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Podcasting with Talkshoe and Skype Part One

Started by Rob, March 14, 2010, 11:23:48 PM

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I'm writing this article from my experience with TalkShoe which is reasonably extensive. I don't want to imply that I work for the company. I don't. This is just my knowledge, experience and opinion at offer here.

When I used to run the Grifball League for Rooster Teeth I started a weekly podcast called "The Grifball Explosion." It was the first of its kind. Now I am retired from the league and there are seventeen podcasts listed at TalkShoe under the keyword Grifball. I did about twenty shows before my time as commissioner ended. In that time I went through two co-hosts, conducted several live interviews and one previously taped and edited and spent hours answering questions about the future of the league to a live audience numbering in the dozens usually and better than fifty occasionally. By the end I was starting and ending the show with music, I had an assistant moderating the chat room and I had the ability to phone my part of the podcast in; literally.

I was attending a ROFLCon concert on the night of an important interview for the podcast. A band I had friends in was playing soon and I was hanging out with them and having a few drinks. About twenty minutes before the show was about to start I slipped out and walked back to my car. I grabbed my cell phone, dialed a number and suddenly the podcast was ready to go and I was on live with dozens of fans, my co-host and the guest I had scheduled for the interview. I did the interview, answered a few questions, turned the show over to my co-host and went back to the concert. I didn't miss a song. I was living in the future.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

TalkShoe describes itself as "a service that enables anyone to easily create, join, or listen to Live Interactive Discussions, Conversations, Podcasts and Audioblogs." That's not bad, but here's a better description. Talkshoe is a system that lets you make huge conference calls involving large numbers of like minded people; and it records it so others can listen to it later. Also there is a show specific chat room for the people who like to listen at their computer as well as some controls for moderating said chat room.

Both descriptions are true but mine is a little more honest; and here's why.

The quality of recording is a direct one to one result of the quality of your phone service. When people think of radio talk shows they tend to think of a DJ who has really high quality broadcasting equipment, along with his guests who may or may not be in the studio with him, taking calls from the public over the phone. But with TalkShoe there is no studio and no high quality broadcast gear. Everyone sounds like they are on the phone. Everyone and everything.

Just as everyone who has ever used a phone knows there is a whole host of baggage that comes with using a telephone. There are broken connections, power outages and weather and even distance makes a difference in the call quality. I've even had static from a cordless phone cause my show problems. Cell phones are even worse. The quality is already less than a house phone. Add to that the poor reception, constantly dropped calls and interruptions from call waiting and text messages and you get the idea.

Adding Skype or another VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocal) can also heavily affect the quality of your call because VoIP calls are also impacted by all the things that destroy regular phone quality on top of being ruled by the quality of the internet connection and computer system of the caller. In my experience, distance in particular can be a real problem for VoIP calls. I once tried to have a quest caller join me using Skype from England. The connection was horrible. He was disconnected several times. We tried on a couple other occasions and in one instance with another person also in England hoping the issues were related to just that first caller but it never really came off very well.

Additionally there are technical details that you should be aware of not the least of which is that using TalkShoe can cost you and and your listeners a lot of money if you aren't careful. I'm going to say that again because it's one of the most important things I want to impart to you with this article.

Using TalkShoe can cost you and your listeners a lot of money if you aren't careful.

And Skype or other VoIP systems won't necessarily change this. To access TalkShoe and start or begin listening to a show the website requires that you have a membership. When you sign up for your membership you will insert into your account the phone number you intend to use when calling into the show. Then when you call in you can set your account to instantly verify your access (presumably through some sort of caller ID system) and a PIN number or if you are using a different phone you can set your account to have you enter the phone number. Then you enter the call ID and go from there.

But the important part is calling into the show. The number for calling into TalkShoe has a Pennsylvania area code (724). And if you don't live in that area; it's a long distance call.

Now I know most of you are probably thinking "so what I get free long distance with my cell phone." But remember the hierarchy of quality I've established for you already. Non-Cordless house phones are still the best phone call quality going. Cell phones are third just above VoIP. And even if you have free long distance is it fair to assume all your listeners will? And what about minutes? Your long distance may be free but most people don't get totally free calls until after a certain time at night according to the time zone they live in. So a podcast that starts at 8PM Eastern time might be a free call for the East Coast but everyone else in the country who calls in is either accruing long distance charges, using up their minutes or they pay a ton for their cell phone service and it doesn't matter.

You will find that nowhere on the site does TalkShoe really discuss the long distance charges associated with its service. I'm sure it's in the fine print of the Terms of Service, but you won't find it in the "About" or Q&A sections. As someone who is not a fan of cell phones I ran my first few calls off of my house phone. I assumed that the Talkshoe access number was "Toll Free" because there were no warnings on the site. When my $50+ dollar long distance bill arrived I was pissed to say the least.

Additionally, Skype is not a free service. Some folks tend to think it is but it is not. Skype is only free when calling other Skype phone numbers. If you call a regular phone number you get charged use rates. Skype says their rates are great. But any rate, when you are expecting free is not going to come off as great. Since the phone number to call into a community call with TalkShoe is a regular phone number, Skype will not be free. It may be cheaper than using your house phone but it will definitely go against any minutes you have bought from Skype; and if you go over your minutes, as one of my aforementioned UK callers did, you may find your call cut off.

Other technical issues.

I mentioned that I had intro and outro music on my show as well as the occasional prerecorded interview. As you are all well aware, music played over a phone connection sounds pretty lousy. I did some things to improve quality that we'll talk about later, but I just want to emphasize, you are dealing with a phone connection. Production values are limited.

Talkshoe seems to have trouble handling traffic during some of its busiest hours. There were times when we would schedule a show where the software would not load, the site would lag, the show would not acknowledge the host no matter how many times he/she logged in and out of the call. There were times when simply put, TalkShoe did not work. During these times I considered it lucky if I could access the chat room to tell the waiting listeners that the show was being postponed. It always seemed to unclench after the prime time hours on the East Coast went by. But there were several occasions where I sent disappointed fans away because of these technical difficulties. I want to emphasize that multiple people, on multiple computers in multiple parts of the US would try and log into the service to get the show going. I was lucky in that I had people helping me with the show that I could trust enough to give things like username and passwords and PIN's to. It only made a difference once. And after my friend got the show going I was able to call in and do the show. Forty five minutes past the announced start time. And I still had no luck logging in on the computer myself.

Which brings me to my next point. Technical support for TalkShoe is a joke. Ever lose your phone service? Go to a pay phone or use your cell. Call the service number. Put in a repair request. Wait. Then the problem suddenly fixes itself several hours later and you never hear from anyone at the phone company. Life goes on. That's pretty much the way technical support at TalkShoe works as well. If you click on "Help" at the site you will be confronted with several "leave us alone" (my words not theirs) suggestions like watching videos or a user based knowledge system before they give you the phone number to call for outages and laughably proclaim their goal to respond "as soon as possible."

During my several months using TalkShoe I was in need of technical support many times. I never received any nor did I ever hear from anyone at the company in response to my reported issues.

So it sounds like I'm bagging pretty hard on TalkShow. But I'm not. When it works; and it usually does, it can be a really wonderful experience. It brings people with common interests together in a fun atmosphere to communicate. It is exciting, invigorating; and if you aren't ready to be a broadcaster, intimidating.

My first show was such a love fest that it lasted nearly three times as long as I expected it to; and the vast majority of my time was spent saying the word "uhm." I was a soldier that taught classes to other soldiers on such varied topics as combat medicine, cover and concealment and vehicle maintenance. I took acting and speech classes in college (and received A's in all of them). I was a store manager with a staff of fourteen teenagers all of whom received training and instruction from me. And I've been in plays and worked for political campaigns that required me to talk to the public. Still, I was not prepared for what a microphone (or in this case, telephone) and a small audience of people fascinated by what I had to say would do to me.

After that first show I made two changes. I instructed my co-host that she was to do her best to keep the show moving. If that meant cutting people off and insisting I get to the point then she was to do so. I also made an effort to prepare show notes and topic notes for the show so I didn't get too far off track. Once we added a limit to the number of questions we allowed from the audience the shows started clocking in between forty five to seventy five minutes depending largely on content rather than the vagaries of my concentration.

So in short, be prepared. Know what you are going to talk about and be ready to answer questions on the subject. If you are going to interview someone know your subject. Have some questions in mind. Don't expect them to be brilliant conversationalists who spark your inquisitive mind. That sort of thing rarely happens and most people are not great in front of a live audience (even if they can't see them they know they are there). You have to be ready to pick up the ball and run with it if your guest is a dud. Remember this is your show and it is powered by your enthusiasm and charisma. You should also prepare features well in advance. Pre-recorded interviews, skits, spotlight news stories; these things are perfect for adding a punch to your show that will bring new listeners to your show and excite your existing audience. Plus it is a real opportunity for you to bring in production values that you cannot swing on the fly over the phone to polish up the show.

You also have to be prepared for your audience. I had marriage proposed to me on several of my shows. It seemed like every time I told my audience something they were glad to hear the chat room would erupt with marriage proposals. It became something of a running joke and is indicative of the lesson that no matter how many people you have on your show, if you do it in front of a live audience there is always one more character. You can never predict what may come from the chat room or from audience live call ins. The first guy (yes guy) to propose marriage to me asked a perfectly valid and coherent question before blurting out his proposal after I answered. This was just one of the many times things went a little sideways because of the audience. Personally I enjoyed the give and take. It was like seasoning that made the show just a little better. But if you aren't good at thinking on your feet and don't think you can get better with practice you might want to consider a co-host or perhaps even working entirely pre-recorded with no live audience.

So you've decided on a topic. You've spitballed some ideas for your first show and you have a co-host ready to go. So how does all this actually work?

Well it's actually really easy. If you know how to use a telephone and talk in a chat room you already have all the basic skills ready to run a TalkShoe show. So in part two I'm going to cover the specifics of the program itself (along with a bit on Skype) along with some advanced tricks to improve your production values (if you have the time and money).


I've always been under the impression that there are two types of podcasts--the kind where people call in (like on talkshoe) and the kind where a small group of people record together with no call-ins. I'm not sure that there are a whole lot of alternatives to talkshoe for the first kind (the only kind I could think of is to just do a video podcast with skype to skype calls using livestream or something), but if you have a few people together who can't be in the same physical location, like the webcomic weekly guys, ding it through talkshoe/skype sounds like it could be horribly expensive. Alternative services? Program setups? I'm not really planning to do a podcast, but know a few people who are interested.