Bonus Episode: Ed Roberson on Creating his Celebrated Podcast, Mountain & Prairie

TOPICS DISCUSSED:

[3:45]: What inspired Ed to start the podcast

[6:40]: Ed’s first podcast guests

[8:00]: Establishing rapport with guests

[9:45]: Learning to be comfortable public speaking

[11:15]: Speaking to his younger self and audiences in their 20s 

[12:30]: Preparing for interviews

[13:30]: Ed’s favorite author, Hampton Sides

[14:35]: Preparing guests for an interview

[15:20]: Being yourself and finding your voice as a podcast host

[16:45]: Figuring out what to share about yourself as a host

[18:20]: Editing and getting a technical start podcasting

[19:45]: Hiring an editor

[20:45]: Growing listenership through word of mouth

[22:00]: Working with foundations and get funding support

[25:00]: Balancing work, life and the podcast

[26:35]: Balancing creativity and the business side

[27:25]: What Ed has to say no to

[29:20]: Mountain & Prairie's impact and Ed's goals

[32:20]: Responsibility of having a podcast platform

[36:40]: Mountain & Prairie's audience

[38:40]: Ed’s favorite conversations over the years 

[40:40]: The future Ed wants for rural media

[44:00]: Parting words of wisdom and book recommendations

[46:25]: The context of COVID in rural communities 

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM 

THE RURAL RADIO COLLECTIVE:

Podcast Brunch Club

"Powder Days," Heather Hansman

"Dakota: A Spiritual Geography," Kathleen Norris

"Houston we have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story," Randy Olson

"Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places we've Left Behind," Grace Olmstead

"Pushed Out: Contested Development and Rural Gentrification in the US West," Ryanne Pilgeram

"The Farmer’s Lawyer: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm," Sarah Vogel

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth," Sarah Smarsh

TRANSCRIPT:

Megan Torgerson (narrating): Hi Reframing Rural listeners, I’m Megan Torgerson, the host of this podcast and today I have a special bonus episode to share with you.

 

Have you always wanted to know what goes into the making of a podcast? Or are you thinking about starting your own? In December I sat down with Ed Roberson, the host of the acclaimed podcast, Mountain & Prairie, to hear what he’s learned over the past six years producing intelligent and thoughtful conversations that illuminate the unfolding Zeitgeist of the modern American West. Ed’s southern hospitality, expertise in land and water conservation and love of history, adventure stories and the great outdoors, make him the perfect thought partner for his guests who include writers, ranchers, athletes, artists, adventurers, conservationists and  entrepreneurs.

 

Our conversation was part of a Zoom event hosted by the Rural Radio Collective, a community I belong to that’s dedicated to supporting rural voices in audio, and to bringing rural perspectives into the wider media space. To kick it off, Rural Radio Collective founder, Avery Hellman welcomed the group. You can check out the work we’re doing at ruralradiocollective.org and if you haven’t given Mountain & Prairie a listen yet, I highly recommend checking it out, but for now a conversation with Ed Roberson on the making of his celebrated show.

 

***

Avery Hellman: Hello folks who are just joining us, thank you for being here. Today we have Ed Roberson and Megan Torgerson, here for a conversation with the Rural Radio Collective. And just as a little bit of background for you guys who don't already know, Ed is a podcaster, who is originally from North Carolina, but he now lives in Colorado. And he hosts a podcast called the Mountain & Prairie podcast. And it started about six years ago in 2016. And he has recorded nearly 150 episodes. And I think after, you know, being a fan for a long time of this podcast, I think one of the really fantastic things about Ed is that he has a very genuine connection with his subjects and is a great interviewer because he comes across as being really in a moment and exactly who he is just like a great conversation. And then we have Megan who is one of the co-leaders of the Rural Radio Collective. And she was born and raised in Montana and in Sheridan County, which is one of the most rural counties in America. She is currently based in Seattle, Washington, and she's the host of the podcast Reframing Rural which has just launched it’s second season. So without further ado, here is Ed and Megan for a conversation.

 

Torgerson: Thank you so much for the intro, Avery, and thanks so much Ed for joining our grassroots group of rural radio makers. I was trying to pinpoint this morning where I was in my life when I started listening to you. And I believe it was when I lived in Asheville, North Carolina.

 

Ed Roberson: I got married in Asheville, North Carolina!

 

Torgerson: Oh, cool. 

 

Roberson: Yeah I love that place!

 

Torgerson: Yeah, yeah, I loved it very much. And it was different to be around longleaf pines compared to ponderosa pines, but I was looking for a series that really made me feel connected to my home in the in the American West. And so a friend recommended Mountain & Prairie. And it was just really apparent to me from the get go, that your love for the American West was really genuine, and that your guests and questions were just really inspiring and, and thought provoking. And so I'm wondering what inspired you to launch the podcast in 2016?

 

Roberson: Yeah, so in 2016 is crazy. I was talking my wife about this last night. You know, if you go back almost six years ago, like to the day, I think I just, six years ago, I just sent out my first book, recommendations email, which has built up a pretty good following. And then I started the podcast soon after that. And so that was like, that was like a different lifetime ago. I mean, it seems like a different world. But I was in the real estate business, then selling large ranches all over the West. And, you know, I like to think of myself as being a conservation minded real estate person. But the reality is in that world, you're, you're at the mercy of your client. And so some of my, my clients were conservation minded, some were real estate developers. But the bottom line is I drove I spent a lot of time driving and listening to podcasts, and I kind of operated in this weird world in the West, where I was dealing with ranchers, and people in the agricultural world, but then I was also living in Boulder. And I was like, next door to some of the most hardcore, left wing environmentalists you could find, and then I did do a lot of endurance sports, but I also read a lot. And I just, I feel like if you think about these weird Venn diagrams, I operate in the middle of a lot of different overlapping circles. And I found that the most right wing, you know, hardcore rancher, you can find, and then my next door neighbor, left wing environmentalists, they actually shared a lot of common values, and they agreed on a lot more than they disagreed on. It's just some of the words they use for different and I just thought, Man, I feel like I know a lot of interesting people. And I feel like I see this commonality between these groups that most people think have nothing in common. And I feel like, if I recorded those conversations, it would be interesting. And I don't know that there's maybe some ego involved in it or what to think that people want to hear you talk. But, but I just started, I mean, I just I just. I had actually been thinking about it for about probably a year before I actually did it. And that's like, my only regret with this thing is that I didn't start it a year earlier. I had my first daughter, in June of ‘15. And then I started it in spring of ‘16. And I've just been trying to do one episode every other week since then.

 

Torgerson: That's ambitious, one every other week.

 

Roberson: I think when I started, I thought I'd do one a week. And I realized real quick, that ain't gonna work. You know, when you got a full time job and family?

 

Torgerson: Yeah, definitely. Well, your ability to highlight the common ground among people with varying belief systems is, is really apparent. And I love the diversity of guests that you have on and you have such a great rapport with these guests. And some of them, it seems that you've known for several years and other folks, are they kind of new to you, and how do you find people to interview?

 

Roberson: Yeah, when I started out, I just started with people I knew, like for the first five episodes, just people I knew. Like the first one was my friend, Erik Glenn, who's kind of one of my mentors in the conservation world. He's the head of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, and a real, real great guy. But pretty soon after that, I'd read a book by a guy named Jim Howell, who's one of the founders of the Savory Institute. And he's just, he's a guy I admired for a long time, but I didn't know him. And I started the podcast and somebody, a friend of mine knew him, and offered to take me to lunch with him. And he was kind of suspicious at first he was like, “What is this? What is a podcast? Is it live radio show?” And, and he you know, he's a very smart guy. But you know, back then, podcasts were relatively new, and to the general public. And so I think Jim was the first person I did a podcast with and I didn't know him beforehand. And then pretty quickly, I just started cold calling people like cold emailing people. And a lot you know, a lot of women still to this day. I've never talked to the person before, start recording with them. And I think now it's easier because there's, there's a back catalogue, and they can they can go back and listen, and hopefully, it sounds a little better than it did when I started. But I'm able to, to connect with the folks pretty easily and I tell them, you know, this, this may be an actionable tip for some people, but like, depending on what you're trying to put out, I tell these people every one on beforehand I'd say, “Look, if you say anything that you don't want in the final product, I'm going to delete it. No questions asked, don't even think twice. So speak freely, and speak like, it's just me and you, you know, hanging out. And just know that if you say anything, and it makes you uncomfortable, I'll cut it.” And I rarely rarely rarely ever have to do that. But I think it just instantly relaxes people they like, you know, because some of y'all imagine a real life journalist. I'm not a journalist, like I'm the guy sitting in a shed in his backyard. So that I think that's a way that I've established rapport, just let people know, like, look, I'm super interested in what you're doing. But I'm not trying to trick you, I'm not gonna make you look as good. I always tell people, don't tell anybody this don't think I'm repeating my jokes, I say, “I want you to be as happy as a non-crazy person can be listening to themself talk.” And that seems to put them at ease. And it's true. I do I do. And that's why I spread is because I make them you know, I make sure that their best self is being showcased, and the work they're doing is being showcased.

 

Torgerson: Yeah, yeah. I also didn't go to journalism school. And so and you have a real knack for asking the right question at the right time. And also interjecting personal stories that spark another insight from your guests. And so I'm wondering, like, have you always felt comfortable with public speaking? And what have you learned over the years about interviewing and listening and finding the right words for segways, and like keeping interviews, concise, and all those things that are going on in your brain, when you're having a conversation that's recorded with someone?

 

Roberson: I definitely not feel comfortable public speaking at all. I mean, I think when I went to grad school, got my MBA, and I kind of laugh, like, I went to grad school to be a real estate developer, like no joke. We said, I went. And now I'm a conservation person that kind of fights with real estate developers and I got a podcast. And so it's very, it's amazing where your life will take you. But I remember in business school, we had to take a public speaking course. And I mean, I thought I was gonna throw up, we had to do a five minute speech in front of like, 20 people. And now I'm doing you know, I do these events in front of all these people. And, you know, what I found is that, if I know what I'm talking about, I don't get nervous. And if I'm prepared, I don't get nervous. But if I'm having to kind of BS people, I do get nervous. And so the key is talk about stuff I'm interested in know about and passionate about and prepare. As far as conversation, you know, another kind of another part of the, the story of how I started is, I just always enjoyed going to lunch with people that I just wanted to know. And even if there was no business reason to do it, I'm just very curious about people maybe even like weirdly curious about people and how they ended up doing what they're doing. And, and so I would just go to lunch with people and have these conversations. And that was one of the things I was thinking about was like, I bet if I recorded those conversations, people would like it. I mean, I always thought about, you know, they say whether you're starting a business or creative project, or whatever, you want to be, you kind of want to scratch your own itch your own itch. And that's what this podcast has been for me is like, when I was 23, I got out of college, and I went to work at Merrill Lynch, work at UBS. And I was wearing a suit. And I was doing all this junk I was supposed to, but I always want to live out west but I was I took myself too seriously just to go do it. And I always think about the audience is that is me at age 23. Listening to like, what would help that guy speed up the process and realize are is okay not to follow a normal path is. “Normal” for Southeast United States. And so that's that's like that, that fuels all everything. Like how I asked the questions you may notice, like I want things to be actionable, and I put a lot of time into episode notes. Because I don't want to be the kind of thing somebody listens to and then forgets like, I'll wait. They if it catches their eye want to be to go to the website and find more info. And that again, is kind of selfish. It's like 23 year old Ed Roberson wearing his fancy suit at Merrill Lynch, like, how can I get that guy out of there faster?

 

Torgerson: Yeah, that's cool to hear Avery right before we started this conversation to Avery shared that they contacted you before moving to Nevada, so you are reaching out to people at that juncture in their life. And so what do you do to prepare for your interviews? And I've always been a little nervous to interview authors, because it's, I don't know, they've just done so much research to put into that book. And you're an avid reader and have interviewed a lot of journalists and authors and, and yeah, so what all do you what do you do to prepare?

 

Roberson: You know, I think it may be my southern upbringing or whatever but is, is I want to come with good manners and I want to come fully prepared. And so like, the authors are the ones that require the most prep for me, you know, I’ve gotten to the point with some of it was some people nail where I don’t, I do prepare and I write down questions and all that kind of stuff, but it’s, but it’s more like I’m just genuinely interested. So even if I met them off the street, I think most of these people I could I could have a conversation with but like with authors, I get I go, I read very, very closely and underline and make all these notes in their books. And I remember I got invited to do a interview, one of my favorite author Hampton Sides favorite historian at the Aspen Institute. And I didn’t know him, you know, and I remember the guy the Aspen Institute said, Yeah, Hamptons, cool with it. He just wants to, you know, he just requires that whoever’s interviewing him will have read the book. And I was like, “Who the hell? Who would talk to this guy without reading the book? Are you kidding me?” And so, I mean, it helps that I’m interested, if I was talking to somebody wrote a book about something I’m not interested in, it wouldn’t work. I mean, I’ve got a very short attention span, I get bored very easily. And so the things that I’m very interested in, I’m extremely, almost like obsessively interested in but the things that I’m not interested in, there’s zero interest. So I, basically, I just, I have Evernote open. And I’ll sit there and I’ll type out every question I can think of that just like brain dump on to Evernote, then I’ll organize them into some sort of like, personal professional book, you know, whatever. And then I get it printed out. But I generally don’t even look at it. Once I start talking. It’s just a way to get my brain ready. But if I’m like going question by question, something’s wrong, I’d say.

 

Torgerson: Do you share the questions with guests beforehand?

 

Roberson: I used to, and then I found that with a percentage of them, it made them nervous. And they would, they would prepare, and I mean, I'd send them the full brain dump. And some of them, I think a lot of people said, it showed him like this guy's professional, like, I interviewed this ultra marathon runner named Joe Grant. And he was one of the first kind of famous athlete guys interviewed. And he said, the reason he did is because he saw was being serious about it. But I've also found that some people get real nervous when you put all those questions in front of them. So now what I do is just bullets, overall topics followed by, we'll just see where it goes, I'm very interested in what you're doing. Remember, if you say anything, you don't want I delete it. And then it can be more of a conversation than, than me firing off one question after another because. You know, people do that, like, you know, NPR, people do that, like Terry Gross, and it makes sense. But what I found is I can't be a poor imitation of Terry Gross, I need only be myself. Yeah. It seems I mean, maybe I'll disagree, who listened to it, but I feel like the more comfortable I've gotten with being myself, the more popular things got. And I think it's just because I'm not trying to, I started out imitating people, you know, like Tim Ferriss podcast, or whatever, and just copying things that work. But over time, I've kind of made it my own. And I've gotten more confident in my ability just to be myself. And it's really like a, you know, take it take it out of the context, the context of podcasts. It makes me feel better about myself. I can be myself and people and people seem to like it, both the people I'm talking to and the people who listen.

 

Torgerson : Yeah, yeah. One thing I've explored, is just figuring out how much of my own personal story to share as I'm interviewing guests. And do you also, like take notes of like different anecdotes from your life that that you could bring up during the podcast? Or how do you figure out what about your own personal journey to share through your platform,

 

Roberson: I don't take notes, I don't have specific things, I want to jam in there. Because I've done that before where like, I'll get some idea in my head, like, oh, I want to talk about I want to compare notes with this person on this. And then I'll find that I end up is unnatural, and ends up kind of like a wedge it in there. And what I found is like, like, I can't stand podcast, where the host talks too much. I mean, it's like, I have to turn them off. If I'm listening to it. I think it's because I'm fearful that I sound like that at some point. And so like, the minute I start talking, there's like a subconscious timer in my head. And if I, if I feel like I'm talking too much, I mean, I've edited a lot of myself out before just because I'm like, I don't I don't want to be one of these people that comes off and is talking too much. Because it's not about me. I mean, if if I can share a story that can help them feel more comfortable or help them you know, further the conversation. I'm more than happy to do that. But I just never ever want it to come off as like I'm real proud of myself. I think um, you know, they've got Tim Ferriss like, I like him but I he drives me crazy too. And you'll hear him on the phone with like talking to some billionaire investor and then he's talking about all his experience investing. And I'm kind of like,” Come on, man. Like it's about them.” Does that make sense?

 

Torgerson: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And I've done the same thing editing myself out for both because I'm not sounding very eloquent in that moment, or it's kind of a tangent or just to keep the podcast down. So like, yeah, how much of the podcast do you edit down? And, um, how'd you get your technical start in podcasting as well.

 

Roberson: I don't edit much. When I first started, I’d basically do no editing. I'm almost nervous to go back and listen to it. But as far as technical stuff, like no joke, I went to Best Buy and bought the cheapest microphone they had and plugged it into my computer, and that's what I did. And I still use that same microphone for my online interviews. But I mean, I would set up one microphone between two people. And like, we would sit there and talk and it wasn't till after like, 60 some episodes that I actually upgraded my in person setup. And so, again, Tim Ferriss, he had a blog post about how he did his podcast, and he recorded it on Skype. He uses some program called Auphonic. And that's the secret ingredient. Because it levels all the sound, it levels everything out. And so like, inevitably, one person is louder than the other. So you plug the file in all phonic pops out perfectly clear. And I've had podcasts where I recorded like, in person, when I didn't know how to work my new equipment. And I got home, I was like, oh, like, you can hear this thing. Like, I'm not gonna, I don't know what I'm going to do. And then you put it off Auphonic and it comes out perfect. So I've figured out a way to, I don't like the technical stuff. I don't know anything about it. Like, like, and now I've got an editor. In early ‘21, I think yeah, I hired a guy who's now doing all my editing for me. So that is huge, mainly just like the psychic tool of hate listening myself. And so the fact that this guy could do it. And then, you know, to your point about editing yourself, you know, I used to, when I was editing, I'd spend probably more time with myself, this is sounds weird. And then I made the decision. I'm like, Look, these people coming on here. And they're putting themselves out there. They don't know me, you know, the fact if I'm like editing myself to sound good, and not spending the equal amount of time to make them, you know, like cutting out umms or stutters. That's not fair. And so now I just try to keep it like, what you see is what you get, and is, generally they sound a lot better than I do.

 

Torgerson: How have you grown your listenership throughout the years too?

 

Roberson: Strictly word of mouth, I've never paid for advertising. I've started recently doing some Instagram ads just as an experiment to see what happens. But I think my commitment to try to make people sound you know, tell their story in a way that is positive and interesting. And, you know, because I'd say maybe, maybe a third of the people I have on are well known in some circles, you know, some of them are like famous within their within their niche. But a lot of them are not at all. They're people, they're like me, you know, they're just doing their thing. And they're doing, you know, they said they're doing a lot more interesting stuff than me. And to be able to tell that story is great. But the way is spread is that the people that are on the podcast, share it. I think that's I'm a huge follower of the author named Seth Godin, he writes a lot about marketing and stuff like that. And if I always say like, I've never had an original idea, and so like everything I've done with the podcast really is based on Seth Godin’s ideas of marketing and getting ideas to spread and telling stories and I view the podcast is much more of a creative endeavor than a journalistic endeavor for what I'm trying to do.

 

Torgerson:  Yeah. You've also garnered some awesome support from foundations like AMB West. And could you tell us a little bit about how you've gotten funding for Mountain & Prairie too?

 

Roberson: Yeah, well, I started, you know, it was kind of a hobby. I mean, it was a hobby. And I'd say for two and a half years, it was just me doing it. And not many people were listening at all. And then, and I following Seth Godin’s advice. I was like, it doesn't matter. Don't look at numbers, don't look at downloads, like just just do what you're doing. And if it's if there's an audience for it, it'll spread. And but then after like two and a half years, I got that call from the people had asked me to come up there and interview Hampton Sides in front of like 500 people. And I was like, first of all I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke on me and then I was like, I was like, shouldn't there'd be an intermediate intermediary step between having never done this and going to like, the place that I admire more than anywhere in the world. Like, should there be the local Barnes and Noble in front of people. That was kind of a signal in my mind, right? Like this is serious and people that I respect, like it and respect it like those people,. I didn't know anybody there, they weren't trying to do me any favors. And then just different opportunities like that have come up, you know, like, I've done stuff with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, I did a lot with them, a desert of the Montana governor's office, the Blank Foundation, I feel like there's some others. And they've come to me, you know, I mean, I have made no effort, no effort at all of selling it, of trying to promote it. I went when I did, I did a live show in Bozeman a few years ago, which was cool. And I, you know, I got some sponsors, you know, basically to give out gifts for a raffle. But otherwise, like, everybody's coming to me, which is, you know, makes me think, well, what if I put forth effort into selling it, you know, into going out and proactively looking for relationships? And I'm actually, that's one of my plans for 2022 is to do more than that. So it's just and it's all because the thing is spread, like, like, I really don't understand why these people, but they're not they're not the type of people that want to do anybody favors, you know, they're looking to have their organizations represented.

 

Torgerson: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think it's because you're just sharing, sharing really genuine stories that resonate with people living in the American West. And our experiences growing up here for people who live and have grown up here. And there's a lot of preparation that I'm sure like went into the Aspen Institute, q&a, or the conversation that you led, and all of the different conversations that you've curated. So how do you fit the podcast into your full time work schedule? You work for Palmer land trust as a Conservation Director, and so how do you balance work and life in the podcast?

 

Roberson: It’s a lot. I work at Palmer full time. I'm like, one of the directors there and do is really, really cutting edge innovative conservation work. And I'd say, I think that work is very important. And I really enjoy it. But I think one of the main benefits there is definitely not money is, they're very flexible with me with the podcast. And I mean, they don't really know anything I'm doing as far as like my schedule for podcast stuff. And I generally try to only work on podcast stuff at night other than the actual recorded interviews. But you know, the two mesh together pretty well. And it’s given Palmer a lot of big press, like we just had a thing this weekend that was like national press as a direct result of my podcast. It serves them very well, and my work performance doesn't, is not affected. But like this summer, I think I took it a little too far. Because I was also training for like 100 mile ultramarathon, and I got two little kids and I got my wife and my, and you know, my important stuff around the house and family is the most important but I took it right to the edge this summer, you know, when I'm out spending 16 hours a week running on top of everything else. So, it all fits together? Well, but I think, you know, when I think about the future, I feel like the opportunity is with the podcast. You know, it used to be the kind of thing where I was like, oh man isn’t this cool, like all these people listen, I get cool emails and like, oh, man, what a icing on the cake. And now it's, it's transforming. This thing like, Alright, there's a there's a great opportunity here. And, you know, I feel like I need to figure out a way to capitalize on it without turning it into some kind of cutthroat business I've seen time and time again, when people get real, real focused on the business side of things with creative projects, it can change. So how do I walk this line of making continue to make more and more money while keeping it authentic? Or what feels authentic?

 

Torgerson: Yeah, yeah, I've definitely had those conversations with my fiance, like, editing over the weekends and stuff, and he's like, you know, are you going to turn away from your computer for a little bit? So what are some things that you've had to say no to and moments when you're, you're kind of at your limit for, for the things that you're doing?

 

Roberson: Well, recently, you know, I've started getting a bunch of different opportunities, you know, speaking opportunities, which again, I'm like, Hey, don't realize I don't know what I'm doing like. But, you know, like, I just had an email before this thing is some offer to come do something at a conference somewhere and you know, it's gotten to this weird point where it's like, you know, I have to be compensated for it or else it just doesn't work with with time and time away from my family and time as I'm trying to built his thing. And I used to understand that when I'd start when I was started with this thing, or with creative projects, when people would say, well, I have to be compensated, whether for speaking or whatever. And I used to think that that came off to me as being arrogant or being kind of proud of yourself or whatever. But now I get it. And it's not, it's not again, like I'm trying to be making millions of dollars off of this thing. But time is everything for me, like, like everything. And I can't keep up with all these emails, I can't like there's, I'll tell you, the thing to suffers is emails I get I get hammered all day long, just buried in emails, and I feel so bad because I want to respond to all of them. But I can't. And I don't know what the answer is. I'm, I'm also a disciple of regarding Cal Newport, he wrote a book called “Deep Work” about focus and about cutting out distractions. And so um, I don't know, a lot of the like, detail stuff, I get lost with it, and I get behind on it. And, and so like, that's the micro level was I can't keep up with emails, and the macro level is I do have to turn down pretty cool opportunities that three, four years ago would have paid my money to go do you know?

 

Torgerson:  Well, I'm really honored that you joined the rural radio collective then.

 

Roberson: I like what y’all are doing.

 

Torgerson: Thank you. So what's the ultimate impact that you hope your podcast makes as you, you know, keep developing it and with the goals that you have in ‘22?

 

Roberson: Yeah, you know, I think I'd like it to turn into more of a business, how you do that is, is a trick. You know, when I went to get my MBA, I think I was one of the few people that left that program being like, damn, I don't want anything to do with corporate America. This place is crooked man, you know, all the incentives are screwed up. And so and I've seen some podcasts, you know, people that have had the fortune to get know if sold to whether it's to media networks, or to private equity, and it changes it. I'm not at a point where any private equity company would want to buy, but, you know, I want to, I do want to make a go of it as a business. But, you know, at the core of it, is that, again, back to the 23 year old version of myself, and if I can, there two things, one, reach those kinds of people, and let them know, like there are people all over the West, whether you're talking about professional athletes, or ranchers are writers, whoever, that have forged their own path, and it is completely out of the ordinary is not normal. If you go to business school, they'll tell you not to do it. But there are people that have done it and they're good people, and they're nice people, and they've figured out a way to be successful. And when I say successful, I don't mean making a lot of money. You know, some of the people I've had literally live in their cars, and then some are multi-millionaires, but not one of them, has said they're doing it to make money. Like they gotta pay the bills, but they're doing it because they're passionate about it. So I want to, if I can help let people you know, kind of encourage people to follow a different path, that's great. And then I think more important than ever is focusing on commonalities. You know, I mean, I don't I'm not under any illusion that I'm going to change that, but I'm really frustrated with the, with the news, and how negative everything is and inflammatory. And you're talking about the incentives being wrong and NBA stuff. I mean, the incentives are, you know, basically, these media companies are selling clicks. And the way to sell clicks is to make shit excuse me my stuff, as as bad as possible and as angry as possible. And I feel like there's an opportunity that's somewhere in there to focus on the commonalities. I'm not saying like, Pollyanna, everything's great. Ignore the bad stuff. But I mean, everybody I talk to both through podcasts in my work at Palmer, everybody I talk to is very, very smart, and very focused, and they're working to solve these problems. And how you can get that to translate into clicks against negative inflammatory stuff. I don't know. But everybody I talked to agrees with me, like, they're tired of the negative stuff. And so I think, you know, a guy like me from North Carolina who really doesn't, you know, is a newcomer out this way to be able to have these conversations where we focus on the good stuff in the middle of that Venn diagram. I think I think that's important.

 

Torgerson: You know? Yeah, I think it's important to and I just subscribed to your Good News newsletter, and, and Elliott Woods episode, your most recent episode, I think he said, “What leads bleeds?” And so I'm wondering too, like, how do you think about the responsibility that comes with having this platform and do you try to like, stay neutral, like with the different types of people that you've interviewed, for instance, like I had someone who invited me to interview someone who's running for Congress, and I was just kind of like mulling over whether or not I should do that interview. But yeah, like how do you how do you decide what conversations to have? And how to tow that line and maintain that commonality that you're trying to highlight?

 

Roberson: Yeah, well, first of all, you know, I do feel a responsibility now. And it was a very big surprise to me when that kind of finally got through my thick skull. Because, like, when I started the podcast, it was I’d say, it was like a virtual frat house, it was a bunch of white dudes, just like me, like, you know, talking about stuff. And my wife, who is the brains of everything I do was like, “you gotta, you gotta, you know, mix this up a little bit. You can't just constantly be having guys over here, especially a bunch of white guys. Like, you gotta you got to mix it up a little bit.” And I was like, what, it's just my podcast, people I want to tell it to it's not because they're white guys. But I realized, like, there is a and I get, I'll get emails about that all the time like that I'm not focusing on enough diversity. And, and so I've really made a effort over the last two years to be to try to be balanced with it. And it's not like, you know, every single person I'm talking to I'm unbelievably interested in but, you know, I felt that there is a need to really focus on the diversity, even with my reading, you know, when I look back at my reading list for like, four years, it's like 40 books a year for four or five years. And like, 99% were white dudes who wrote them and that there was no, there was no like, agenda there. It’s just like, Ah, this looks interesting. And then I realized, like, I'm not, I'm the one losing out on that, like I need, if I'm reading, I need to be expanding my mind, and cool books, but like, let's take this as an opportunity. And so, I mean, some people have sent me emails, angry, like it's all white men. And at first, I get defensive, but then I'm like, Well, I think there's something there. But to answer your question, I'm only doing what I want to do is for is who my guests or, and I don't want it to get real political or angry, because I feel like that puts people in defensive and I don't want to hear a bunch of angry stuff. But like the guy had on recently Ryan Busse us with, he's going out with the NRA. I was really nervous when I published that one, because I thought it was gonna get hammered. And I really did. I mean, no, other than a few social media. And so if I think long and hard on this stuff, and I'm not saying I'm right, but like, I used to be, like, if you look at a profile of me from 15 years ago, politically, socially, you know, everything. I'm a different person now, because I've read 10s of 1000s of pages. And I've, you know, taken all the info in and I feel like I'm thinking about it correctly. But if I'm wrong, like I want to know. And so I think having these conversations, you know, Sam Harris's this guy I admire, I don't want to be wrong for a moment longer than I need to be. And so having my mind change, but you know, it's not a political show. But like, I'm, I've gotten more confident in saying what I think about things. So I don’t know if that answers your question.

 

Torgerson: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I just ordered the book “Thinking again,” by Adam Grant. I heard it have. He was interviewed in the TED daily podcast and just thinking about how to just keep learning and keep rethinking our beliefs. And I'm excited to dig into that.

 

Roberson: It’s good. I listened to it this summer, when I was running so much I couldn’t read. I can't normally listen audiobooks, I lose focus, but that's a good book.

 

Torgerson: Yeah, yeah. Well, before I dive into a couple just concluding questions, Avery, are there any questions in the chat that came up?

 

Hellman: Yeah, there's a couple of questions, and I'll just read one of them. One of them was just sort of about who your audiences as you see it, sort of the Seth Godin thing? And what kind of feedback do you get from your audience apart from what you've already said, um,

 

Roberson: You know, the, the audience is just all over the place. And unless I'm missing something, and y'all very well may know better than I do. But like, I don't, I don't really look at the stats. And I haven't gone deep into any kind of analytics, but I mean, like I got an email yesterday from somebody from maybe Norway or Switzerland or something talking about how much they appreciate it and and I'll get a lot from people like I got one three days ago from some really nice long email from somebody on the East Coast who had lived out here and moved back and and so it seems to really span the the full spectrum of political parties. Now I would guess that the majority of the people listen are similar to me, as far as like political persuasion, you're kind of in the middle if not more, on the more progressive side of things. But I know for a fact that I do have some pretty you know, some some staunch right wing people who listen, and I love that, you know, like, all I want is people to listen. And I mean, whether it's the podcast or whatever, is be opened up to a conversation and open to new ideas. And so, you know, I wish I knew more about who all these people are and it's really hard for me to know because like, I hit the button publishes, and I just don't, I don't know who these but I'll hear stories from people talking about how they, they listened to it or somebody, a friend of a friend, like I got an email from some guy that I really admire that I didn't even know he knew who I was. And he's like, your your name and your podcast came up in conversation today. And I want to, can we talk on the phone? I mean, this guy's like, in my mind famous like, I'd rather hang out with him than Michael Jordan. So I don't know how it spread, I don't know anything. I, I don't put any effort into spreading it or, you know, analyzing it, I just kind of do it. And it just worked out.

 

Torgerson: Wow. So looking back at the 145 episodes, you produce do any conversations standout as favorites, or maybe conversations that have taught you a lot that you keep thinking about over the years?

 

Roberson: I kind of alluded this earlier, but I feel like the one probably the most important one for me, personally was that one at the Aspen Institute with Hampton Sides. It was a bizarre experience, you know, I got the email. And then like three weeks later, I was there at the Aspen Institute for four days as part of this, you know. It was a four day seminar about the history of the American West, and all these people there I had read their books. And I'd actually had some of them on the podcast, and in their program, there I am listed next to those people. And so I think as far as a confidence boost, that was huge. And it led me know, that is serious, like not serious in a bad way. But like, alright, this is important, because as far as smart groups of people, I feel like the Aspen Institute is the gold standard. And so that it really, that really boosted me and made me see the importance of it. And you know, as a benefit, I struck up a genuine friendship with Hampton Sides, too. I mean, that's the equivalent for me, like what like I said, like, if I was watching Michael Jordan, my whole childhood. And now listen, I got to go and like, hang out at Michael Jordan's house for the weekend. And that's how it's been with him. Like, I'll go to Santa Fe and hang out inside. And he brings me down to Santa Fe to do live events with him on stage. And we like it's like a stand up comedy routine, because he's so hilarious. It really is bizarre. And it's bizarre thinking about myself six years ago, before I started knowing that all this cool stuff would be, you know, in the future, just by putting myself out there, you know, I mean, that's what it is just having the guts or dropping the ego and put myself out.

 

Torgerson: Yeah, yeah, the Aspen Institute, that's huge, like, definitely referenced them in my thesis and have admired their work throughout the years, that's really cool that you're able to have that interaction and relationship. And as the Rural Radio Collective is a group that's trying to bring rural representation and into the larger media landscape. I'm won dering what the future of the rural media industry, what's that? What is the future that you'd like to see for that?

 

Roberson: Well, in my conservation work, I deal a lot with foundations. And a lot of the foundations, you know, got hundreds of millions of dollars, given out to different causes. A lot of them that are focused on conservation in rural areas are also focused on media, which I think is interesting. And so, you know, I think, given the way these things are conveyed, these media companies, as far as I can see, are consolidating. And, you know, mainstream like TV media, I’ve mentioned before we started out I had to do a bunch of TV interviews in the last week for the thing for my job. And it’s really disconcerting how little those people care about what they’re doing. And they’re following the path, you know, they went to journalism school, and they’re doing their TV and carrying their camera around and hustling. But like, these people had no no understanding of conservation, no curiosity in learning about conservation. And they are in this machine, an advertising selling machine. And they are a portion of that, like, how little do we have to pay these people? What is the least effort we can put in to sell these ads? And maybe that sounds crazy or overly negative? But I mean, it’s pretty evident to me that it’s true. And so I think I really think the future of it is nonprofit media. And then stuff like every like y’all are doing, you know, I mean, like, like getting out there and telling these stories and figuring out a way to, to tell these stories. Without being under the influence of, you know, some private equity company that’s trying to drive down their cost. And I, you know, I wish I knew more about it. You know, I’d love to hear if y’all have book recommendations on the subject, things like that, but I really it seems, for better or worse than media is splintering. And then a lot of these people even like, some of the most famous journalists in the world, like that woman named Bari Weiss, who worked for the New York Times she quit and she’s got her own thing now her own podcast, her own Substack newsletter, and I think she’s making a lot of money and she’s not under the thumb of, she’s not gonna have to worry about being canceled, she’d have to worry about the bosses at a private equity company tell her what to do. And I don’t know that that’s great, you know that you’re gonna have all these little silos and you can go and listen to whatever is going to confirm your beliefs. But we’re definitely in a transition period, I feel like the good thing about that is, in every transition period, there are massive opportunities, no matter how crazy it is, whether the Great Depression or even as awful as it is, COVID, you know, there are opportunities when things are in flux. So we’ll see, yes, you’re the smart people, you’re gonna figure it out?

 

Torgerson: Well, yeah, that's one thing I love about the Rural Radio Collective is that we're all just personally driven to share these rural stories and to take a deep dive into research before we you know, interview guests. And we're really have personal stakes in the future of these communities. So I'm wondering what parting words of wisdom you have for our community? And any books that you have to recommend, whether rural-centered or journalism-focused?

 

Roberson: Yeah, yeah, that's another benefit of this podcast, I get all these books for free. I’d say two pieces of advice. One is just you got to just take action, you got to just start doing it. Like I hemmed and hawed about the podcast for a year. And I often wonder, like, what if I'd started a year earlier, you know, because that, you know, that would have been right around the time with, like, cereal and all that stuff. And you just, I feel like, there's a lot of people who have managed to build a following. They've been doing it for, you know, relatively long time. And so I just think there's no time like the present to just take action and start and don't, don't get hung up on details. It's all, for me, it's conversation and questions. And so whether the audio is good or not, my audio is terrible for the first, you know, 40 episodes. So you just got to crank it out. And then I think the other is, just be confident. Try to figure out how to be yourself and tell your own story and find your own voice because nobody wants to hear a fourth string Terry Gross. And you can take you can learn from her. And you can get a lot of lessons but in the end, Terry Gross is, is as famous as she is, and she does such a great job because she's herself. It’s kind of a weird thing if you're always worried about coming off as you don't want to come off as egomaniac or narcissist or something, which is my worst fear. That's why I'm so self-deprecating, because it allows me to like, control, like, “What are you talking about? I don't think I said I'm so I don't know what I'm doing.” But I think the quicker you can figure out how to be yourself, and then stick to it. And then get those reps in, the better. And you will find an audience.. It's just a matter of being consistent over time. But if I can find an audience, anybody my audience, and I'm not just I mean, that is 100% true. I don't know what I'm doing. I have no idea how to do

 

Torgerson: This advice is coming at just a perfect time for me as I'm like, you know, making audio mistakes and going through these questions of about being an egomaniac and how do I talk about myself? And so I so appreciate your perspective. And Avery, I think a couple other questions came through the chat before we open it up into our regular meeting.

 

Hellman: Yeah, sure. Um, so we have an additional question that was kind of asking about COVID and how it's changed population centers, especially in the American West. And this person is just asking what you think about those trends? And if you think it's going to continue that way or if things are going to go back the way they were, or where it's headed.

 

Roberson: Yeah, a lot of my work in conservation is in rural communities. I do mostly agricultural conservation, trying to figure out water rights and try to figure out ways that cities can grow but not at the expense of irrigated farmland. But oh, I forgot to mention books. And that brings me to a really good book that you actually reminded me of, it's called “Pushed Out” and it's about this small town in Idaho about timber town. It boomed during the timber town during the timber days crashed and now it's coming back as a second home mecca. And this was written obviously pre-COVID, but it's just as timely as it was when I you know when it was written if not more, because I think these these people just come in and just from outside and just absolutely overwhelming a lot of these these rural communities and. I don't know it's a weird so weird mix because, like you want these rural communities to have economic prosperity and people moving in who have money who may be, you know, making money remotely or whatever, that's, that's generally good. But then it starts driving up those prices. And there's another good book, I had this woman on our podcast called “Powder days,” and it's about ski towns in the West. And it's really, really interesting. You know, ski towns in general are not like the real rural communities. But I think what's happening in ski towns, especially during COVID is like a caricature of what's happening all throughout the rural West of these people are moving in who don't really contribute to the local economy. As far as jobs or real on the ground stuff. They're working for New York or San Francisco and their computers, and how out of whack it can make things with the real estate market and just the cost of living. And so you know, I wish I was completely wrong about COVID. Like, I thought rural real estate was gonna go in the toilet like all these people that used to be a model ranch brokerage wrote, I was like, these guys can go out of business. And they have been making money hand over fist because all these people from cities are buying up all the properties causing real problems. But so again, there's a balance in there somewhere. And I've proven that I'm wrong when it comes to predicting. But I think both of these books are really, really interesting and offer kind of a good way to think about these issues in rural America.

 

Torgerson: I just ordered “Powder Days” after I love that interview that you did. That was really insightful.

 

Roberson: She's great. And if Heather Hansman I had her on initially, for her water book called “Downriver” about water rights in the West. And I always recommend that to people was one of the best books you can read about water in the West. And that was a cold email I didn't know or sinner email and we did the first one and now um, like she was, you know, helping her a lot with the with the book promotion and stuff like that. So it's cool.

 

Torgerson: Wow. That's great. Well, thank you so much Ed, for all of your time and your wisdom and for the work that you do. I have a backlog of more of your episodes that I that I want to listen to and I'm sure everybody here just really appreciates your your time and perspective.

 

Roberson: I appreciate, I appreciate what you're doing. I appreciate you having me on you know it. It makes me feel good when pros appreciative seem to connect with what I'm doing. And so anyway, like the Aspen Institute, none of you guys had any reason you start like you're a family friend who wants to make me feel better. So it really means a lot that you guys would have me on and I hope I hope this adds some value and helps out a little bit with everything you're doing.

 

***

 

Megan (narrating): Thanks to Ed and the Rural Radio Collective for your wisdom, platform and work advancing rural radio! After the interview, the audience passed around book recommendations which I added to the episode page, along with the transcript, links to the Rural Radio Collective website and other resources mentioned during this episode. You can find them all at reframingrural.org.

 

Reframing Rural is a fiscally sponsored project of the Montana History Foundation, an original series by Tree Rings Records, LLC and a member of the Rural Radio Collective.

 

Thank you for listening!