The Beardcast : A Postmortem

If you haven't heard the news, or haven't gotten around to listening to the newest Beardcast, then this may come as a shock: Episode 100 of the Beardcast was indeed, the final broadcast. It's an end of an era for Nitrobeard, one that has been ongoing, changing, and developing for almost 4 years (to the day!), and it's hard not to look back with rose-tinted glasses, reminiscing on how far we've come.

Transient

The Idea

In the summer of 2008, myself and Tyler Ohlew were part of many startups, ranging from local newspaper segments, to full-on "videogame journalism" sites, one of which was writing front-page content for Platformers.net, a small website that started after the 'Chat Thread Exodus' from Penny Arcade's forums. They were wanting content on their front page, and Tyler and I (alongside other talented writers, some of which were on the Beardcast) were both willing to freelance for the guys, for no pay, simply as padding for a resume, and a fun experience writing about things that we loved. We started speaking on Trillian (oh God, the days of using Instant Messaging) and really hit it off, making each other laugh, and being inspired by one another's take on certain news items.

I had a pet project at the time known as 'No Quarter Radio', which was a podcast and website created with my longtime friend, Doug Oldham. It was a podcast based on uncensored, ridiculous commentary about the videogame industry, and starred myself, Doug, and my roommates at the time. It enjoyed a small following, but we weren't in it for fame and fortune, we just wanted to shoot the shit about videogames, and hope someone listened. We recorded about 8 episodes, and took a hiatus (for personal reasons, we were all in the thick of college at the time). After talking and working with Tyler for a few months, I had an idea to bring back No Quarter Radio, having the old crew, with the addition of Tyler to the fray. He was nervous to start, but the excitement I had was probably infectious, so he agreed. We recorded Episode 9, and things went well, if a bit rusty, as we had all been away from podcasting for a while, and it was Tyler's first time EVER being on a recorded talk radio show.

  • BEARDCAST FACT #1: The Beardcast started with merely 40 downloads a month in 2008. As of Episode 100, the Beardcast averaged roughly 2,300 downloads a WEEK, from over 11 countries, and a collective total of over A QUARTER OF A MILLION TOTAL EPISODE DOWNLOADS, counting ITunes and manual downloads!

Tyler and I, the following week, were contacted by a few individuals to become part of another website, focusing on multimedia, and with big plans regarding E3, video content, and a full-range of podcast and editorial content. It was a promising gig, and it had the opportunity to give us something we hadn't had before, in regards to videogame writing: money. Getting paid to write about games? How could we refuse! Our content started, and they presented the idea of hosting No Quarter Radio on their servers, so long as we continued to be weekly. 'Sure thing!' I said, realizing what it meant: I wouldn't have to pay for hosting, and we were guaranteed a set schedule for a radio show. Win-win! Episode 10 was the next order of business, and to celebrate, we invited one of our fellow Platformer friends on to talk about gaming, and his parkour team, The Tribe. That's how we came to know the man himself, Brian Belida.

I actually remember Episode 10 of No Quarter very well: Not because of any particular topic we discussed, or any "hard-hitting journalism" that was being conducted on the airwaves, but because of the feel the episode had. It was a carefree episode, off-topic banter ruled the show, and the chemistry that myself, Tyler, and Brian had was damn-near perfect. I know Brian has said on occassion (and even on Episode 50 of the Beardcast, in fact) that he was extremely nervous, and didn't think he did as good a job as he should've, but Tyler and I both gaggled like geese after the recording. We kept wondering how to approach Brian with the idea of starting our own podcast, not affiliated with the current site Tyler and I were writing for, which was seeing its fair share of managerial drama at the time. We wanted out  of our situation anyways, and the fact that our chemistry was so good, led us to immediately pull up stakes at our current place, and get the ball rolling on a new site/show. There was one problem, though: We didn't have a name.

  • BEARDCAST FACT #2: Tyler Ohlew, Wes Gardner, Brian Belida, and Matt Pierce have all had children since the first Beardcast in 2008, and there are 5 children in total: four girls, and one boy.

After a few days of IMing one another, we had a 'brainstorming' session on names. Tyler's newspaper blog was called 'Pressing Buttons', which was a solid candidate, until Brian chimed in with a good piece of advice: We should name the site something slightly silly, and not necessarily a pun on 'videogame inside joke'. Brian came up with 'Nitro Beard' as an example, and we laughed. Not ten seconds later, all of us came to the same realization: That's it! Nitro Beard! It's silly enough to work, and distinct enough to be recognizable. I still remember posting my 'Prototype: Nitrobeard' blog post on my 1up blog, not sure if we were sticking with the name. Thank God we did, as it's been a blessing in more ways than one.

If it weren't for everything leading up to that point, the Beardcast may not have existed.Prototype Nitrobeard was a great, fun show to record, and we knew that we actually had something. We had to think of an actual name for the podcast, in case we ever wanted to make any seperate shows under the 'Nitrobeard' banner, and our first thought was 'Nitrobeard Radio'. It was fine, sure, but it ringed too close to 'No Quarter Radio', and we had a much different feel from that. Brian, once again being the master of off-the-cuff naming, came up with Beardcast, and the deed was done!

  • BEARDCAST FACT #3: Imran Khan's Beardcast premiere was Episode 17, on June 24th, 2010. Mark Bradshaw's Beardcast premiere was Episode 25, on November 25th, 2010. Matt Pierce's Beardcast premiere was Episode 70, on January 17th, 2012.

Over the next four years, the Beardcast would grow into something more than we could've ever possibly hoped, and it would bring in a loyal, dedicated fanbase that we're constantly amazed with, and humbled by. We tried many things with the Beardcast and Nitrobeard in general, some ideas great, some not-so-great, and in the next two segments, I'd like to dig into each, seperately. To be completely fair, these are entirely MY opinions on these matters, and I'm sure the other Beardcasters have stories and thoughts of their own, which may not line up directly with mine. My thoughts are coming as a broadcaster, host, and overall 'producer' of radio and site content, not by any means as a 'dictator' or 'boss'.

The Good

  • We've stayed true to Nitrobeard's original mission statement: Have fun talking about things we love, no matter what it is. This is probably the most important thing for me, as when you're creating a website with regular content, it can become overwhelming, and enticing to change based on your peers in the field: Other gaming podcasts stuck by a much more form-fitting episodic style, with regular segments, and an overall focus on news, and preview game content. Because of that (alongside marketing muscle, corporate sponsorships, and full-blown production studios), their download numbers would dwarf ours, and at first, it was discouraging. We had good content! We talked about stuff! Nobody seemed to listen, though. Oddly enough, while it bothered us for a bit, we came to realize that it truly didn't matter. We never REALLY cared about download numbers, and now, we will truly never obsess over them: Our content is for you, and as long as you're entertained, that's all that matters. Whether it be 4 people or 4 million, the content will stay as sharp, funny, and topical as we can possibly make it.
  • We've come together as a group, and the podcast was better for it. When you have new members joining shows, and new writers/editors starting in the middle of a multi-year project, there's stresses, and tension. Don't get me wrong, these aren't bad per-se, but there's pressure for the newest member to 'fit in', and there's a pressure for the older crew members to give a spotlight to the new guy. It's a natural thing, and it's a constant surge of change. You can tell from our earlier podcasts (early 2011 or so), we were a bit rough around the edges, not knowing when each other wanted to talk, or what type of interests each other had. Sure, it was rough around the edges at first, but I firmly believe we came into our own, and our mix of personalities can be put up with the very best in videogame podcasting.
  • We've never had a normal 'business heirarchy', and the content thrives because of it. Brian and I have been managers for different projects, whether it be athletics, retail work, or website creation, and we both firmly believe in a true open-door policy. There are no 'bosses' in the general sense, as we believe that the crew we have now, we have for a reason: We trust their judgement, and believe that anything that interests anyone that works on this site, is worth listening to, and worth reading. We're thrilled with the group we have, and we will do what we can to be a platform for interesting, fun new content.
  • We stuck to a schedule. More on this when we get to 'The Bad', but for a while, we had no rhyme or reason to when we'd record. After moving recording to Monday nights, the content was better, as we all knew what to expect going into the week: We'd read some stories, shoot the shit for a while, and decide on topics to talk about mere minutes before we recorded. Since we stuck to our guns, we've had (in my opinion) the best content we've ever had: It was timely, it was gossip-worthy, and it was engrossing.
  • We brought on great people. Whether it was bringing on Imran, Mark, or Matt 'full time', or having our various special guests (David Marchment, Mike Lemieux, George Kavallines, Ray Frenden, Sean Vanaman, Charlie Brumfield, etc) join the show, each person has brought something great to the table, and made the Beardcast a true joy to listen to. You can't have good radio without good people, so it's been a true blessing to have such talented, funny, and jovial people on the show. I personally take great pride in attracting such great people, and I hope for our future show(s), we continue that tradition

There's many more positives to go through, but they all tie in some way to the above major points. To be fair, though, there are a few negatives and small things I need to point out, if only for a learning experience.

The Bad

The 9-Month Hiatus. This single-handedly almost killed Nitrobeard before it built any momentum. It was a weird time (September 2009 to July 2010) in which we barely had any listeners, life changes were happening for both Brian and myself, Tyler was in the process of having his first child, and things just never quite synced up. In fact, there was a solid two month period to where Brian, Tyler, and myself didn't even exchange emails. It wasn't anyone's fault, and there's nobody to blame, things just happened, and Nitrobeard went unattended in the meantime. It was also a time in which we didn't know the 'plan' for Nitrobeard, and used it primarily as a blog to post YouTube videos, and occassionally (like, once every 4 months) a story about gaming. While it was always in the back of our minds, it was firmly in the back, as life had its ways to getting to us, day after day. 

Off-Topic, or Straight Shooting? A little before our Game of the Year 2010 podcasts, we (me, Brian, Imran, and Mark) were discussing what the Beardcast was: Was it an off-topic, humor podcast that focused on games? Was it a gaming podcast in which we focused on the industry? Was it a gossip-show about whatever we wanted to talk about? It seemed the show was a mix of everything and nothing, neither coming nor going, and was sort of there, a thing we did that some people listened to sometimes. For some listeners, the lack of direction was a great change, as other gaming podcasts seemed to never deviate from their tried-and-true ways. Other listeners craved for regular features, something they could come back to, something they could expect on a weekly basis. It seemed we were in a bad spot, not really appeasing any fanbase to a proper extent, and we all had different ideas on what we should do, or where we should go as a show. This wasn't necessarily a negative time for the WEBSITE, per-se, but I do believe that some of our shows were lacking in a certain quality, simply because we'd try to reinvent the show every week. Thankfully, we realized our personalities are why people listened, and came to accept the fact that our show was OURS, and we shouldn't emulate anyone else. On that point....

I Tried To Emulate Other Shows. Myself, being a huge fan of GFW Radio, Gamespot's 'The Hotspot', Idle Thumbs, and hell, even Loveline, thought that we should become a wacky weekly staple, a show not unlike the gaming version of Howard Stern. I thought "bits" would work, and changing on a weekly basis was a positive, when in fact, it was a negative. It's fine to have influences, and it's fine to integrate certain things you find entertaining, but as a producer, I was trying to play a hand that didn't exist: I was trying to make a show that wasn't the Beardcast. Once I realized that fact (once again, after GotY 2010), and stepped aside, letting the show happen, instead of making the show happen, it improved tenfold. It's a mistake I'll never make again, and trusting in my fellow Beardcasters was the best decision I ever made, looking back. It wouldn't be the success it was without it.

iTunes and the 30 Episode Curse. This is sort of a hosting issue, and not so much a Beardcast issue, but Itune's feed would only show the 30 most recent episodes on its Itunes Store listing. Sure, on one hand it's great, it's feeding users to the website to get the full archive, but c'mon, we wanted Itunes integration to the fullest extent, not some half-assed half-archive nonsense! I wanted everyone to listen to every episode, no matter how they enjoyed it: Through Itunes, through RSS feeds, through manual downloads, or through Nitrobeard proper.

Audio Quality Issues. This is one of those 'in a perfect world' gripes. When the Beardcast started, I had no real idea about audio quality, conversions, lossless recordings, or 'audio peaks', having only had practice on 10 episodes of No Quarter Radio. Over time, I started learning better encoding methods, and the podcast starting sounding more like a show. But, let's be fair, we were never on a audio quality level of a Giant Bombcast, or IGN podcast, and for good reason: They had money, and we didn't. They had professional microphones with soundboard mixers and live audio feedback. We had Skype and $30 table-mics or gaming headsets, and wonky internet connections. They were in the same room on a weekly basis. I've never met any fellow Beardcaster, face-to-face, in my entire life, and the crew is spread out all across North America. I firmly believe we're in the top-tier of Skype recorded podcasts in ANY genre, and even now, I try to tweak, adjust, and edit podcasts for listening pleasure, but there's only so much you can do with a .wav compressed by Skype on a rainstorm-ridden night. Once again, this is out of any of our hands, and I'm damn proud of what we've accomplished, with so little. 

There's a few of my grievances over the past 4 years, and it was definitely a learning experience to say the least. So, in conclusion, that brings us to The Verdict: What's my overall thought on The Beardcast?

The Verdict

To say that Beardcast was a success is a somewhat biased thing to say: It really depends on how you look at it, right? As far as content, consistency (in the latter half), and overall quality of the show, I literally couldn't be happier. The Beardcast has become something I'll proudly cherish forever, and I'm even excited at the prospect of telling my daughter stories of how 'daddy helped make a really fun radio show'. As far as download numbers, compared to other gaming podcasts? We weren't even in the same league. While I'm STUNNED, eternally grateful, and amazed that we reached over a quarter of a million total downloads in a four-year span, there are many websites that get that many downloads every month. Every. Single. Month. The Top 10 on Itune's Podcast Listings probably get those numbers WEEKLY. It's staggering to think about, that there's a full field of listeners out there that have never heard of the Beardcast, but instead of feeling discouraged, it fills me with pride, and ambition: If there are people out there wanting good, fun, quality content, it's my mission to help create something that fits the bill, and we'll eventually reach those people, as long as they're out there.

  • BEARDCAST FACT #4: Were you here for Nitrobeard's crazy rise to front-page news? Nitrobeard was mentioned on JoystiqKotakuInside Gaming DailyIGNEurogamer, and dozens of other websites for the Oblivion 5th Anniversay reveal. which was our first honest-to-goodness editorial exclusive!

We have the people, we have the knowledge, and we have the will to make it happen, and in my heart, I know it will. Sure, 4 years seems like a long time for a podcast to 'to get warmed up', but I fully believe Episode 100 was one of our best episodes ever. Whatever our next project is, we're going to come out swinging, as the foundation has been laid out, and we have nowhere to go but up. It may be a slight climb to get back to the numbers we've had thus far, but if there's one thing we at Nitrobeard know how to do, it's work for what we want. We've had no handouts, we've had no sponsorships, we've had no advertising, and we've had nothing but our own creativity, knowledge, and ethic to get us where we are today, and I couldn't be prouder.

As a personal note to you, reading this, you have no idea how grateful I am that you're on Nitrobeard, and listened to the podcast. It's surreal to think that people would want to hear what we have to say, and it's even MORE surreal to think that some of those people think we're good at it. It's a dream come true, knowing that on a weekly basis, I can talk with the smartest, funniest people I know, about something I love dearly. It can't get any better, but dammit, we're going to try. We do this for us, sure, but in all reality, we do this for you. You're the type of gamer, and person, that appreciates true, passionate talk about a hobby that gives us ups and downs on a daily basis. You all have the knowledge to know that there are certain sites out there that are purely built on marketing muscle, and have shareholders to appease, at the expense of quality content. You all are smart enough to know your way around a joystick, know where to look for proper news, and won't fall for bullshit Public Relations lines that are coughed out on a daily basis in this industry.

  • BEARDCAST FACT #5: Did you see the Sonic The Hedgehog Endurance Race? Nitrobeard, alongside TSSZNews, ran a marathon session with Imran Khan and Ryan Bloom on Sonic The Hedgehog 2006. The event raised $1000 for the Tsunami Relief Effort in Japan, and features members from The Beardcast, The Jumpcast, andBravemule.com

But most of all, you all are fans of the same things we are. You fuel this website, and we literally could not do this without you. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and if you continue reading and listening, we'll continue writing and podcasting. We'll thank you by giving you the best content we know how to give, and if the Beardcast was anything to go off of, I think the future is very bright indeed.

Nitrobeard's just getting warmed up, and we're glad you're with us for the ride. Let's do this, together.

Wesley Gardner, Co-Creator of Nitrobeard, Host of the Beardcast (2008-2012