Welcome back to Causepods everybody! Today our guest is Chris Lanphear, the founder and brains behind NoCo FM, a network of radio and podcast shows with a focus on inclusivity, diversity, and causes that need a voice. With a longish career in radio and media, Chris slipped nicely into the world of cause based radio and podcasting when the opportunity arose. They started with just one show and have quickly grown to a wide ranging and interesting roster of hosts and topics. Like many others on this show, Chris sees the unique quality that podcast offer as a great way to tell stories and connect audiences and information.
Our conversation covers Chris and his colleagues’ motivation, how they go about selecting content, finding hosts and the mission statement that he likes to keep in mind. We also chat about the character and strengths of audio for storytelling before getting into some of the lessons that Chris has learned in his current position. He gives us some information on the shows that are currently airing, focusing on a podcast not too different from Causepods called Connecting a Better World. Chris is kind enough to share his advice for newbies and also fills us in on a cause that is near and dear to his heart. For all this and a whole lot more, join us today!
The impetus behind launching NoCo FM. (01:26)
Finding hosts and the homegrown approach that Chris takes to shows. (02:21)
The overarching mission for the network. (03:10)
Audio’s strengths in the storytelling realm. (05:52)
The current status and ultimate goal of the project. (07:03)
Interesting lessons that Chris has learned running a podcast network.(09:04)
Cross promotion and advertising for other shows across the network. (13:07)
A little bit about the Connecting a Better World podcast.(15:27)
Diversity in listenership for NoCo. (18:03)
Advice from Chris to those new to the podcasting game. (19:44)
Chris’ chosen cause that he has chosen to support and why. (22:40)
And much more!
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[0:00:02.6] MP: Hi and welcome to Causepods. I’m your host, Mathew Passy. Here at Causepods, we have one simple mission, to highlight the amazing folks who are using podcast as a way to raise awareness for good causes. Whether it’s a non-profit they work with, a charity they support, a social justice campaign they are championing, a medical condition they are battling or someone who is just looking to make a positive impact on their local community, state, country or the world.
These are podcasters with a positive mission. Along with raising awareness for our guest’s favorite cause, we’re also going to see if we can raise some money to support their efforts. So make sure you check out the show notes for each episode at causepods.org to learn more about what they’re doing and how to help them achieve their goals.
[0:00:47.0] MP: Doing something a little bit different here on Causepods today. Instead of just talking to one podcast host, we’re actually talking to the founder, creator, manager, all around, you know, get it done guy at NoCo FM. This is a network of radio and podcast shows that are focusing on giving under represented members of the community, particularly minorities of voice and they do so at noco.fm, we are chatting with Chris Lanphear.
Chris, thanks for joining us here on Causepods today.
[0:01:19.8] CL: Yeah, thanks for having me.
[0:01:21.2] MP: Chris, how did this all get started, what was the impetus for launching NoCo FM?
[0:01:26.8] CL: I had previously worked at a volunteer run community radio station here in Northern Colorado. It had been there for a couple of years, I was the director of digital media there and we were starting to kind of dip our toes into the podcasting pool, there was a change of management and the new management that came in kind of decided they wanted to keep things at a more traditional way.
They kind of nixed the idea of the podcasting network that we were trying to build. I had a desire to kind of go a little bit higher, aim a little bit higher with what I wanted to do so myself and my cofounder Charles Kelly left that station and formed NoCo FM.
[0:02:09.5] MP: Very cool. How did you start to get the different shows and host and you know, encourage them to come and join your network versus continuing to maybe do this on their own?
[0:02:21.5] CL: All of our shows are home grown. We actually started with one show, which is the spark with Stephanie James and that was a show that I correlated while I was at the community radio station and we brought that show with us. Starting with that show, we started to kind of develop ideas for more shows and that’s what led us to create Cordon Versus the World and NoCo Gadio and Don’t Forget the Lube and Talk and Roll.
We just kind of started from there but all of our shows are home grown and produced here in our studios in Fort Collins.
[0:02:51.3] MP: You know, if there was a over arching mission statement for NoCo, because you do have a variety of different shows, you know, you have ones on parenting, you have a few on LGBTQ issues, you have one causes and nonprofit specifically that I want to get into. But you know, what would you say is the overarching mission statement for NoCo.
[0:03:10.1] CL: To put it succinctly . I think our mission is to give a voice to people who traditionally don’t have one. In traditional media radio, television, movies, what have you. The majority of what you’re seeing and hearing is a Caucasian, American male ethno-centric kind of voice and even in podcasting, you know, the vast majority podcast that are out there are hosted by people who look and sound like you and me.
[0:03:41.3] MP: Those are two white males by the way talking.
[0:03:43.2] CL: Exactly. I really wanted our station to embody the idea of letting everyone have an equal voice. In particular, the LGBTQIA+ plus community because even in the world of podcasting, that community has been traditionally kind of marginalized and so I really wanted to structure our network around telling stories that were different from my own.
[0:04:08.2] MP: I have to admit a little bit of ignorance as I say this. I’m a supporter of LGBTQ community. I don’t know if I know what the IA is in that last acronym that you threw out there on me.
[0:04:19.4] CL: God, you know what? This early in the morning, I’m not sure that I remember it either. I just know that that’s the one that covers the full gamut.
[0:04:27.9] MP: Interesex and asexual or allied.
[0:04:29.8] CL: Yeah. There we go. A, the allied one is really kind of what we’re about. Several members of our production team and hosts are LGBTQIA. In fact I think, over half of our hosts are, which I think we’re the only station or network that can really say that.
That’s pretty cool and I love having a - not only a safe space but a space where people feel empowered to be able to tell those stories, obviously free from any sort of judgment or harassment and really making things a little bit more equitable.
The nice thing about doing a podcasting network is we can do exactly that.
[0:05:11.8] MP: Right, you have a lot of freedom to tell the stories you want to tell, talk to people you want to talk to, reach the audience that you want to reach to. I mean, usually, when I have folks here on Causepods, one of my questions is always, why did you choose podcasting over so many other forms of media but you know, obviously coming from the radio world, coming from the audio production world, this was just a natural fit for you.
But do you think that there was something in particular, do you think there’s a strength to audio that is why all these shows are able to get their word to or get their stories out? Do you think audio lends itself to these themes in a certain way that maybe other forms of digital and traditional media can’t?
[0:05:52.7] CL: I think it does. I think audio, it’s an incredibly democratic medium, I mean, you know as well as I do that all you need is a microphone, an idea and then boom, you have a show. There are not really any barriers to creating and telling the sorts of stories that you want without having a budget or a gatekeeper to worry about or sponsors that you have to appease.
It’s a very democratic medium and it’s a very inexpensive medium, which just spreads out the ability for more people to do it, which I think is what’s really appealing. And also, there’s an intimacy in audio and in particularly, in podcasting because it’s a direct connection with the audience that your audience, you know, to some degree, if you’re telling your story well, they believe that you’re talking directly to them. There’s a lot of power in storytelling that is that direct.
[0:06:47.0] MP: It seems like you are really giving a lot of power to your host. I mean, what have you found has been the result of all these shows launching, what has it done for the host themselves or the community that they reach, any really good stories of inspiration having this content available?
[0:07:03.8] CL: I think the biggest thing is our goal is to be able to sustain enough revenue that we are paying our hosts a living wage and granted, we’re a far way of from that at this point. You know, everybody that works for the station, including myself is working, you know, a second job, a third job in addition to what we’re doing here at NoCo.
And using that to kind of fund our endeavors. I do eventually want to get to the point where we’re paying everyone to produce what we’re producing and therefore, creating jobs, creating a little bit more autonomy. Giving people the ability to do what they want to do and get paid for it as kind of our goal.
Like I said, we’re a little bit far away from that right now and in terms of inspiration, I think the show that we started with, The Spark with Stephanie James, which is hosted by a psychotherapist that deals with mental health and inspirational stories and things of that nature.
That show, we’ve gotten emails from people who have said, you know, this helped me get through a difficult time or I was wondering about this topic but really didn’t know who to ask. Honestly, as a storyteller, as a producer, I really want to make people feel like they’re not alone in the world.
And if we can tell stories that connect with people in that way and that help them to live their lives in a better way and maybe kind of know that there’s other people out there who are like them then I think it’s worthwhile and that’s really what fuels me to do this.
[0:08:37.6] MP: Speaking of other people like you, it’s interesting again, this is the first time I’ve spoken to anybody on this show who has a network, that isn’t just one show spreading one message, you’re collecting a lot of different voices, a lot of different messages and putting it on to one single platform.
I think in this space of Cause podcasting of you know, nonprofit radio, so to speak. There’s going to be local chapters of various nonprofits that are putting together content, but then I think there should be an impetus on the perant company to sort of pool those shows and to make it available so that if say, you know, Red Cross of Kentucky is doing something different and unique, well, people who support the Red Cross in California or Colorado maybe interested.
What can you tell us about launching a network that you have learned in doing this? What are some of the things that you didn’t know that you had to learn pretty quickly and maybe some of the hidden obstacles that you’ve had to overcome that you felt were interesting?
[0:09:40.8] CL: One of the biggest obstacles that we’ve had is just kind of in defining who we are and what we do in a way that is easily understandable to people and what I mean by that is that we kind of consider ourselves a radio station first and a podcast network second, i.e. all of our shows premier on the live stream and then are released as a podcast the next day.
That tends to kind of confound people when we say, “Hey, we’re a radio station,” they say, “Can I – what’s your frequency?” You know? “What do I tune in to on my radio?” And we tell people, “No, we’re streaming only.” And you know, there’s not a lot of people out there who are doing that, which is one, I think it makes us unique but two it presents a challenge when we’re talking about what we’re doing and making it easy for people to understand.
The big thing that I learned actually, we attended PodCon in Seattle last month and you know, was kind of our first big public event that we’ve attended and the biggest thing I learned about that in terms of takeaways is that all of our shows are going to have a fairly unique audience and there’s not necessarily as much overlap as I thought there might be.
For example, PodCon, if you’ve been to that convention before is very youth focused, it’s very fiction focused in terms of like a role playing podcasts and that sort of thing. Those people were very excited about Talk and Roll. You know, Corbin Versus the World and some of the more fun shows that we were doing but for Connecting a Better World, which is our show about nonprofits and causes, specifically, it wasn’t as exciting to those – to that particular audience.
That was the first time I realized that, hey, each of our shows in addition to serving the kind of overall voice and message of what we’re doing is also going to have its own voice with its own audience and its own sort of people that it connects with and there may not necessarily be a lot of overlap there.
That was a real eye opening experience for me because I thought, well, let’s make sure that everybody has everything and that’s of course not going to be the case. That’s also one of the wonderful things about podcasting is there are so many audiences and so many niche podcasts out there for tiny things that I don’t understand but that connect with you know, a group of people. That’s really what it’s about, it’s about connecting with people.
I’m not sure if that entirely answered your question but really, I’m just learning kind of by the seat of my pants and that there’s some challenges and terms of having a voice for the network and for the station but also fostering the individual communities for the shows that we have.
[0:12:19.5] MP: Yeah, no, I think that all makes a lot of sense and I mean, it probably gets the one of my more technical questions about network operations that I think probably poses a very unique challenge to you because you were talking about so many different voices. You know, one of the strengths of a network is being able to use the power of one audience to promote another show, to get people to realize, hey, you know, we’re really glad that you’re listening to The Spark but you know, maybe you would like NoCo Gadio or maybe you like Connecting a Better World.
How do you think about cross promotion on the network and even when it comes to maybe ads for other shows with any other shows? Do you have to do draw a very solid lines? I mean some of your shows are explicit while others are not. So does that come up in the way you think about that?
[0:13:07.1] CL: It does. We try to match the things that seem to make sense. So for example, if you’re listening to The Spark when that goes to a break, you might hear and ad for Connecting a Better World. You might hear an ad for Don’t Forget the Lube but again, that show has explicit content. So we try to be mindful of that.
For example, our newest show Boys Built Better is a show about parenting young boys hosted by a mother of three boys that lives here in Fort Collins. It is a fun show but when we were talking about marketing and bringing the show onto the network, she was like, “Well you know I don’t necessarily want to promote Don’t Forget the Lube on my show.” Which makes sense. It is an entirely different audience and we’re mindful of that. So we are not going to air an ad for that show on Boys Built Better but we may air an ad for Talk and Roll because that is a gaming show. It is a younger audience, it makes sense.
So we’re just trying to connect the shows to each other that makes sense and we do choose to promote for every show that you listen whether it is live or on demand, when you are hearing an ad for another show it is something that was specifically chosen to pair with what you are listening to. So I do want to expand people’s bounds of what they would consider listening to but I am also mindful of the audience and the challenges that are there with having a lot of different shows.
[0:14:34.3] MP: So now NoCo stands for obviously Northern Colorado, is that — are all of your shows geocentric or is that just how this came about because of where you came from and where you are based?
[0:14:47.8] CL: It came about because of where we are. Our shows are not central to Colorado by any means whatsoever. They are general purpose, there are shows for everyone. On Connecting a Better World, because of where we’re located the people that we interview often are from Colorado based non-profits, so that is geocentric in a way but everything that we do is meant for the public at large.
[0:15:12.5] MP: So I want to talk a little bit more specifically about Connecting a Better World obviously the show about causes a non-profits, which Causepods tends to focus on and on a lot of what we do. So tell me a little bit more about that show and what they do and what they’re hoping to accomplish.
[0:15:27.6] CL: So Connecting a Better World is hosted by Dr. Natalie Phillips. She’s an ideologist here in Fort Collins and she is well connected within the Northern Colorado community and we have such a plethora of non-profits in this area. I don’t know if the statistic is still true but at one point, Larimer County, which is where we’re at had more non-profits per capita than any other county in the country. I don’t know if that is still true.
But there is a lot of people here who are doing social good and who are using non-profits to build up the community and we really wanted to bring some sort of spotlight to that. This was an idea that we had – when we started the network but we didn’t really – we weren’t able to really put all the pieces together until Natalie came along and really had a vision for how the show would be structured. So we started from there. So every week, Mondays at 7, she is interviewing someone who operates a non-profit in the area.
Though we do plan to eventually branch out to non-profits that are not located here and really just spotlight the work that these people are doing because having worked for a lot of non-profits myself, there is a lot of important work that is being done that is overlooked by traditional media. You hear about non-profits when they have fundraisers and community events like that but a lot of the work that gets done is not really given any sort of attention.
And if you have ever done work for a non-profit, there is a lot of work involved. It’s hard, it’s long hours, it’s little to no pay often none at all and these people are sacrificing incredible amounts of time and effort for what they believe in and we believe that that needs to be recognized. So that is really the point of Connecting a Better World
[0:17:20.3] MP: That sounds awesome and truth be told, I definitely want to connect with her and see if we can get her on Causepods at a later date to talk about that show specifically.
[0:17:29.3] CL: I’m sure she’d love to.
[0:17:30.0] MP: Great. So the other thing I’d want to ask you about is because you are looking to talk to give voices to the underrepresented members of the community and in particular, you list women, people of color and the LGBTQIA community as part of that, have you found that your listenership is more diverse than what we have been seeing in podcast?
I mean I know the national number suggests that diversity is increasing but I’d be curious to know if you have a sense of whether your audiences is even more diverse than traditional podcast audience.
[0:18:03.7] CL: Our demographic tends to skew younger and tends to skew more toward women. Which is great and I don’t know how that compares with the national numbers but I think that is just in response to the type of shows that we are doing.
It is hard to know how we are reaching the LGBTQ contingent of people because there is not a demographic choice for that, you know? But based on some of the feedback we get from people on Instagram and Facebook and that sort of thing that tells me that we’re on the right track.
So especially with our music shows, which there are not that many music podcasts out there because of the legalities involved in doing music, that’s another area where I think we are excelling and giving to reach people. So I think that we are on the right track. Some of those numbers are really hard to dial in on but we have been getting a lot of good feedback so far and that’s kind of what you can go on when there aren’t hard numbers to go from.
[0:19:07.9] MP: Cool, all right so now this question I usually ask everybody is you are a little bit more seasoned at doing this, a little more experienced, a lot of Causepoders are not. They’ve taught this art themselves or they figured it out on their own. But as somebody who is doing radio production and has launched not only – has not launched just a couple of shows but a whole network of shows, what is some advice that you would give to that startup, to that cause based podcaster.
Who probably doesn’t have a huge budget, probably doesn’t know a ton about this but wants to make an impact with their message even if they can’t afford big buck production and big bucks marketing?
[0:19:44.2] CL: Probably the first thing I would say and this goes back to my days in working in film, just do it. Whatever you have, do it. If you don’t have the best microphone, if you don’t have the best set up, who cares? What’s important is that you tell your story or you tell the story that you want to tell and everything else comes later. I firmly believe that you know, storytelling is the fundamental part of what makes us human. It allows us to pass information that connects with people to a wider audience and that’s important.
So I don’t care if you are using a $10 microphone that you got at Walmart of if you are using $400 high end microphone or if you are doing it in your closet. What’s important is that you get the story out there. I have always been the sort of person that learned by doing. So rather than being plagued by, “Oh, I need to make sure I have the best podcast, I have to make sure I chose the right podcast host.” Or I have to make sure I have to do all of these other things, just start.
Just start, everything else is malleable. You can go from there and you can build from what you have. I mean we started, we built this studio from an almost non-existent budget. It is almost embarrassing but you know we needed a place to record. We needed a place for people to come and edit and record their shows and so it serves that purpose. It is hard to tell from this shot but this is my garage. We converted half of it into the studio that we have and it works for exactly what we need it for.
It didn’t cost a lot of money, it took a lot of time but it didn’t cost a lot of money and really all that matters is that you just start and you go from there and you build from something but you can’t get caught up in the idea of wanting to have everything perfect at first because one, it’s never going to be perfect and two, if you have that belief you are never going to start. So just start and go.
[0:21:44.3] MP: That’s fantastic advice. I mean people listening can tell that the quality is just excellent. You guys have really put together something really special man.
[0:21:50.9] CL: Thank you.
[0:21:51.7] MP: So here on Causepods the other thing we like to do is because we are focused on causes and charities, we like to raise awareness and raise some donations for a cause that is important to our host. You have chosen the Alliance of Suicide Prevention of Larimer County. I imagine that given that considerable number of shows are targeting the LGBTQIA community that that was a part of it. I mean we know that there is a higher rate of suicide amongst those who identify as LGBTQ sadly.
It shouldn’t be that way but because of the way the world is they face mounting pressures and mounting folks who will not accept them for who they are and so I imagine that that is a part of why you are doing it but in your own words, tell us why you are supporting this particular group?
[0:22:40.9] CL: Particularly in Larimer County, we have a very high suicide rate when compared with not only the rest of Colorado but the rest of the country. We’ve all lost people to suicide or dealt with suicide attempts and things like that and it’s an incredibly sad way of dealing with your issues and we want to support organizations that are trying to do something about that in a meaningful way, getting the word out about resources, talking to people having the funding and the staff.
To be able to have hotlines and things like that where people can turn to when they’re going through a really difficult challenges. This is an organization that I have partnered with before and I love their mission and I want everyone to be able to feel respected and honored and valued as members of our community and that can only happen and we can only strengthen that community if those people are alive. So that is really why we wanted to support the Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
[0:23:50.2] MP: Well I think it is a fantastic cause that you have identified with. I think it is a fantastic mission that you have there in choosing to partner with them and to raise some awareness for them and truthfully it is a fantastic organization that you have developed here at NoCo FM. Folks who are listening to this who want to check out some of these incredible shows, you know there is probably something for everybody who listens to Causepods, you want to go to noco.fm.
If you check out the shownotes to this episode of Causepods, we’ll obviously have a link to the network. We’ll have a link to a donation page for the Alliance for Suicide Prevention of Larimer County and we’ll also have links that you can connect with NoCo.FM on social media.
Chris Lanphear, thank you so much for joining us here on Causepods today.
[0:24:32.9] CL: Thanks so much for having me.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:24:34.7] MP: Thanks for listening to this episode of Causepods. Again, if you’ve been inspired by the work of our guest, please check out the show notes in your podcast app or causepods.org. There you will find links to their work and a special donation link set up to support their favorite efforts.
From there, you can also follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you enjoy your podcasts. And remember, if you have a Causepod and want to join me for an interview, please check out causepods.org and fill out the interview request form. If approved, we’ll schedule you for a chat and share the amazing work that you are doing with the Causepods audience.
Thanks again and see you next time on Causepods.