In 2007, Carole Zimmer began a new chapter of her life after leaving Bloomberg News, where she’d worked as an award-winning reporter and producer for 15 years. It was one of those transitional moments in which she asked herself, “Now what?” That question led to Zimmer’s decision to talk to people about their own transitions and reinventions. She wanted to know how they navigated all the bumps in the road when life brought new twists and turns. In our spotlight today is Carole Zimmer, host of the “Now What?” podcast.
PBJ: When was your first show?
Carole Zimmer: My first episode aired in October 2015. I was lucky. I had known Gloria Steinem for many years, and she agreed to be my first guest. We spent the afternoon in her Manhattan brownstone talking about all the important things before going through her closet, where Gloria showed me her favorite motorcycle jacket with the spikes. That episode was honored with a Gracie Award given by the Alliance for Women in Media.
PBJ: How are you coming up with topics and guests?
Carole Zimmer: Since I’d spent many years as a journalist, I had a deep contact list. I found that if I could reach people directly rather than go through a public relations agency or major publisher, they would often agree to be on “Now What?” I also had a lot of journalist friends who knew interesting people and were willing to share contact information with me. I was on the hunt for well-known people with interesting stories to tell. For instance, I loved talking to 97-year-old Norman Lear, who generously shared funny stories about his life and career. And the best part was we even wound up singing songs together. My conversation with the legendary television creator continues to be one of my most downloaded episodes.
PBJ: How much time does each episode take?
Carole Zimmer: It’s surprising how labor-intensive each episode is to produce. I do a lot of research before talking to each guest because I find the information helps me to have a conversation rather than conduct an interview. I often spend three hours reading stories about the guest and watching/listening to their work. I then talk to the guest for an hour. It sometimes takes me four hours to edit the original conversation. I then write the intro and tag and record both, which takes about an hour. Creating and scheduling promos adds an additional hour. So in total, the work on my end for each episode can take about 10 hours.
PBJ: How much editing are you doing?
Carole Zimmer: I edit the initial conversation. After writing and recording the intro and tag, I turn the audio file over to an engineer I’ve worked with for many years. He mixes the final edit, adding music and whatever clips I might use in the introduction to acquaint listeners with my guest. In terms of editing, I want the conversation to really move, so I remove the uhs and long pauses. Also, if a guest gives three or four examples of something they’re talking about, I cut down the answer to one example and move on.
PBJ: What is your goal with the show?
Carole Zimmer: My goal is to put together the most entertaining, revealing, informative, and smart listening experience I can give my audience. The conversation is a give-and-take. It focuses on the guest, but it’s also about our interaction. If my guest and I have an experience in the moment, my audience will, too. And that’s why I tell my guests: just show up, come prepared to play, and we’ll show everyone a really good time.
PBJ: How are your downloads/listens?
Carole Zimmer: “Now What?” is a labor of love and a work in progress that has grown steadily since the first episode was posted. I now average about 500 downloads per episode and am actively working to increase the listener base. In connection with that effort, I’ve recently been contacted by several companies that are interested in a partnership. I look forward to the opportunity of sharing “Now What?” with a wider audience in the near future.
PBJ: How are you marketing/getting the word out?
Carole Zimmer: Social media is an important tool in getting the word out; so is word of mouth. Guests such as Gloria Steinem, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, author Michael Pollan, and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns have been generous in tweeting about “Now What?” and that helps to bring in more ears. Also, at the end of each episode I encourage listeners to leave comments on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever they listen. Those comments and ratings have helped to spread the word.
PBJ: Are you making money?
Carole Zimmer: Not yet, and up to this point, I haven’t focused my efforts on generating income from “Now What?” Since I began the podcast, I’ve spent most of my time booking the guests I’m eager to talk to and creating content. A good conversation is exciting and unexpected. People want to be a part of it, and I think that is the ticket to making a profit in the near future.
PBJ: What is your Equipment setup?
Carole Zimmer: In the pre-pandemic days, I used to do all my interviews in person. During those sessions, I’d be accompanied by an audio engineer, who would set up Sennheiser MD 46 microphones, use a Mackie VLZN4 mixer, and record on a Zoom H4N.
Life has changed. I now have a little recording studio just outside my closet using a Focusrite Scarlett 212 microphone pre-amp, a 402 VLZ4 mixer, an AT2020 microphone, my Macbook Pro laptop, and Adobe Audition. It’s a little close sitting in the closet, but cozy, too.