How sick are you of having to say, “No, not the senator”? Pretty sick, but I understand it. It’s funny. It’s a gauge of people’s awareness and their situation on the political spectrum. I mean, in gas stations and stores, whenever I hand over a credit card, they’ll look up at me with a curious look, and I can always tell.
You debuted in January at No. 1 on the Apple Podcasts app. As I’m talking to you, American History Tellers is at No. 2. That puts you above Joe Rogan and even above Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations, which I definitely subscribe to. How did you go from being the campaign manager for D Magazine senior editor Zac Crain’s 2007 mayoral bid to being a podcast superstar? Well, we took Zac’s ideas and just amplified them. It took 10 years, but we got there. It is awesome being at the top of the charts. I think we found that there’s a real desire for a digestible, entertaining but educational and thorough discussion of history.
I listened to Terms, the dramatic podcast that sort of unwittingly predicted Trump’s rise. I didn’t even know you were involved with that when I was listening to it. Is that what got you to the Wondery podcast network? Yeah, exactly. I created that podcast and did the sound design and editing and a fair amount of the preproduction writing. Then we took it to Wondery, and they loved it. It was honestly the ads in Terms that kind of got me this American History Tellers gig. Because we didn’t want characters in the show reading ads. So the closest to a host we could come up with was me.
Does that mean you have a Casper bed at your house? I have a Casper mattress, yes. I sleep on it every night.
And it’s bringing you restful slumber? Yes. Of course, I’m contractually obligated to say that.
The first six episodes of American History Tellers are about the Cold War. What can we expect in the future? Each arc has about seven or eight episodes, and then we’ll move on to the next topic. The next topic actually is Prohibition. We’ve got a series on Texas history, a series on the early Revolution, a series on national parks.
Audra Wolfe does the writing. Who is she, and how does the rest of the production process work? Audra is a Ph.D. historian with an expertise in the science of the Cold War. She wrote a book called Competing With the Soviets. She develops, with a producer at Wondery, an arc and a script. Then I’ll get the script and run through it. None of these people have written for audio, which is a different sort of skill. Then I’ll sit down and start reading and recording.
Are you still doing the sound design and all the rest of the editing? Yeah. My jaw falls off my face because I’m tired of talking. Then I’ll return to it and start editing. Once I’ve got a narration put together, then I’ll start stitching in the music and the sound effects.
The surgery on your vocal cords to make your voice deeper—was that expensive? No, actually it happened in the Zac Crain campaign. He got so fed up with me that he just punched me in the throat.
OK, so why the vest? Which vest?
The recent photos I’ve seen of you show you wearing a vest under a jacket. Oh, yeah, the Fair Isle pattern vest.
Is this town big enough for you and the Dallas Morning News’ Robert Wilonsky both wearing vests? Wilonsky is a big man figuratively and literally, so I don’t want to compete. If he’s a vest person, I’m gonna step out.