Interview with David Barr Kirtley (Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy)


My guest today is David Barr Kirtley, host of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast on wired.com, which has featured over 100 guests, including George R. R. Martin, Richard Dawkins, Paul Krugman, Simon Pegg, Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ursula K. Le Guin. David is also the author of several dozen fantasy & science fiction short stories, which have appeared in some of the field’s top books and magazines.

SCy-Fy: How do you prepare for a show, David?

DBK: If it’s an interview, I typically read the guest’s latest book and read, watch, and listen to as many interviews with them as I can find. I typically go into each interview with a list of 20-30 questions I’d like to ask. For panel discussions it varies a lot. Sometimes I don’t have to do much prep at all, sometimes I have to watch 20 movies.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

DBK: In the short term I’m just planning to keep cranking out episodes. In the long term I’d like to hire someone to help out with the audio editing, so I could focus more on the interviews and interview prep.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major challenges for podcasts in future?

DBK: I don’t think there are any real challenges facing podcasting as a form. I think that on-demand content like podcasts will completely replace broadcast media pretty quickly.

The big challenge for podcasters going forward will be the increasing professionalization of the medium. Podcasters without corporate backing or a pre-existing fanbase will find it more and more difficult to get noticed, which will make podcasting more like radio and TV and less like the quirky hobbyist space that it’s been.

SCy-Fy: What advice would you give anyone presenting podcasts?

DBK: Create something you’re proud of and that has lasting value. Too many podcasts consist of inane chitchat and unsuccessful attempts at humor. People listen to crass, mindless banter on the radio because they’re stuck in their car and have no choice. Podcasts can’t waste people’s time like that. Try to make every second count.

SCy-Fy: Your most useful resources?

DBK: I like The Wolf Den and Podcasters’ Roundtable for news and tips for podcasters.

SCy-Fy: Points to watch out for in making podcasts?

DBK: Don’t keep cutting and pasting your intro music from the show before, because each time you export to MP3 the audio quality gets worse. I made that mistake in the early days.

Also, people get really upset if your interview is just a list of pre-planned questions. Try to ask at least one follow up question on each point you cover, and try to make each question flow naturally from the guest’s previous response.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

DBK: As a kid I desperately wanted to read interviews with science fiction authors, but there were none available. If I could have listened to a show like Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, I would have been in heaven. I like to tell myself that there are kids out there now who love the show that much, and really that’s what keeps me going, though of course these days there’s a lot more information available on any topic. Sometimes people write me fan letters or send me money, which is always a big boost.

SCy-Fy: Any controversy so far?

DBK: There’s been very little controversy among people who have actually listened to the show, which surprises me a bit because we do cover some pretty controversial topics. One person recently thought we should have had a religious perspective in our discussion of Ridley Scott’s Exodus movie.

That’s about as much controversy as we get with the actual podcast. But hundreds of people post angry comments to our posts on Wired.com, over every stupid thing you could imagine, but as far as I can tell none of those people have ever actually listened to the podcast. Wired.com sometimes gives our posts attention-grabbing headlines that aren’t really a good match for the actual article, and this drives some commenters into apoplectic fits of rage. Not surprisingly, our headline “Lawrence Krauss Believes in Star Trek, Not God” drew several hundred angry comments, though actually I’d say that a humorous headline about Amazon.com being evil actually drew the most livid, scandalized responses. You never know.

SCy-Fy: The most popular show you’ve presented?

DBK: Our recent episode on Queers Destroy Science Fiction, a special crowdfunded issue of Lightspeed magazine celebrating queer authors, recently set a record for first-month downloads with over 20,000 downloads.

SCy-Fy: Your personal favourite?

DBK: It’s hard for me to really pick a favorite episode, but I have said before that the two guests I was most excited to interview were George R. R. Martin and Richard Dawkins.

SCy-Fy: Which forthcoming books and TV shows are you most looking forward to reading or watching?

DBK: Well, as a big George R. R. Martin fan of course I’m looking forward to The Winds of Winter as well as Season 5 of Game of Thrones. The other big thing I’m really looking forward to is The Expanse, the new SyFy show that’s being adapted from the series of novels by James S. A. Corey.

SCy-Fy: Any last words?

DBK: I’d just encourage everyone to check out our website at http://geeksguideshow.com, and if you want to create your own book or podcast, definitely check out our discussion of self-publishing in Episode 83 and our discussion of science fiction podcasting in Episode 86.

SCy-Fy: Thank you, David.

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