When he was on the mic doing wrestling bits between matches, you could tell Chris Jericho was a great entertainer. After 28 years of performing inside the squared circle — and luckily, no major injuries — Jericho took his talent into the podcasting space after his friend Stone Cold Steve Austin suggested he give it a try.
With a journalistic background and a show on SiriusXM doing 10-minute interviews on his resume, Jericho set out to create a podcast he wanted to do, thinking that if it was interesting to him, it would be interesting to his millions of fans and social media followers. And he was right.
Jericho, now with the Westwood One Podcast Network, recently completed his 500th episode. He does his show two times per week, from wherever he is, and with hardly any edits. And, yes, he’s making money. He says he’s making enough money at podcasting now to support his family. Let’s find out how Chris Jericho became a superstar podcaster…
PBJ: How did you get introduced to podcasting?
Chris Jericho: I’m a journalist by education, so I’ve always been interested in talking and interviewing people. I’ve been on the radio at Sirius where I was interviewing people doing three 10-minute segments. That show got cancelled. About a week later I got a call from Stone Cold Steve Austin who’s doing a podcast with Podcast One. He has a popular show and said his boss Norm Patiz was looking for other wrestlers to do podcasts. My only rule was it can’t be a wrestling podcast. I like wrestling but I also love music, comedy, movies, and paranormal stuff, so I wanted to make it a show that reflected those interests and not worry about Steve being my competition. More of the Joe Rogan, Adam Carolla type of show. I had done Adam’s show. It was the first podcast I had ever done. I remember wondering why am I booked on a podcast, thinking it was something a university student does out of his basement. I didn’t know what it was. When I walked into Carolla’s studio and saw the world record for the most downloaded podcasts I understood this was huge and it’s now the wave of the future. That made me want to get involved even more. That’s how it started.
PBJ: How were the first few shows?
Chris Jericho: I just had my 500th episode. I started December of 2013. The first few were not bad. I had been doing this for years as far as talking to people. I knew from my radio show that the best way to do an interview was to get the word “interview” out of your mind and make it a conversation. If you have someone interesting to talk to you don’t need questions. I think one of my strengths is I’ve done probably 10,000 interviews and I know what it’s like to get asked the same questions all the time. You just go into autopilot. I don’t do anymore “radio tours” where you do 10 stations in an hour. There is no way to get a good interview if you only have 6-10 min. I knew you needed 30-60 minutes to get into it and not ask the same questions. I was a little rough at the beginning carrying the conversation. The first guest I had was Steve Austin and we had known each other for 15 years so it was like talking to an old friend. That was always my motivation of why I wanted to do a podcast, to catch up with old friends and become friends with people I always wanted to, like Paul Stanley or Dennis Miller or William Shatner, and to learn about things I think are cool.
All that clicked for me with the idea that if I met you in a bar and we ended up having a conversation, I don’t pull out a list of questions. You just go where the conversation takes you. That’s the most fun. It’s an interview without a net. You don’t know where you will start or finish. I did an interview with the bass player from Iron Maiden — kind of the architect of the band, Steve Harris. I was, and still am, a huge fan and I was nervous. I didn’t know where I was going to start. He tells me he’s in the Bahamas and suddenly we have a conversation rolling. That’s the challenge, to keep people interested so they are not looking at their watch. And when it’s done, saying “that was a lot of fun” or “the best interview I’ve done.”
PBJ: How often are you doing your show?
Chris Jericho: It’s twice a week, Wednesday and Friday. Right off, the ratings were good and I had a lot of ideas about who I wanted to talk to. I do the show everywhere, even while I’m traveling. I pack my underwear, my jeans and my portable rig so I have it in case I run into someone I want to interview. If I’m in LA and want Cheech Marin to do the show, I can go to his house, where you are more likely to get the interview. I also have studios in LA and Tampa, where I live. Rarely, do I do them over the phone, unless it’s a guest I really want. Sometimes I will hold off until I can get them live. It’s always better to do them in person. You can judge how they are talking, their train of thought. Sometimes people will pause to think about what they want to say next, and if you are the phone you don’t know if they are thinking or done with what they’re saying. That’s when you start talking over the other person. Out of the 500 episodes I’ve done, maybe only 15-20% were done over the phone because I could not arrange it any other way.
PBJ: What equipment are you using and are you editing the shows yourself?
Chris Jericho: I rarely edit my interviews. Once in a while someone says something stupid. I protect my guests. That’s my mindset. I’m not looking for a salacious or controversial statement. I want it to be a positive, fun experience where people can come on and leave happy. When I had Slash on before Guns and Roses reunited, he said please don’t ask me about Axel. I said why would I do that when I have Slash. Neither one of us wanted to talk about Guns and Roses. What happened was he loves dinosaurs and so do I. He loves horror movies and I love them too. After an hour of talking about those things we start talking about the Rolling Stones then he mentions about the time Guns and Roses opened for the Rolling Stones. Tells this big long story and suddenly he’s talking about Guns and Roses, that’s the natural way to do it. I use is a Zoom recorder which is portable, a couple of microphones and splitters so I can talk to up to four people at a time.
PBJ: Has your equipment ever crapped out on you?
Chris Jericho: Yes, it happens when you’re doing these shows and using this equipment. I’ve had the plug fall out, causing me to lose an entire interview, I’ve had an issue with the machine not recording while at somebody’s house like with Larry King, and I’m asking everyone to hold on. All things happen. I interviewed Ian Ziering from Sharknado. Recorded the whole interview with my mic unplugged. I was speaking into it but one of the cords was not attached. You have to then figure out a way to make it work. I have a great producer that works with me Stacie Parra. I would not work without her. When I moved to Westwood One, one of the caveats was that Stacie had to come with me. We protect our guests so if something stupid is said we get rid of it. Sometimes they will ask us to edit out stuff and we do. The best request for editing was from Lemmy from Motorhead when he asked me to edit out the part where he said he still did speed because his manager would be mad at him. Well yes sir, we will definitely do that. However, I like it to be organic.
PBJ: It looks like the times vary from show to show?
Chris Jericho: I try to keep it around 75 minutes, which is a 60-minute interview with 15 minutes of the ad reads and bumpers which Stacie edits into the show for me. People have a lot to do and podcasting is something people listen to when they’re working out or driving to work. If I listened to every one of my shows, I like the length from a conversation standpoint. Sometimes it goes a little over and I get antsy because I know it’s time to wrap it up. Once in awhile you get someone with a busy schedule and they can’t give you more time, but if I can’t get at least 30 minutes I usually say no. Once in a while, like with Slash, who I had on again a few weeks ago, he’s a big guest and I could only get 30 minutes. I know him so I put the dinosaur questions at the end which keeps him on another 10 minutes, but his publicist will get on his case so he has to go. The shortest I have ever used was 37 minutes. Once they get to that 45-minute mark, I’m cool, and at 60 it’s time to wrap it up. It’s the perfect time for people to buzz in and listen to the shows they want to and move on to the next one. I want to make this show based around the host like The Tonight Show. I’ll watch the show no matter who the guest is. That’s why I wanted to call the show Talk is Jericho, around the concept that even if you don’t know who the guest is, trust me they will be interesting. If I don’t find the person interesting I won’t have them on. I’ve passed on people who have a million social media followers because I’m not interested. No offense, but I don’t think it’s right for the show. I’ve had people on that have had a thousand followers. My best friend from high school, Pee Wee, he’s become popular because of my show. No one knew who the f*&k he was when he came on and did it. He’s such a crazy funny guy, he’s one of the highlights of Talk is Jericho. That’s another thing I try and focus on: making it so people will listen to every episode twice a week. I want them excited about who’s going to be on Wednesday and Friday and listen regardless. I think I have built that pretty well over the last five years.
PBJ: You mentioned ads being edited in — are you making money?
Chris Jericho: I was lucky because I got in five years ago and now everybody has a podcast. I got in when not a lot of people did. Right off the bat I got a lot of advertising. I was surprised how much money I did make. Over the five years, I’ve built this show to where if I didn’t do anything else I could support my family with just podcasting. It is a lot of hustling, traveling, and negotiating. If I’m in town for a day, who do I know that’s interesting and I can get? You’re always working and on call. If I want George Romero on for the 40th anniversary of Dawn of the Dead, I have to find a studio and put everything on hold between 2 to 3, for example. Sometimes I have had to bring my kids to the studio or have them wait outside the school for half an hour while I finish. That’s the price you pay. I’ve been very fortunate. It’s one of the reasons I moved to the Westwood One Podcast Network. My show became one of the biggest in the world, not just in my genre, from a ratings/popularity standpoint. It’s been very profitable but it takes a lot of work which I’m glad to do. I don’t do anything for money. I enjoy doing the shows. The first year I did it, if the money I got wasn’t there I would still continue. From a professional standpoint it keeps me on my toes as a thinker. It’s a great way to keep your improv skills sharp. You get to meet a lot of cool people and do things from a fan standpoint that’s cool as well — getting to ask anybody you’re talking about what it’s like to do some of the huge things they’ve done. I remember one week I interviewed Hulk Hogan on a Thursday and Paul Stanley on a Saturday and in 1987 if you would have asked me who my biggest heroes were, I would have said those two. Here I am 20, 30 years later, interviewing and chatting with them. I can ask them anything you want.
PBJ: What is your advice to other podcasters?
Chris Jericho: My advice to podcasters is do it for the right reasons. You love and want to do it and you have fun. If you can do that, and build a fan base, you can make money. Don’t do it because you want to make money because now there are so many podcasts those ads have become fragmented. When people were first getting involved with podcast advertising if there were only 100 shows to choose from you got a bigger piece of the pie. I think big corporations are still not quite sure what podcasting is. The big companies, like Walmart and McDonald’s or Starbucks should all be advertising on a podcast. You have a captive audience, not going anywhere, that believes and trusts the host of that podcast. If I’m saying Starbucks makes the best coffee and you should check it out, people think about what they heard and get a craving to go check it out. That will increase big-time over the next few years.
PBJ: You have millions of social media followers. How have you been able to leverage them to become podcast listeners?
Chris Jericho: Steve Austin told me, when he first mentioned doing a podcast, he said you have a weekly advertisement to promote anything that you’re doing and people are listening. It’s the same with social media. Here’s my routine: the podcast goes up late Tuesday night, Wednesday morning I take my kids to school, go eat some breakfast, and put out a tweet about Talk is Chris Jericho, who I have this week. Then over the next few days I’ll listen to the podcast and I always take a picture or a graphic and post that on Instagram. Usually I’ll do 10-20 thousand views and it shares on Twitter. I will do the same thing Friday morning with the episode that airs on Friday. I’m constantly promoting my show with tweets and Instagram posts which goes to Facebook as well. I have almost 12 million social media followers. No one else is going to be advertising my podcast, maybe the guest will. I think we’re doing some advertising with Westwood One, but other than that if people don’t hear it from me they wont know that it was on. It has been very beneficial building the Talk is Jericho brand name as well.
PBJ: How are the downloads and listens?
Chris Jericho: When I was with the other company we didn’t know what numbers were actually legit. Westwood One numbers are very specific. You can see the demographics, all the different areas of the world where it’s playing. It’s worldwide at this point, which is great. I check the numbers every few weeks. That helps me decide my subject matter. For me, my wrestling shows always do better than the others but I’ve had some big rock and roll shows, and book discussions have done well. The paranormal shows do well. That’s why I like my show from an outsider’s standpoint — you never know what you’re going to get. Somebody said when I did a paranormal show recently, I’ve become a paranormal expert. I’ve never really considered myself to be one. They said you are the one who has done all these different genres and carried that Art Bell torch. He was a huge influencer of mine as a broadcaster. The coast-to-coast legend. Do I believe there’s Bigfoot in the forest of Portland, Oregon? Probably not, but the people I’m talking to do believe and that’s all you need is someone committed to what they’re talking about. I never laugh or mock it. I want to hear what they saw. My guests enjoy it and so do the people who listen. We do it as legitimate conversation as someone who saw something strange. All those things contribute to the success of the show. I’m sent books on a daily basis. I’m not sure where they come from. I got one from a guy who wrote about Marvel versus DC which I thought was interesting. I had him on the show and it had huge ratings because people are into comic books. I used to be. I learned a lot talking to him. It makes for a better show across the board because I’m into it as well.
PBJ: If you had a room full of new podcasters, what would you say to them?
Chris Jericho: There are only so many guests you can get. I realized that early on so I tried to have people on talking about stuff they don’t usually talk about. I find that makes people comfortable. I had Dean Ambrose on who is very much into the paranormal. People were like, “he never talked about wrestling” and that was not the topic of the show. He was super excited. I had Steve Austin on talking about rock and roll because he is a big music fan. Who are your favorite bands as a kid, the ones you would wait outside to get autographs from? When I had Lemmy from Motorhead on people would say he’s a bad guest, but when I went to his house he was online looking at old bass guitars. I know about bass guitars so we started talking about bass guitars and suddenly we are 10 minutes into the conversation. And we had the best conversation ever. So much so, that when we were done he said it was one of his favorite interviews ever. Then we smoked cigarettes and drank vodka for another two hours. Now THATS how you do a podcast!
Checkout Talk is Jericho on The Westwood One Podcast Network HERE