Hot Pod: What do you do?
Jonathan Mena: I work for the Loud Speakers Network as a producer for the Combat Jack Show, Tax Season, TK Kirkland Show, and Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty, which is our first collaboration with Gimlet Media. My day for LSN always starts off looking at the analytics. It’s not just about the plays but also the demographics and locations of our listeners that helps us better strategize. Our network is very young so a lot of us at LSN wear many hats. For the shows I produce, my philosophy is always to have the host focus solely on the interview. I never want the host to worry about the production side. So if I have to write questions, book a guest or studio, edit audio or even make a drink for a guest I’m going to do it all so we have the best show possible. I also sometimes have to wrangle ornery hosts and guest so I guess I also have the title of podcast whisperer at LSN. As we’ve grown in the almost 4 years since the start of the network, I’ve expanded into developing podcasts and creating video content. To sum it up, my job is to create great content.
HP: Where did you start, and how did you get to this point?
Mena: I started podcasting in 2006 around the time when iPods first started getting color screens and Twitter had just launched. I was in college editing lectures for the German Department which we would upload on iTunes University. I don’t speak any German so the professor would go through her lecture and tell me in English when to cut and start again. Around this time I was going to school for journalism and production and had a great professor and mentor by the name of Gregg Morris. Morris made podcasting part of the curriculum and pushed us to produce our own shows. He’s really the first one that showed me there was more to journalism than being in front of a mic or camera. Back then I never thought podcasting would be what it is now. Can you imagine a time before the podcast app where you had to physically download the podcast on your computer and transfer the file via cable to your device?
I finished school and got a day job in IT but was still freelancing for a local blog covering the crime beat. It was around this time that Reggie Osse (aka Combat Jack) was doing internet radio and getting some big guests for a show only a few hundred people were listening to in New York. We all started following each other on Twitter and would see each other at events around the city. A year or so later they announced they were thinking of starting a podcast network. They didn’t even have a name at the time. I reached out to Chris Morrow who eventually became a co-founder of LSN to see if they needed any help. Morrow offered me a shot at editing a new podcast they were launching about sneakers. The show wound up having a short run of only a few months.
A few weeks later out of the blue, I get an email from Reggie asking to edit a Combat Jack Show episode. He needed the episode turned around as soon as possible. Now I knew that email wasn’t for me and he had sent it by mistake, but I answered it anyway. I turned that episode around as fast as I could — 2 hours later he had the completed episode ready for posting. The next day Reggie invited me for coffee to talk about coming on the show as a producer, but never gave me a time or location. Two weeks go by and I never hear back from him or got any response from my follow up emails. Then one day he calls me and says, “We have Russell Simmons in the studio today can you come by so we can talk about you joining the team”. Reggie later admitted he sent the email to me by mistake, but said it was meant to be.
HP: How did you learn to do the job?
Mena: Necessity truly is the mother of invention. There was a time when I couldn’t afford editing software so I taught myself how to use Audacity. In college when we didn’t have the equipment we needed, we would duct tape and bubble gum something together. I come from a DIY generation that has used the internet to our advantage. I still look at tutorials on YouTube and use Twitter to network or find talent for our shows. I also have the luxury of having a close relationship with the co-founders of the Loud Speakers Network, Chris Morrow and Reggie Osse. The two of them have taken me under their wing and allowed me to grow as a producer. Working at LSN has been like going to podcasting school.
HP: When you started out, what did you think wanted to do?
Mena: As a kid I was always fascinated with radio and how it was created. I would record the Angie Martinez show on a cassette and listen back to it at night. I vividly remember listening to 1010 WINS as a kid in the car. Getting on the radio always seemed like something so abstract and unattainable. That’s why I think podcasting came at the right time for me. I’m a first generation American and the first in my family to go to college, so it was expected I either become a lawyer or a doctor. I did well in my science classes but after a year switched majors and focused on journalism and media production. I never told my parents but I guess they figured it out by now. They just got smart phones and my mom just learned how to text, so when I tried to describe podcasting it was a little abstract for them. They tell their friends I work in TV which is hilarious but at least I don’t have uncles asking me if I’m a doctor yet.
You can find Mena on Twitter at @jonathanmena.