man and so he said, “Okay.”
“How can I help?”
Not even that. It was, “I’ll get out of your way.” I played around with, “What do I want to do? What do I know and talk about what I know.” I thought, “It’ll be maybe 10 or 20 episodes about what forensic psychology is.” When I told people I’m a forensic psychologist, everybody’s like, “That sounds cool.” I’m like, “It is, but not for the reasons most people assume.”
There were a lot of days that I would go to work, whether it was in the prison or a locked psychiatric facility, and think, “The only reason I get to go home is because I have a key.” That’s the only difference between them and me. A lot of people are uncomfortable knowing that. That concept of ignorance is bliss, it was. One of my taglines early on for my show was, “Didn’t you feel better before you knew that?”
That’s a great tagline, but you shifted your show, so you don’t talk about forensic psychology anymore.
It comes up. That’s where the title came from that idea of, “Didn’t you feel better before you knew?” I can make something feel understandable, whether it’s depression, parenthood, podcasting, or serial killing. I can make it make sense. You may regret knowing it. Once you know it, then you can’t unknow it.
That’s so funny that you said that because I said something similar to my husband. We are master bingers on television shows. We have to find a series that has like dozen seasons. We decided to binge Criminal Minds. When you binge 15 seasons with 20 episodes or more over a few months, you know stuff you shouldn’t do. I walked into a pharmacy and they asked for my birthdate and my name, I was like, “That’s too much information to be giving out publicly,” as I’m looking around myself. I saw it on a Criminal Mind episode. You’re right. It’s too much information.
That’s a different thing. I’m not allowed to watch Criminal Minds.
You’re not allowed to watch anymore.
You know how it’s when you have an area of expertise like if there were a show about podcasting, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to watch it because you’d scream at the TV a lot.
I read this article where they were panning the fact that on the Sex and the City remake, And Just Like That with Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw, a podcaster and it drives the podcasters crazy that it’s a live radio show. It’s not a podcast. They all pan in and complain about it. You’re right, it’s totally true.
I watch Criminal Minds and do little things here and there, and I’m screaming at the TV like, “That’s not going to happen that way. That’s not allowed. It wouldn’t work.” It upsets everybody.
How did you decide to pivot the show over the years? You are over 450 episodes or something like that?
It’s 435 as of now. I did true crime pretty much exclusively. It started very scripted and structured. I realized I didn’t like that. It happened out of the blue. I was talking to another podcaster on Twitter around episode five or something, it was early on. She’s an emergency room nurse. We were talking about how she did the medical side, and then I would do the psychiatric side of a mental health crisis. I was like, “You should come on my show,” and she did. That’s when it clicked for me, this connection with the real world. That’s the thing. That was the magic ingredient for me. It remained a true crime, but not as structured for a long time. After about a year, I find the true crime community can get toxic very easily.
I was talking to another podcaster about how the romance market is the same way.
Supposedly, any group could, but with true crime specifically, it becomes very voyeuristic and sensationalistic. It’s not that they forget that these are real people, it’s that they get off on the fact that these are real people. I’m like, “Let’s go back to the fact that they’re real people and people die.” Also, the ripples of pain and misery spread out so much.
First of all, perpetrators are people, too. Unless we’re going to lock them all up and throw the key away forever, which we’re not, and don’t do that, we have to figure out a way to humanize them and acclimate them back into society mostly. I suppose there are some people that can’t, but for the most part, we’re going to assume that.
Also, they have families who suffer when their loved one is locked up. Also, their victim, whether the victim survives or not, suffers in some way, and the victim’s family and so on and so forth. There’s a lot of pain and misery here. There’s a way to handle that with respect and care, but the popular thing to do in true crime is we’re going to have two cute little white girls who are going to get drunk, giggle, and call the bad guy bad names. It’s not my favorite.
It’s been in the news because they got Adnan Syed released. That’s because of Serial Podcast. For those that don’t know, the name of the show is Serial. I didn’t listen to the show. I’ve listened to it enough to know it’s how it works and what its style is, but I’m not a true crime listener in a long term. It’s not my thing. I looked at my husband, and I was like, “I hope they were right.” This is the right thing, and it’s not someone going like, “This was so popular, so I got to make sure that I’m going to get reelected.” You don’t know if your influence was good or bad.
That case was objectively terrible. I don’t know whether Adnan Syed was factually guilty. I don’t know enough about the case, but also no one knows enough about the case because there are so many mixed messages and the police, the prosecution, and his defense lawyer did a terrible job. Everyone involved in that case did a terrible job. I don’t know, and nobody’s ever going to know whether he was factually guilty, but he was not legally guilty. It was the correct decision to let him out if you’re not sure.
You have a more educated opinion, and I look at that and I go, “I have no idea,” but I hope that podcasters are taking it seriously, and a lot of them don’t.
They’re not. The first convention that I ever attended was a True Crime Podcast Festival. I was gatekept there. I had a table and a merch. Listeners came up, talked to me, and told me they knew my voice and listened to my show. I was like, “Are you okay? I’m so sorry. Are you not tired of me yet because I’m tired of me?” They seemed to be delighted to meet me. I had other podcasters telling me that I wasn’t true crime enough because I didn’t do narrative style. There were times when it felt like I was either being too serious or I wasn’t being serious enough.
My answer was, “You can have your territory. That’s okay with me.” I could fight for it because I literally have a doctorate in this stuff, or I could let you have your territory, and I’m going to pull back. I realized what I liked, and that magic ingredient was talking to people and connecting with guests and talking about literally anything, whether it’s their podcast, their book, or whatever it is. I pulled the lens back. I consider myself a story collector, more of society and culture rather than true crime. I’ve never regretted that change.
It’s interesting because I talked to thousands of podcasters over time between my show and my company. I have so many podcasters and the business side, the entrepreneur side, or the other side of podcasting that’s not scripted in any way or not put out by a network is the opposite of that. They’re so collaborative. They can’t wait to welcome someone on their show. They want to collaborate together. They want to promote each other’s shows. They want to go on each other’s shows.
They have such a different view of the world that it’s so interesting that you’re seeing this part of the market that is more like, “You’re not good enough. You’re not a real podcaster.” It’s like the radio people. The ones that I do find are like that are the ones that came out of radio, went into podcasts, and consider themselves OG podcasters. They have a chip on their shoulder for being an OG.
That’s great that you’ve been knitting longer than I’ve been knitting, but it doesn’t make either of us a better knitter. It’s the same with podcasting. I’m not going to fight and argue about this. Some of my episodes are true crime in nature. It depends on what my guest wants to talk about. When I would meet with somebody, I would do background research on them, listen to their show, read their book, or whatever, and realize I was making myself insane. Arguably, I’ve already done so by releasing 435 episodes in a few years. It’s a problem.
You’ve taken it to an intense level. You’re an elite podcaster.
It’s not an addiction. I can stop anytime I want for real, but instead, I flipped the script in a lot of ways. I’d use visual quotes, but I hate them, but experts say to do things like have a release date, like every Monday is when you release. I decided, “No, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to release when I can and I’m going to keep it more fun than stressful.
They do say things like, “Stick in a genre.” I was like, “No, I’m not going to do that either.” They say, “Study your guests before you have them on.” I was like, “If they’re an interesting guest and I’ll have a good time, I’ll go buy your book, listen to your show, and I’ll hype you, but I’m not going to give you the emotional labor, the energy, the focus, and the neurons firing that it takes to prepare.”
I don’t call them interviews because they’re not structured that way. I start every recording with a blank piece of paper in front of me. I have some housekeeping stuff that I do to confirm, “Do you want to be anonymous?” because once in a while, people do. “What are your pronouns? What’s your social media? Where can I find you so that I can direct my listeners onto you?” and then I go.
The thing is that I don’t treat people like they are clients, but I do a little bit. The point is that you want to make them want to talk to you. If I can’t do that, there’s no number of prep questions I can create that are going to make people want to. My favorite thing a guest will say to me is, “No one’s ever asked me that before,” and when I get that and I’m like, “That’s the best.”
When I write down things, I stay focused on the paper and on those talking points in that agenda. I forget that the moment is here. It’s between you and me and whatever you say right now. If I throw you a softball question sometimes because I think you’re nervous or we’re just getting started, but sometimes you’re going to answer in a way where my brain’s going to go, “Whoa.”
I’m like, “I can go there. This is going to be a good interview.”
“You said those words. What are you doing?” We play from there.
My audience is going to see the difference in our interview here because a lot of times, I have to do more talking because even though I’m interviewing podcasters, you think they’d be good at being on the other side of the mic, but they’re not. You are and it’s brilliant and I can let you go. It’s a different interview and I can flow with it because of how you react to the initial. I love that you recognize that as well.
That’s my strength. That’s when I realized my strength was not in prep and quizzing someone. If I let you be the expert on whatever it is you want to come and talk to me about, you’ll do it. Everybody’s interesting and everybody has a story. I can think of pretty high-profile people that have come on my show, actors, authors, and podcasters who have said, “I’m boring. I don’t have anything to say. I don’t know what I’ll say.” I’m like, “That is waving a red flag,” because I guarantee I can get a story out of you. There’s been at least a couple of times where people have been like, “That didn’t hurt at all.”
They’re like, “That was good.”
It’s getting people to recognize that you don’t have to feel like an expert to be compelling. That’s important.You don’t have to feel like an expert to be compelling. Click To Tweet
That’s so true, especially for someone who’s doing a podcast about something or doing a book about something. They think they need that objective distance and that’s not always the case. I don’t know who can be a writer or a podcaster, and you’re not bringing your perspective into it. There’s not that objective distance. It doesn’t work.
It doesn’t exist. My last recording was days ago. I took some time off for health reasons over the summer. I’m getting back into the flow of things. I was worried about, “Have I remembered how to do this?” The answer is, “Of course, I have.”
You’ve got muscle memory going on.
The last people that I had on have a documentary that’s out right now. I’m trying to get the episode out in the next few weeks to help them with that push for initial publicity. I don’t release videos, but I record everything with video because you can get a lot from somebody’s body language. You could tell they were both tired. I asked before I hit record. I said, “How many people have you talked to today?” They started counting on their fingers and they were like, ” You’re the eighth.” I was like, “Oh my God.” I made a point to say to them, “I don’t have any prepared questions.” I always ask my guests, “Introduce yourself and tell me what you do.”
I want to point this out because we also do like to pull back the curtain and reveal a little bit about your technique and what’s different about the way you structure your show. That introduction is surprisingly interesting. Sometimes I feel like people would be like, “Do you want me to introduce myself?” It’s like you put them on the spot or something ,and they don’t know themselves, but I feel like people would react like that. I listen to multiple ones where they’ve introduced themselves and do a great job of keeping it short, sweet, and to the point, and with an energy level that surprised me.
This is important. That’s the thing that I tell people if they ask, “How do I prepare for your show?” My answer is, “Have a face that’s helpful and make an elevator pitch, whatever it is that you’ve done, whether it’s writing a book or creating a podcast. Convince me and pull me in the first 30 seconds.” I later go back and do my own intro and outro for each episode. I’m from the old school of public speaking where you tell them what you’re going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them.
I love that model. That’s our model here too.
I do those on my own after the fact, but I can’t introduce them at the moment because I don’t know what we’re about to talk about. It’s going to be a surprise to me too. I asked them, “Be prepared to introduce yourselves. That’s it.” I’ve had people who have come on and been like, “My name is Joe and I have a podcast.” That’s where they stop. I’m like, “It’s going to be one of those.”
I had an episode where I had the mother of a murder victim come on the show. She was having a hard time getting an investigation to happen on the case and she ended up connecting with me. She started and introduced herself and talked for the next 45 minutes straight. I didn’t say a word because she needed to be heard. She needed to tell her story in the order that she needed to say it. She needed to know that somebody was paying some attention to her. It went well.
Toward the end, I started talking more because I decided before I ever started my show that I didn’t want it to feel like work. I was going to inject myself into my episodes. I was going to tell my own stories of what came up, but you got to reach your guest, too. If somebody is nervous or doesn’t know how to get the ball rolling, you got to be prepared to help them roll that ball.
If somebody has all of these words bottled up and hasn’t been able to feel heard yet, then you got to know how to be like, “You go and I’m going to sit back and I’m going to stay out of your way, and let you do the thing.” That’s my skill. That’s a thing that I’m good at. In our culture, especially for women, we’re real good at saying what we’re not good at, but we struggle with identifying our strengths and owning them.Society and culture pushes women to think about the things they are not good at and struggle to identify their strengths. Click To Tweet
That’s so true. I want to highlight your strength and I see them. I talked to so many podcasters here and you have some significant strengths and they’re the reason your show is so bingeable. I’m very sure you have some good numbers. I didn’t look at that. I try not to look at your numbers. Even though you’ve done a lot of episodes and I hope your downloads are good. I’m not going to look at that as a criterion because there are things to learn from everyone. It’s not important to me, but I’m very sure you have good numbers, and the reason you do is because people are binging on your show and they’re not missing an episode, and that is critically important. What is the binge factor?
The binge factor for Ignorance Was Bliss is that much of the content is so energetic and passionate, whether you disagree or agree with them. You get them to have an energy level that is higher than they started with. You’re bringing this energy into this and deep knowledge. You combine the two things together. You’re heading them in the direction to talk about it that their passion is coming through. I don’t think you’ve had a dispassionate, at least not from the episodes I skimmed and I skimmed about ten. I didn’t hear a single dispassionate guest. That’s hard to do on a regular basis. That has to be you. You are making that happen.
There’s a little bit of energy that’s going on in your show because of its structure, how you flip back and forth, and do your introduction after the episode. There’s a different energy to you have already gone through the interview, enjoyed it, and then do an introduction on it. That changes things and it’s going to make people listen all the way through and come to your next episode and go back and listen to some from the beginning. That’s your absolute binge factor in Ignorance Was Bliss.
Also, there’s no pressure to binge, which helps because people feel better about binging when they’re not like, “Come back from the next episode,” because there are some topics I’m going to hit that you don’t care about. Whether it’s true crime stuff, tabletop role-playing games, or leather working. I’ve talked to sex workers, priests, and serial murderers on my show, and you can decide which of those, by the way, is the scariest.
The leather workers, maybe. I have a little bit of experience in leather, but not like that experience. I’m a textile designer so I’ve been in leather factories and they’re scary.
It’s wild stuff. In each one, I never know where it’s going to go and that keeps me focused and that keeps the guest engaged. I’ve only had 1 or 2 where I’ve walked away going, “That didn’t go well. I wonder why.” Usually, the answer is that there was something going on with the guest where they didn’t want to and that’s fair. You can’t make that happen.
I look at every conversation and it’s like playing catch. Sometimes you’re tossing a kickball or a tennis ball back and forth. I felt like I was playing catch with a bowling ball with this one woman. I would pick this thing up and I heave it over and it would land at her feet with a thud. I’d be like, “Can you pick that up? Can you toss it back?” She would pick it up and leave it. There are such things as stupid questions. People say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” We know there are. That’s why we say it.
I ended up asking her one. I don’t want to identify too much about what it was specifically that she did, but I was like, “What got you into this thing?” As soon as I said it, I internally rolled my eyes several times around my head because I was like, “I hate asking stupid questions,” but she was so nervous and I learned later that I was her first-ever interview.
It’s good to know that beforehand.
“Tell me this and then we’ll take more time and I’ll talk you through what to expect.” One of the things that have made the show roll well and pulled that energy up is that I’ve learned to explain to people what to expect.
This is something interesting. I listen backward. That’s how I do it. I’ll go to your most recent episode when I’m testing out because it’s where you’ve gotten to and your current destination. I do listen to that first and then I’ll go back somewhere in the beginning in the first 100 if you’ve got as much as you have, and then I’ll skim into the middle to anything that looks personally interesting to me and I’ll pick and choose.
I was surprised by your most recent episode in that you had this external introduction. You had someone who was the wife of a guest from a previous episode and that’s how she introduces herself. She’s saying that she was interested in this episode. She talked about why she liked it. It was this great introduction and I thought, “That makes me want to listen to it even more than if you had done it.”
I thought that was such an interesting model. I had to go back and skim through some and check and see. I was like, “She’s not doing it here.” I finally scrolled up to see that you had this one ten-minute episode, and it looked like the breaking point where you were going to explain why this happened. That was exactly it.
You explained to your audience that you were having health issues, and going to take a little break and do some interesting things so you reached out to get help. The fun thing is that your help did you right. They did a great job for you. That’s a testament to how great you are. They wanted to do a good job and wanted to step in for you. They did it fantastically. It has an interesting energy of its own.
That’s always been exciting. It’s three times now since I started the show where I have had to take breaks, usually twice medically related. I had spinal surgery. That’s why for me there was a problem with anesthesia and so my throat was messed up.
That’s not going to work for you.
I’m not talking for a month. My kids were like, “Great.” I was like, “Not so much.” I had another surgical procedure years ago and then in 2019, my father died. When that happened, I stepped back for a while. Each time, I’ve got this backlog of conversations that I made with people that I don’t want to throw out and not use their great content. I just can’t introduce it and do anything with it right now. Here’s what I’ve learned. I don’t let the genre that I’m publishing in define my community.
There are amazing true crime podcasters out there. They’re some of my closest friends and I appreciate them deeply. There are some that are not my thing. I don’t define myself by that genre, but I had this amazing community. If you are excited about knitting, model trains, podcasting, or pick a thing, talking to other people that get excited about the same thing you do is magical.
When I knew that I was going to have the spinal surgery and they told me I wasn’t going to be able to speak for a week or so, I was like, “Let’s expect longer.” I was correct that it took longer and I’m still not 100% yet, but I put out the word like, “Can anybody help me? I will do all of the editing. I need an intro and outro for each episode.” I had ten people step up and say, “We got you.”
That’s so wonderful.
I loved it. When I’m done, I take a couple of notes about, “Here’s what I might want to introduce or I want to point out when I release the episode,” but then hearing what they come up with instead is amazing and magical because sometimes they pick up on things where I’m like, “I never even heard that. Good for me.”
That’s so interesting because it would be hard for some podcasters. There are a lot of egos out there. They’ll be like, “That wasn’t my way. That wasn’t my takeaways,” but you are comfortable and flexible enough to say, “I’m going to give myself some grace. I need healing to happen and I’m going to let this community go,” and they stood up. I enjoyed some of those and you should do it more regularly. Not all the time because I do want to hear what you think, but let them in once a month or something and have it happen.
It’s always an interesting experiment. The main reason I don’t very often is because another one of the things that the experts say you should do is to plan things out so that exactly when I’m going to release a given episode. I don’t release episodes chronologically to when I record them. I don’t want to do two authors back-to-back or two podcasters or whatever. I want to mix up a little bit.
I do the same thing. I mix them up too because I want to have like different types of podcasters and different genders. I want to have a mix of people as well so that engages everyone. I’ll batch them up and then I mix them up as I produce them.
I don’t know what to ask people to do. I’ve thought about it because it’s fun for me as well, but what I tend to do is I sit down, look at my book, and figure out, “Here are the ten episodes that I had recordings that I have saved up. I’m going to do this one.” I don’t have the time, generally. I have to plan and do a lot more planning and a lot more thought and deliberation in terms of the order of things when I have somebody else do an introduction. The people who get possessive about, “It’s my show and it has to be done my way,” and I’m like, “Okay.”
They’re missing out on the opportunities for experimentation, which is what you’ve done here in a brilliant way. That’s what’s working for you. I want to ask you though, I bet you early on you had a different model for selecting guests than you do now. What is that process for you?
In my first several episodes, I didn’t think that was going to happen at all. It was back and forth, whether it was going to be a regular thing or not. Mostly, it became this very incestuous pool of other podcasters talking to other podcasters, and that’s what it was, which was fine. Funny story, and I’m not making this up. I got a Twitter DM from a random stranger, which happens as a podcaster saying, “I am a book publicist. Would you like to record with this author?” I was like, “Sure, it sounds cool.”
As I’m talking to this publicist, they were using words and I was like, “This rings a bell. Is this Chris?” “Yes, it’s Chris.” Chris was one of my previous guests. Chris is a convicted murderer and is doing business using a contraband cell phone from inside a supermax prison in Mississippi. You get to have that image in your head whenever you’re talking to a publicist. They might be in a supermax prison in Mississippi. Good for him. If you’re going to do a cottage industry, that’s better than drugs.
It started with him trying to get his authors featured in places and then, over time, I don’t know how it happens. I’ll get cold calls from agents or publicists. Over the past few years, an acquaintance of mine was involved in the development of an online clearing house. It’s called PodMatch. That’s how we met. You can either create profiles for yourself as a potential guest or as a potential host, and I’m on there as both. I show up on a lot of other shows like this, but I also have people come on. I have met people that I never would’ve met or crossed paths with at all.
Alex Sanfilippo is a good friend of mine too. His AI is brilliant. I don’t know how he trained it or what he did, but it’s working for me, too.
That one’s working well and there’s another one called PodBooker, that’s similar. They match you up a little bit differently, but either way, it’s people who are looking to appear on podcasts. Sometimes it’s people where I’m like, “Absolutely not.” You have to learn how to guiltlessly say no.
I like how as simple it is, “Pass.”
There are other people where I’m like, “If you want me on your show, then that’s a thing that we are going to do now.”
Let’s see what’s going to happen. I love that.
It’s been super fun to be open to saying yes to almost everyone with the asterisk that I do have a no list, and that’s important. Sometimes we get so stuck on the grind and desperate to get anybody on your show, the big names. Don’t worry about a good get. Don’t worry about the size of the audience or the number of books they’ve released or whatever the case is. If I have actors come on, for instance, you can tell when they’re in PR mode and that’s more work to break them out of PR mode. “Stop giving me the little sound bites, answer my question, ask me questions, or talk to me. We’re not on Oprah here.”
It’s not a 30-second radio spot or TV interview.
Sometimes it’s harder. Don’t worry so much about a good get. I don’t have favorite episodes because I feel like that’s choosing between my children, which as a parent I do, but I don’t admit it out loud.
I tell each one of them they’re my favorite child so they all believe it.
Sometimes they’re all equally my least favorite. There’s that, too. One of my most impactful episodes came out as a dare. A bunch of us were in an online happy hour during the pandemic and this one individual had neat stories and hobbies. I was like, “You should come on my show.” They were like, “I don’t want to do that. I’d be boring. I don’t know what I would talk about,” which I get all the time. Another person who was in the happy hour reprimanded me. They said no, “You shouldn’t push,” and I immediately hopped into this person’s DMs and I was like, “Now, I want you on my show,” because I’m like that.
Now, it’s a dare.
The answer is like, “Okay. Sure.” I said, “Whether it’s interesting or not, it’s not your problem. That’s my problem. Your problem is to show up and talk to me.” I had no idea where this was going to go. About five minutes in, we’re past the introduction phase and they made a comment fairly offhandedly to say, “I was diagnosed with autism when I was in my 30s. I hadn’t realized it before and it’s changed my life.”
I was like, “That’s where it is. That’s where we’re going because I had so many questions.” I’m not that directed and deliberate at the moment, but I was caught by that. Tell me what that is like. Why is that a positive thing? A lot of people might imagine that a diagnosis of autism isn’t something to celebrate, but in fact, understanding and feeling understood is tremendously important for people.
They were like, “I’m not crazy. I have a diagnosis.” It’s a thing.
It makes sense. This was a few years ago that this went up, and I still get emails and DMs from people saying, “I’m going to call my doctor. I think this is what I have. I understood what you were saying. I think differently about my family.” I’ve had one woman who said, “I never understood my child before and I do now. This has changed my life.”
That feels so good. It’s better than a big get. I keep letting you go here and I do want to get to this one question that everybody’s going to care about, and that’s what I want to understand. You started this whole thing by telling your husband that you’re going to do a podcast, and he was like, “Okay.” Now that you’ve been doing it as long as you have, what is that big return on investment for you? What is it for him? Is he like, “She’s doing great. This is amazing. I’m not going to interfere?”
It’s a feeling of competence and productivity. I don’t make a ton of money but I make enough to pay for hosting and a nice new desk. It’s self-sustaining so I don’t feel like I’m a drain on the family finances to have this hobby of mine, but it’s more than that. I tell people that I get paid part-time wages for full-time work. It’s more than a hobby. What my husband gets out of it is seeing that spark that went dark for me for a while. He doesn’t listen to the show. My kids don’t listen to the show because they hear enough of me. They’re all tired of me, but it’ll be there eventually.
All of us can relate to that feeling of I’ve lost someone and now I realize I don’t have a recording of their voice. My kids have like months and months’ worth of recordings of their mother’s voice if they so choose down the road someday. That’s magical. It’s connecting with people. I’ve made the closest friends ever this way.
I would think you have an incredible network from what I can hear and the relationships that you build over the course of your shows. I can see you’re adding to your group.
It’s always, “Come into the fold. Come hang out. We’ll make a blanket for you. It’s fine. It’s good.”
I’m sure that it’s a little bit challenging to compete because true crime space is a bit crowded, as I’ve discovered as I was doing some research over there. You said that on a show and I was like, “Is that true? Is it super crowded?” I went to check it out and everyone and their brother is starting a podcast in the true crime space because it’s trending and popular, but they’re also quitting at a much faster pace than any genre that I’ve seen. They’re quitting faster because it’s a lot more work. That’s my personal view on it, especially if they’re going with that scripted model. Probably, garnering listenership is not as easy in the general space. What did you do that you think helped you build that strong listener base or that community?
I stopped checking downloads is what I did.
I love that.
My father died past the one-year mark of my show. It was New Year’s Eve 2017, so it was February 1st, 2018, a month before I started my first episode. My father died in April 2019. I took this break and I had a bunch of friends do intros for the episodes that I had in the can. I thought about, “What do I want to do differently when I come back?” I hadn’t given up on true crime quite yet. That happened a couple of months later, but one of the things that I decided was that I don’t want to check downloads.
I obsessed over that. It’s too easy to check 27 times a day and worry about how many downloads you have and start to wonder, “Was this episode better than another?” I don’t think downloads are a good metric for that. Being more popular doesn’t make it better. It makes it more popular. I said, “I’m going to stop checking downloads.” I check about once a month or once every other month because I’m coming very close to the 1 million download mark and I want to know when that happens, and it may have by now.
You should celebrate.
For the first five times that I rolled over 100,000, I did, “Ask me anything episodes.” I did one at 750,000. I’m coming close to that, but otherwise, I don’t check because it stresses me out and I start to compare episode to episode and I don’t want to do that because each episode should be standalone. You listen if you’re interested and skip it if you’re not, and that’s okay.
You build the listenership by engaging in a genuine way, figuring out what you’re good at, and admitting what you’re good at. Women in our society aren’t supposed to acknowledge, “I’m good at having conversations with people.” I’ve described my show to people as if you’re at a party and it’s crowded and you overhear our interesting conversation, but you don’t want to take part because you’re at a party and hate parties and you just want to hear the conversation. That’s what I’ll do.
That’s a great description of it.
That’s what it’s at. I do have my no list of fifteen people maybe that is an absolute hard no because of behavior that I’ve seen online or offline.
That keeps you separated so that it distinguishes you separately from that kind of a show.
It’s because there’s this tendency to say yes to being female in our society. If somebody comes to me and says they want to be on my show, you want to be like, “Great. Yes.” I’ve learned to be like, “Let me check my no list and make sure,” even though I know who’s on it. It’s still helpful to confirm, “I’m not a good fit. I’m not right for you.”
That way whenever I’m talking to somebody, I’m genuine. I’m different from episode to episode because I’m talking to different people, but that’s what I am in real life. That’s what people like. It’s genuine. There are some times when I ask questions and they fall flat. There are some times when I say a thing and my guest is like, “You’re completely wrong. Don’t ever say that again.”
You’re about to cross 1 million downloads. Congratulations. That is so huge. You are in the elite podcasting community. There are so many that never make it that far. You’re coming off of a break that was forced on you. Is there something different in the future for Ignorance Was Bliss?
For Ignorance Was Bliss, no. It makes me happy as it is. That’s going to keep going. Before every episode, I have a spike of social anxiety and I’ve learned to ignore that. I come down, turn the computer on, and talk to the people anyway because I always feel better as soon as we get rolling. That’s my bread and butter. I finished my first audiobook so that was fun to do a narration there. That’s a very different style. You have the equipment, but it’s a different use of the equipment. When I’m doing Ignorance Was Bliss, I don’t have to care about the tone and timbre of my voice, but if I’m reading another chapter of an audiobook, I have to be pretty consistent. That was a new set of skills.
You can burn out your voice quickly if you go too long.
I’ve had two other shows, both of which have faded for different reasons, in large part because they started to feel like Ignorance Was Bliss 2.0. I don’t want that because I already have that. I’ve thought about it and been considering doing a scripted show or a couple of different ideas come across my brain. Right now, I want to get back on my feet in terms of regular recording and regular publishing. There are no rules in podcasting and that’s the best part.There are no rules in podcasting. That’s the best part. Click To Tweet
That is so true. Kate, I’m so glad you came to the show. I’m so glad PodMatch matched us. Everyone, you have to check out Ignorance Was Bliss. There are so many episodes to choose from. You are going to find one that you want to listen to. Even if you think this is not your genre, go check it out because it certainly surprised me.
I kept going, “I want to listen to that one next and that one next.” It’s going to surprise you too but listen to some great techniques, a podcaster who knows what she’s doing, who’s got it all dialed in. Kate, thank you again for being on the show. I appreciate you. I look forward to seeing what happens next or where you go from here. What’s going to happen after 1 million? I can’t wait.
I have no idea. That’s one of the fun parts.
I’m along for the ride and I can’t wait to see it, so let’s keep in touch.
I mentioned during the interview that I can tell when someone’s a podcast listener because there’s usually something interesting about the way that they formatted their show, the things that they highlight, the way that they do some introductions and other things. Kate’s isn’t necessarily being a listener, but out of necessity. Those special intros where the guests do their own intro came out of a necessity where she didn’t have the ability to do some interviews for a time, and so that happened.
She got other podcasters to help her. That’s so fascinating that she found a way to make it work, keep going, and keep her show thriving. I’m fascinated by that. I am so impressed by the style of her show and the way that her show dives into some of these topics, but also the fact that she has passion and excitement for this, that this is fun, interesting and an outlet for her. It’s coming across in the passion of the show.
I want you to check out the show, listen to it, and get some perspective on some different things that you can try and different ways to format your show, but also different energy that you could bring to it as well. Check out Ignorance Was Bliss everywhere you listen to podcasts. I’ll be back next time with another podcast host and a different perspective on podcasting.
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