True crime podcasts attract listeners from all over the world and are some of the most popular podcasts. Just think of serial. As our #YEPS campaign continues, this week we’re talking to local journalist who became a true crime podcaster Richard O Jones, who tells crime stories in a historical context, about how he got his show off the ground and what keeps him going.
Real crime podcasts are a really big deal in audio, but your podcast has a different perspective that sets it apart from the rest. What do you think is special that sets your podcast apart from all other podcasts on true crime?
It seems to me that most of the real crime podcasts are either interviews with authors of books about real crimes or some real crime fanatics discussing murders they read about on Wikipedia or in the newspapers. Alcohol is often involved. I hear a lot of sick humor and inappropriate joking about what is clearly a tragedy in the life they are talking about. Another common item on other true crime podcasts is people trying to “solve” old crimes with wild speculation.
True Crime Historian doesn’t do any of this. This podcast is not about the presenter, it is simply about telling the story using the newspaper and magazine reports that told the story as it happened (or, on occasion, other source documents such as test logs). I like to think that this is more of a crime history program than a “real crime podcast”.
How did your idea come about when you were thinking about your background as a local journalist and the thorough research you did for this job? What’s the story behind starting your podcast?
When I took a severance package from the Hamilton Journal news, it came pretty suddenly and I had no plan for a second career. I had been looking for a documentary about a famous murder in my hometown about five years earlier. It never came to fruition, but I had a lot of research and enough to write a book, so I set out to do this.
I haven’t sold this book yet, but I’ve written and published two more historical crime books in the process. Around this time the “Serial” podcast was just beginning to break down giving the public an increased interest in true crime and podcasting in general, and it occurred to me that a podcast might help me sell books, but it did Looked like a lot of work, so I toyed with the idea of making a podcast that sounded like “Serial” or “This American Life” using actors to read the quotes from old newspapers and make an anachronistic documentary . But that sounded like a lot of work and would take more time than me.
Then one Saturday night while researching one of my books, I came across the headline “MAN BEHEADED-DENTIST SOUGHT”. It intrigued me and I went through the archives looking for the story they’d found the body in. My friend was watching TV and I kept interrupting her to read passages from this story because it was getting stranger with every new article. She told me to write a book on the case, and so I did, but more importantly, when I read her the story from those old newspaper pages, I came up with the format for the podcast: I would just do the news from reading the past. Of course, it takes a lot more than that. It’s about creating a story out of those old newspaper reports that conveys the flavor of the “golden age of yellow journalism”.
They publish two episodes a week, one on Thursday and one on Sunday. How do you plan the work you need to do to add new episodes? How far in advance do you plan the next topic?
Every time I work on a story, I run into one or two others, so I keep a running list. I currently have around 25-30 stories on the list. When I finish an episode, I go to the list and see what I like right now.
So I just work on the stories one at a time. When I finish the podcast on Sunday, I’ll pick one for Thursday. I will select the articles to read and record one day, then edit and mix them the next day.
Pick one of your episodes: either the ones you feel most personally attached to to, or the one who took the longest to create or who has a special memory for you. And tell us why!
You are asking me to choose a favorite child !!! But if you force my hand, I’d say it has to be the seven-part series on “Crane Neck Nugent: Prohibition Trigger”. It’s about a thug who was tried for murder in my hometown (Hamilton, Ohio) and dropped out when the only eyewitness refused to testify. Then the bat became one of the machine guns in the St. Valentine Day Massacre. The story is about a Prohibition gang war that took place in my hometown and a personal rivalry between a prohibition agent and a gangster George “Fat” Wrassman that ended with a showdown in the wild west on the streets of Cincinnati. The story is action-packed and funny at times and really paints a picture of what it was like to have lived through “the big experiment”.
Listen to “What the Cab Driver Forgot” on Spreaker.
Tell us one thing that you learned after starting your podcast that you wished for before you started. It might be useful advice for new would-be podcasters reading this!
I wish I had planned 250 episodes in advance to keep track of things. As I get a significant number of listeners / downloads from my back catalog, I am still actively involved with each episode, but unfortunately I haven’t set up a proper management system.
Also, I kind of thought I could just “call” it. I recorded the first few episodes on my phone but was soon dissatisfied with the quality. So I bought a new microphone and other equipment to make it sound better. Now I get scared when I hear the sound quality of those older podcasts.
When I was doing my research to get this started, I read an article that offered the best advice I had ever heard on the subject: “Make a podcast that you would listen to.” That’s what I’m trying to do .
How did you start finding and growing an engaged audience?
Back then, when I was thinking about making a serial-type documentary and postponing it because it just seemed so much work, I did a radio interview with a station in Chicago about a case there, the first try Fingerprints were used as evidence to convict a murderer. I wasn’t happy with my performance on this interview so I wrote the story down, recorded it on my phone, and posted it on a free podcast hosting site for them to download and use instead of my stuttering interview. That was May 2015. They didn’t use it and I immediately forgot about it. A few months later, around Thanksgiving, I was reminded and went back to the website to find that the post had gained several thousand listeners without doing anything to let the public know it was there. There was no music, no introduction, no production values at all, but thousands of people managed to find them anyway.
That’s why I started podcasting twice a week in January 2016. I spent a few thousand dollars on advertising and boosting Facebook posts, etc, but honestly, I haven’t been able to tie up even a single additional hearing of those efforts. I don’t have the money to run a big media campaign, so the only answer to that question is, “I just published it regularly and consistently and let it find me.”
By April, I had a network that reached out to me because they heard my podcast. I was a little embarrassed to tell her that I only have about 20,000 listeners a month, and she told me that was pretty good for someone who wasn’t famous for it.
In the Facebook podcasting groups I lurk on, someone asks the question of how to pick up listeners almost every day. There are only two answers: be famous outside of the podcast, or keep putting out good shows that people want to hear.
What is the most interesting feedback you have received from your listeners?
With a degree in creative writing and lots of brutal workshopping sessions, and 25 years of writing for a newspaper where every typo is designed to be public outrage, I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to public criticism I enjoy reading those iTunes reviews. A person might say, “It’s too monotonous. He sounds like he’s reading it for the first time. “Another says:” It’s too dramatic. It sounds tried and tested. “One will say,” If it hadn’t been for this terrible music, “and another goes on about how the music creates the drama. One Reddit reviewer compared me to Garrison Keillor and called it “Murder In Lake Wobegone,” and another compared me to Paul Harvey. I take that as a compliment. But my favorite was the woman who said my voice comforted her in the dark, lonely nights, and when my food started messing up a few weeks ago, a woman turned to me in panic about going into labor and wanting to listen to my murder stories to keep them calm. Can’t beat that !!!
Do you have an interesting story behind your podcast? Do you think it could be something other podcasters would love to hear? If so, we want to know! Click here to become part of #YEPS.