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Notes on the Snap Nation Intergalactic Star Command

Snap Judgment has come a long way since winning PRX’s Public Radio Talent Quest in 2007. A creature of both analog and digital these days, the show currently hits over 1.4 million people on its weekly broadcast and brings in over 2 million podcast downloads every month. It is a staple of public radio station programming mixes across the country, and remains one of its more ear-catching offerings: fun, pulsing, distinctly alive.

The Oakland-based production has also consistently been one of the more innovative teams in public radio. It’s the kind of shop that pursued in a multi-platform approach way back in 2010 — you know, long before it was cool — when it launched a simultaneous mix of live shows and television piloting to accompany its core weekly programming. It’s also the kind of place that fosters the future, with an alumni body that includes Roman Mars, Stephanie Foo, and Julia Dewitt.

Snap continues to tinker even as it gets older, and we see that in recent weeks with the launch of a new Patreon account: Snap Nation, a membership program that offers Snap super-fans a look behind the scenes. In their configuration, supporters can choose from three membership tiers: $5 a month (dubbed the “Snap Passport”), $18 a month (“Snap Nation Ambassador”), and a high jump up to $101 a month (the appropriately labelled “Snap Nation Intergalactic Star Command”) with commensurate benefits like sneak peeks, bonus content, and ringtones to reward them for their patronage.

Glynn Washington, the show’s host and co-executive producer, tells me that they’re being patient with this move. “We are taking our time to slow walk the campaign, and leverage the relationship we have developed over years of storytelling,” he said.

Patreon may be a new platform for Snap Judgment, but listener support is most definitely not. Direct listener support has long made up a good chunk of the production’s revenue mix, which is further complemented by podcast advertising and public radio carriage fees. (For those curious: those carriage fees currently takes up less than a third of the show’s funding these days.)

This is obvious, but I should say it nonetheless: Snap Nation is far from the only podcast Patreon effort out there, and it’s definitely not among the first. You have, of course, the Chapo Trap Houses and the Crime Junkieses and the Sam Harrises (though, now distinctly not on Patreon) and The Anfield Wraps of the world, and it’s also worth noting that Patreon itself has recently put some effort into formalizing its podcast community. Furthermore, Snap’s Patreon push comes during a time where interest in direct support and membership across the podcast industry is on the up and up, driven in part by an anxiety over whatever might happen with the advertising market following the deepening encroachment of platforms.

But Snap Nation is very much part of a piece with Snap Judgment’s general taste for operational diversification. I’ve already mentioned the live shows and early television piloting stuff, but you should also be reminded of their efforts with Spooked, the spin-off podcast fueled by the premise of their Halloween specials. Spooked was originally released out in the open podcast ecosystem, distributed by WNYC Studios, where it contended for advertising dollars, and soon, it will release its latest season behind the Luminary paywall, which brings to the production a whole other revenue stream. They’re also working on a wide raft of new projects, with plans to launch between two to five new podcasts by the end of this year alone.

I asked Washington for his thoughts on how things have changed over the past ten years, and how all the recent changes in the podcast industry has made him feel. “[These days] it’s easier to create projects when you no longer have to explain what a podcast — but it’s harder to break through the noise,” he replied.

He added: “I feel that everything has changed, and nothing at all has changed. Every single episode still starts with a blank canvas, and I still have absolutely no idea how we are going to fill it. The big difference, is that we have a team, and the team is made of magic.”