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The Rise and Fall of the Podcast Peer Awards

In 2006 there was only one podcast award.  It allowed anyone to vote on their favorite shows, once a day, for a month.  This guaranteed only the most popular shows with the biggest audiences could win.  I wanted an award with a different model, one that would give excellent but obscure shows a realistic chance of winning against the most popular podcasts.  No such contest existed, so I created one, The Podcast Peer Awards

Only podcasters were allowed to participate.  They could nominate as many shows as they liked, but only vote once for the winner in any category.  Contests were held twice a year, with rotating categories.  Over 500 podcasters signed up and participated. 

I figured that podcasts would become mainstream and the popularity of the PPA would grow along with them.  I figured wrong.  Podcasts have remained a niche.  A big niche, an important niche, but not nearly as popular with the general public as I expected.  Interest in the PPA peaked in 2007.  The  Fall 2007 awards ceremony at DragonCon played to a full house and people hung out afterward and partied.  Attendance at the Fall 2008 awards was sparse, and the room cleared immediately when they were done. 

It was obvious that the PPA had run its course, so I reluctantly decided to shut it down.  I explained this in an e-mail I sent to all 567 members.  Most people thanked me for doing them and wished me well in future endeavors.  Some lamented the awards passing.  Most agreed it was time to shut them down.  One message consisted entirely of a single sad emoticon. 

But one threw me. It said “I’m sorry for your loss.”  Huh? 

I’ve thrown myself into many large, time consuming projects.  Some succeeded, some failed.  When I succeeded I learned a little.  When I failed I learned a lot.

One of my biggest failures was Electric Avenue, a multi-line BBS I started in the mid 90’s.  It featured chat, forums, online games and 14 CD’s full of downloadable shareware and porn.  It grew to 21 lines and had 200 paying customers before the internet killed it. 

Home computers were becoming common.  The internet was on the horizon, and I figured people would use it for reseearch but still use BBSs for local socializing.  I completely missed the impact of browsers.  A dial-in ASCII BBS couldn’t compete with flaming spinning logos and the rise of the web. 

Over the four years it ran I lost about $18k, but that’s the cost of a single semester in a good college and it taught me far more.  I learned how to run 21 lines off a single 486 (and that sucker was fast.)  (The CDs fed off a second computer that was hooked to two 7-Disc CD changers.)  I convinced the phone company to rewire my entire village, because the eight lines I started with used up all their excess capacity.  I learned what kind of marketing worked, and what didn’t.  I fought a trademark lawsuit, unsuccessfully, with Montgomery Wards, who sued me because their shitty electronics department was named “Electric Avenue.” I learned that it doesn’t matter if you are completely in the right and the law is completely on your side when the other side has unlimited funds to harass you. 

Through it all, though, hundreds of friendships were formed.  There were meets and parties, sometimes several of them, every weekend.  There were at least three divorces, two marriages, and two babies born as a result of the place.  A lot of people got laid. 

It was a failure, but it was a glorious failure. 

In the early 90s I started an improv troupe with a friend.  We agreed to do it until it stopped being fun.  Another friend warned me about dealing with actors.  I figured it wouldn’t be a problem – I had been dealing with musicians for twenty years, including organizing several large music festivals.  He was right, I was wrong.  Far too many actors have huge but fragile egos, and dealing with them required a delicate finesse I didn’t have. Some were horribly unreliable and quit the moment something wasn’t to their liking.  Compared to actors, musicians are the most stable and reliable people in the world. 

The {Insert Something Funny} Players lasted for five years and three incarnations before the pain in the ass factor overcame the fun factor.  We played in small theaters with sparse audiences, in big theaters with packed houses, and college gigs all over the northeast.  We made a bit of money and had a great time.  We made thousands of people laugh until it hurt.  When the troupe finally broke up I’m sure some people considered it a failure, but I didn’t.  It had simply run its course. 

The Podcast Peer Awards failed, but I’m still glad I did them.  Just like Electric Avenue and the ISFP and other projects that have succeeded or failed, I made a lot of friends, learned a lot, and accomplished some good things.  What more can anyone ask for?  It was an adventure, and no adventure lasts forever.

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