Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stop, Look and “Listen” to the Model Railway Show, Part 1

Trevor and Jim of the Model Railway Show

The Model Railway Show was conceived in 2010 by Trevor Marshall. He recruited Jim Martin (co-host), Chris Abbott (technical director), Otto Vondrak (creative director) and David Woodhead (music director) to be part of the team. The first show was podcast on November 1, 2010.

In early April I sent Trevor and Jim a few questions about the show; in this installment they share about why they started the show, how they put it together and the response. In part 2 they share about why they created a podcast and not a website, how they select their guests and where the podcast fits into the world of model railroad magazines, blogs and websites. In part 3 they describe the character of the show, and reflect on the future of the hobby.

Why did you start the show?

TREVOR: I find there's so much about the hobby that's interesting. Whenever I get together with other hobbyists I have these great conversations about things I never expected to discuss. I often learn about some aspect of the history of our hobby, or about a new technology that's shaping the hobby for the future, or about an event I should attend, or SIG I should join, or a book I should read.

But a lot of this neat stuff never makes it into the traditional hobby media. Most of the editorial in model railway magazines focuses on the models and the techniques. That's great—hobbyists get inspired by layouts and models, and are always in need of good "how-to" articles. But we often miss the stories behind the stories. And we rarely get to hear authors explain things in their own words. 

When I found out about podcasting, I realized this was a great medium through which to tell stories and share information that hobbyists might not otherwise have—a medium that presents the stories in the voice of the teller, no less.

Where do you put it together, and what's involved?

JIM: Trevor and I talk frequently via email to bounce interview ideas off each other. We then contact our potential interview subjects to see if they're interested.

TREVOR: If they are, we draft an introduction and some thought-starting questions so our subjects know ahead of time where we're going with the conversation. It gives them a chance to make some notes so they feel prepared. Jim writes up show scripts—generally a mix of scripted material and bullets on things we want to cover.

JIM: I can write scripts and research interviews from my home office, but my rural Internet service isn’t too reliable for recording my own interviews at home. So about every six weeks I line up three interviews and travel 145 kilometers (90 miles) to Trevor’s Toronto home studio to record my segments.

TREVOR: I have a small mixing board and some other audio gear connected to my Mac. We use Skype at our end. If our guest has Skype, that's great. If not, we call their phone. We try to keep the interviews tight—10 to 15 minutes is the norm, although we sometimes go longer.

JIM: What started off as a bit of a hassle has become a fun outing. We go out for some lunch with friends, mess around in his layout room, and have some laughs recording interviews and scripts together. Trevor still has to do the lion’s share of the work, maintaining the website and doing the sound editing.

TREVOR: I do all the audio editing in Audacity and build the show in Garage Band. It takes about an hour to edit each interview and another hour or so to edit our chatter and build the show.

What has been the response?

JIM: Our fans … 

TREVOR: Wait: We have FANS?

JIM: . . . our fans tell us they really like our fun, focused and researched approach, in contrast to some other shows. We are getting more e-mail response than we first did, and listeners tell us they love the guests and the interview format.

TREVOR: As for listenership, it varies from show to show—anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 listeners download the entire show, while easily twice that listen to some part of the show but don't download it. And the listenership has been steadily increasing over time; it’s slow, but the needle is moving in the right direction. We've only been at this for 18 months and have done almost no advertising, so we're pleased by the response so far. We expect listenership to ramp up exponentially as more people discover the show and tell their friends about it.

That said, one complaint we do get on occasion is that we're too short. Some listeners would like longer interviews. But we know that our guests are busy people; they're hobby manufacturers, or layout-builders, or in the hobby publishing business, and many of them might not have an hour for an interview. But 15-20 minutes? Just about everybody has that kind of time.

Another complaint that we had early on was that we only keep the four most current shows live on our website. We do this to manage bandwidth demands but it meant new listeners couldn't hear older episodes. But after interviewing John Pestana at TrainLife (, which has an amazing online archive of out of print magazines, I realized they might like to archive our podcasts, too. So we approached them about it and they were happy to do this. Now, all of our old shows, back to the very first, are available via streaming audio at TrainLife and we don't hear that complaint anymore.

Click here to listen to the Model Railway Show.

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