Ken Reid on Embracing Your Geekdom
The creator and host of TV Guidance Counselor made a podcast about the thing he loves—and it kills.
Ken Reid is obsessed with TV. Quiz him on the most obscure, deep-dive TV trivia and he can reel off a detailed answer without blinking. Fortunately for the rest of us, he shares his expertise every week on his podcast,TV Guidance Counselor, bringing in a broad range of guests from punk legends The Damned to Cheers star Ted Danson, or sometimes he picks an old issue of TV Guide from his vast collection and talks about the shows he would have watched. The results are always fun and sometimes revelatory. We talked to Reid—who also performs as a standup comedian and has a resume including jobs in radio and TV—about how he's channeled his personal obsession into something he's been sharing with a large audience since 2013.
Spotify for Podcasters: How did your obsession with TV come about?
I was an odd kid, and I read very early, so I read anything that was available in the house, and TV Guide was one of the things that we got, so I'd sit down at probably age two or three and I'd read it from cover to cover. My parents were relatively hands-off so I could watch way more stuff than your normal, average kid. So that was sort of the germ of it. And I grew up in a very chaotic environment, and television ended up being sort of a calming influence in that it was very consistent and reliable. So if something was supposed to be on Thursday night at nine, it was on Thursday night at nine, and I could rely on it and look forward to it as well.
How did it inform your sensibilities growing up?
Growing up in relatively lower middle class Boston it exposed me to so many things I just would not have had access to otherwise. The biggest one—and the one that I talk about on the show probably the most—is The Young Ones, which was a British sort of alt-comedy show from the mid-'80s. I just happened to stumble on it one day when I was five and saw The Damned play on the show, and suddenly I realized I love gothic punk rock and anarchic alt comedy. Talk about putting you on a path for the rest of your life!
How did you start to amass your vast knowledge of TV lore?
In pre-internet days it was hard to get a lot of information about TV, so that's one reason I would hang on to the TV Guide. The library, which I frequented, I think I read every single book they had on television and movies. I would try to learn whatever I possibly could about stuff. I also started reading stuff like Entertainment Weekly when it first came out. And I started taping stuff, so I made a bargain with my parents when I was four or five that I would play tee-ball if they bought a VCR so I could tape Saturday morning cartoons. So I started taping whole blocks of television and started collecting an archive of stuff.
How did the idea for TV Guidance Counselor come about?
I had all these TV Guides, because I'd collected them over the years, in a big spinning rack in the corner of my dining room. I kind of wanted to do a podcast, but I didn't really have an idea. When people would come over to my house they would just gravitate to this rack of TV Guides and would grab one and flip through, and we'd start chatting about, "Oh, I remember this show," or, "I forgot about this." And my friend Sean Sullivan, who's been a guest on the show several times and is a very funny comedian, basically said, "Hey, just do that as a podcast." More or less, that's what it is still, six years later.
You were starting from scratch as a podcaster. How did you figure things out?
I did a lot of YouTube tutorials. I also bothered my old radio friends to see what had changed in the decade and a half since I'd done radio. And actually Chris Duffy, who hosts and created You're the Expert, gave me some good advice about RSS feeds and that sort of stuff. And the rest of it I just learned as I went along through trial and error.
Did you encounter any difficulties in the process?
I definitely had a huge learning curve on using Audacity, which is what I used to edit. It was not super-intuitive, and was pretty different from what I used when I worked in radio. I got a Zoom H4, and that is super-easy plug-and-play. But the editing was a bit of a struggle. Because the format was solid, that wasn't too difficult. I was pretty used to talking to people, so that wasn't that hard. I never ask anyone for favors—it's kind of a weird hang-up with me—so that was kind of difficult, asking people to guest on the show once I started expanding beyond my friend set. But I got over that pretty quickly.
Once you started delving into the topic with people, did you come across anybody who was in the same ballpark as you with their TV obsession?
A lot of people are; that's the kind of thing that I realized early. People that grew up pre-internet and pre-millennium, tapping into that shared experience, it's pretty universal. Especially the people I gravitate toward booking on the show. It turns out probably one of the reasons I like what they do is they have a similar affection for similar things. So that's been pretty cool to find out. I always think of when I had the band Veruca Salt on and Nina Gordon turned out to be an enormous Brady Bunch nerd, knew everything about The Brady Bunch, and actually bought her house in California because the guy who wrote the "Oh My Nose" episode had lived in the house. Or that Donny Most from Happy Days was obsessed with The Twilight Zone and actually joined a ping-pong league that used to meet every week at Rod Serling's house, just so he could maybe meet Rod Serling.
What's the most rewarding aspect of the show for you?
Getting to meet people whose work I've always loved and getting to thank them for stuff they did. Or just getting to talk with them about things and ask them questions I've always wanted to ask. It's so weird to me that anyone even listens to the show. The fact that I get listeners at all, and a pretty good chunk of them, is great. And I get great messages from people; it's very rewarding to know that you put this stuff out there in the world and you can't anticipate how people listen to it or what effect it has on other people. That's awesome.
What would you say to someone who's considering building a podcast around a subject they're passionate about?
I would say definitely do it. It's the best thing I ever did. You can record a ton of episodes and if it doesn't go well, no one will ever have to hear it. I'm used to stand-up, where you have to practice in front of people—your failures are out in the public. With this there's no risk aside from maybe a small monetary investment—there's really no risk in trying it. And the greatest thing is that because you have access to the distribution channels that everyone else does, there's no gatekeeper. So you can do a show that is as niche or as weird as you want it to be. In fact I would encourage them to do that.
The thing that seems to be the most effective in finding an audience is if you make a show that you would want to listen to that doesn't exist, and you make it as specific as you possibly can, there are people who are like you that will find it and will love it. And that's amazing. Lean in to what you want to hear. Don't try to make a show that you think people want. If you go at it with, "I'm just gonna make a good show that I want to listen to," you will find an audience. It's definitely not something to go into if you want to make money or you think it's gonna be a stepping stone to something. It might be, but that's sort of secondary. If you just do something that you're passionate about that's very specific, it's very rewarding.