This week the Webcomic Beacon has reached its first anniversary of production, though I am hesitant in using the term “production” considering the amateur quality of the podcast. Don’t get me wrong, I must applaud Fes, Tanya, and his other cohorts in putting out a weekly podcast that focus on webcomics and webcomic topics without missing a single week (though some of those weeks were, in Fes’s own words, spectacular failures). Unfortunately, the WB has not climbed out of its amateur roots and often strays off topic and into inanity. It often feels like Fes doesn’t have a significant plan in mind when each new podcast starts, and instead hopes that his guests will mention something that the podcast can focus on. When it doesn’t, listeners get to hear awkward silences and nervous giggles from co-host Tanya as Fes struggles to find a topic that gets a dialog started.
This is unfortunately a common trait among a number of amateur podcasts (and indeed, WB is better than a number of these hackneyed attempts at creating a podcast). At its roots, a podcast is much like the radio programs of old, such as the Larry Glick radio show from the 70s to early 90s. Glick’s show was eclectic and had an immense variety of content and discussions, something that a number of podcasts have attempted unsuccessfully to recapture. However, Glick did not always have an eclectic show, and he has his roots in traditional radio broadcasting. I remember a story Glick once told on how when he first started in radio, his show was random and fragmented and ended with his being fired. Afterward he focused on traditional radio broadcasting and only gradually evolved his show into the phenomenon it became. While I doubt many of my younger readers will know of Glick, other popular radio talk show hosts likewise have a firm foundation in traditional radio broadcasting which they in turn evolved into their current programs.
This is a lesson that podcasters should take to heart. Rather than start out quirky and random, podcasters should strive for a level of professionalism and then let their podcasts evolve and find its own voice. And professionalism can take several forms. One thing I’ve heard Fes complain about in WB is his hatred of editing the program. This is unfortunate as it is this editing and compacting of material that can help turn a mediocre podcast into something good. A combination of possessing a basic outline and sticking to it, having backup questions to ask guests so the podcast doesn’t devolve into awkward silences and random silliness, and editing out silences and errors in recording the podcast could turn the Webcomic Beacon into one of the better podcasts out there, and one that helps to showcase webcomics as a significant media deserving of attention and interest. What’s more, the WB could more effectively focus on topics that prove useful for cartoonists and fans alike. Without that extra effort, I can only recommend it as a curiosity to listen to if a topic catches the listener’s attention. Even then, the WB will be hit-or-miss in whether you’ll find gems hidden among the dross.