Shout-out to Montana, which was hit by unprecedented February-level snowstorms (!) this past weekend, and also the home state of this week’s interviewee, Lacy Roberts. The mountain west is wild, y’all.
Hot Pod: Tell me about your situation.
Lacy Roberts: I’m the managing producer at Transmitter Media, a podcast production company in Brooklyn. That means I’m part of the leadership that helps make the editorial and production decisions that keep the shop ticking. I also lead production on a handful of projects. I’m currently working on a narrative series about con men (con people?) and developing Transmitter’s first original show — something we’re really excited about.
HP: How did you get here?
Roberts: I’ve been pretty focused since my early twenties when I decided I wanted to work in audio, but like pretty much everyone else who graduated from college during the Great Recession, my path ended up being pretty meandering. After school, I interned with the Kitchen Sisters in San Francisco, which was super rad, but I was waiting tables every night and trying to take any paid audio work I could, and I burned myself out pretty quickly. This was 2010 – 2011, when there was ~very little~ work to be had, and what work there was paid very little, especially outside of New York. I ended up back home in Montana, where I ran a food co-op and worked in affordable housing for several years.
Then after Serial happened in 2013, it felt like it was finally The Time when I might be able to feed myself and pay my student loans with an audio job. I decided I needed to go back to a city and find a network — turns out no one hires green producers who live in Montana — so I went to journalism school at UC Berkeley and worked at KQED in my free time. It worked — that network gave me a bunch of cool opportunities that lead to a job with Al Jazeera’s audio network Jetty. While I was there, I was a producer on Closer Than They Appear and led development on a couple original shows, including a weekly international news show called The Take.
When Al Jazeera moved the team in SF to DC, I split off and, on a whim (kind of), moved to New York. I really never imagined moving here. I’m really more oriented towards living in the western half of the United States… but I kind of looked around me in San Francisco and didn’t see a lot of opportunities. Gretta Cohn at Transmitter was the first person I talked to in New York about a job, and I’m so happy things worked out this way.
HP: What does a career mean to you?
Roberts: A few years ago, having a career was about working my butt off and obsessing about creating the Most Perfect And Beautiful Thing and making my work the center of my life. Now, it’s much more about balance and flexibility and making the financials work, while still being proud of what I make.
The other thing I’d say is that as I’ve spent more time doing this, I think way less about my performance and how my work measures up, and a lot more about working on an a happy team and making sure everyone’s voice is heard and everyone coming together to do something you can’t on your own.
HP: When you first started out being a person, what did you want to be?
Roberts: I was a really ambitious kid, but I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I found podcasts when I was studying abroad in Amman, Jordan in 2008. I was studying Arabic and I’d listen to This American Life and Radiolab on my iPod all the time because I was lonely and wanted to hear someone speak English to me. I remember having a very concrete feeling of “Oh, I could do this.”
That’s actually the first time I remember having a clear idea of what kind of career I wanted.
HP: When you look around podcasting these days, what do you see?
Roberts: As a listener, I’m really excited to see any narrative work coming out of smaller stations or publications outside of NYC/LA/SF. I’m thinking of stuff like The Richest Hill out of Montana Public Radio, the work they’re doing at New Hampshire Public Radio and CapRadio, The Bitter Southerner. More podcasts from the rest of the country, please, made by people who live there!
As a producer, I am always thinking about ways to communicate to potential partners the work that goes into making a quality show — narrative, interview, otherwise. Many of us (including, and perhaps especially freelancers) experience how drastically the people we work with underestimate what goes into making this stuff, and that’s a challenge to the industry as a whole.
Also: where are all the super weird podcasts? I know they’re out there, but how do I find them?
HP: What are you listening to these days?
Roberts: I am kind of systematic about what I listen to, and when. During my commute, I like to listen to interview shows that I can sort of drop in and out of. (I love Call Your Girlfriend, and Terry Gross is my Xanax.) On the weekends, I’ll binge narrative shows.
I have a tendency to wait for a show to release all its episodes before I dive in, so I’m usually behind on what’s new. Recently I loved The Ballad of Billy Balls. I also dived right into the new season of Trump Inc. I think they are so badass. But the newest thing is NO PODCAST SUNDAYS, a day when I don’t listen to or think about podcasts at all!
You can find Roberts on Twitter here.