Agent Palmer: Behind the Microphone
When did you start podcasting?
It all started with a single guest spot, spawned into a sub-brand, and eventually led me to my own show. Let me explain how I became a podcaster after assuming various roles.
To be fair it probably all starts with my blog, AgentPalmer.com. On that blog, launched in November of 2011, I write about geek and nerd stuff from movies and books, sports and games, some current events, and on occasion a few personal things. Since anything can really be geeky or nerdy, I basically have carte blanche to write about anything, so I do. I identified myself as Agent Palmer, a blogger.
That’s what I was back in 2014, just a blogger listening to podcasts, when I got pulled into orbit around a specific podcast community like a lost asteroid. The podcast community was 7 Days A Geek and I quite enjoyed the digital social interaction that I had with the show. Around this time one of the co-hosts of that show, Grant Markham, was talking about the debut of his new solo effort, The Stranger Conversations, so of course, I checked that out too. Podcast listening begets podcasting listening, it’s just the nature of podcasts. So when a Twitter conversation led to an invitation to be a guest on Grant’s new show, I said yes.
At this point, being active in the sphere of that show, I got mentioned on mic a bit. At first it was my full persona name, “Agent Palmer.” But it got shortened not too long after to either “Palmer” or on a rare occasion, “Harry” mainly by Grant who knew the IPCRESS File movie reference I had in mind when I created the persona in the first place.
Before we recorded the episode, I was a bit nervous. I hadn’t been “on-mic” since my time on my college’s radio station and that was almost exactly eleven years to the day of my recording with Grant in early April 2015.
But despite the raw nature of that show and the fact that the episode started when you picked up the Skype call, Grant, who is one of the most natural hosts and conversationalists I know, made me feel at ease. So the recording came and went, and I was feeling pretty good. The episode that released a few weeks later was well received, and with no further podcasting ambitions I had assumed my podcasting career to be over.
That recording was the first time anyone but me had used my name and persona together on mic, but they would only meet sparingly for a while. Grant titled the Episode The Stranger Conversations: Jason Stershic, but I politely asked that he add “Agent Palmer” to the title and he did, because at least on the internet at that time, more people knew me as Palmer than Jason.
Then about a month later I was invited on the “Moving the Needle” Podcast, I assume based on my appearance on “The Stranger Conversations,” because no one invites a blogger to talk. I don’t remember which of the hosts invited me on, but I was asked to discuss summer movies.
Because I had brought Jurassic World into the conversation, the episode was titled “Indominus Cruelty.” Though that show has since been reincarnated by three of the original 6 hosts, it was my first introduction to Roy, Sean, and Henno (more on Henno later).
After dishing on dinosaurs, the emails and invites dried up until something magic started to happen.
After the long dry summer of 2015 not much happened until October when I was a guest on 3 shows; GeekDig Podcast, Inglorious Gentlemen, and Podcast Without Borders. I was also a producer and guest on 7 Days A Geek’s first annual Podtoberfest that was later released in November. Later that month and through December, I was a guest on Diamond Minds, reappeared on two more episodes of Inglorious Gentlemen, plus recorded my first (of what turned out to be many) spots on Gotham Lights Podcast and Our Liner Notes.
2016 as it turned out would be more like the way the previous year ended. I was on 1 show in January, 2 in February, 2 in March, 4 in April, and 9 in May. Somewhere along the way Bill Sweeney, host of The Wicked Theory Podcast, coined the term “Proxycast” and it’s accompanying definition being “Palmer doesn’t need his own podcast, he has yours!”
Now, it wasn’t all guest spots. I was also a guest co-host on shows like “7 Days A Geek,” a producer behind the scenes on that show in addition to “The Diamond Dave Show” and “Chronicles Unwritten.” I was going through a number of “titles” behind the scenes of The “Wicked Theory Podcast,” and the number of different shows I was infiltrating grew over time. (Infiltrating may seem like a harsh word, but at this point I was really leaning into the spy themed part of my brand.)
Besides the aforementioned shows there were appearances on Passers-by Podcast; Geek Up and Go; The Podcast Digest; Preacher Vs. Preacher: A Comparison Companion Podcast; Dark Angels & Pretty Freaks; Quadcast Podcast; Reasons Are Several; How Was Your Week, Honey?; What’s Your Work Podcast; Orville Lights; and Spybrary.
Along the way I became a producer and a legitimate co-host, working behind the scenes on 7 Days A Geek, The Wicked Theory Podcast, Our Liner Notes, and The Podcast Digest. But throughout it all, at least for a very long time I maintained my “Proxycaster” status, because I was helping out on other peoples’ shows. These were not mine.
Then during the summer of 2019, I finally admitted to myself that I was, in fact, a podcaster. This happened because someone told me that by saying “it’s not mine,” I was slighting the co-hosts whom I shared the mics with.
After entertaining the idea of eventually launching my own show, I finally conceded to Henno Heitur of Moving the Needle and Gotham and Orville Lights that I was, in fact, a podcaster.
Admitting to myself and to Henno that I was indeed a podcaster was the final step in a chronologically twisted tale.
Following my time on-mic with The Stranger Conversations, I listened to the remainder of Grant’s first Season. We became friends and began developing a vision for an eventual second season.
We talked about what he found fulfilling and what parts of the show we needed to keep. We agreed key elements needed to include the Stranger 10, a list of 10 questions Grant would ask each guest at the end of the show.
In preparation for Season Two we simultaneously tested the Stranger 10 with some friends in the podcasting world as well as my role as a remote silent producer. I would join Grant’s interviews via Skype to take notes, listen in, and on rare occasions contact Grant during the recording, but I was muted the entire time. Grant and I were determined to make this as professional a process as possible.
Although we eventually recorded the first full episode of season 2, life had other plans for us and the project ended after just that unreleased recording.
Enter Chris Maier, whom I occasionally co-host Our Liner Notes with, and who has a show with his wife Kristin called “How Was Your Week, Honey?” Chris occasionally asked me about his recorded episode in just a, “What’s up with that?” nonchalant kind of way.
Chris and Kris were going to miss a week of recording due to travel, and he wanted to know if he could release the unreleased episode of “The Stranger Conversations” with Grant on the “How Was Your Week, Honey?” feed.
I talked it over with Grant and came up with an idea. I suggested Chris could release the episode only if Kris could be a guest on “The Stranger Conversations” first. After all, that was the original plan with Grant when he had stepped back from recording for the time being. I offered a one-time only scenario to substitute host for Grant on “The Stranger Conversations” with Kristin as a guest so that Chris and Kristin would both not only get their episodes recorded, but they would both be released.
Grant agreed and sent me the file to edit the show, which isn’t something I ever offered to anyone before. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, it was just that I didn’t want people to know that I had that skill set.
It’s important to note that as a communications major in college, my senior project was a one-hour radio program based on a piece of biographical nonfiction that I had written. I drafted it into a script and recorded it in my dorm room, then edited the final thing together in Audacity. This was in 2003/4, so I was surprised and relieved to note that Audacity was not only still a solid digital audio workstation (a DAW), but that it hadn’t really changed in the decade since I had last used it.
I proceeded to edit Chris’s “long lost” episode from Season Two of “The Stranger Conversations,” while I prepared to fill Grant’s shoes for a one-time hosting gig as Agent Palmer. Chris released his episode and then Kris’s episode with me as host — both shows were my first public edits of a podcast. Then we got together on an episode of “How Was Your Week, Honey?” to compare the answers that both Chris and Kris gave during their Stranger 10 questions.
The show was a success, and it reinforced my experience behind the scenes with other shows.
Earlier in this out of control, non-linear story, I mentioned being a producer behind the scenes for a podcast. On the whole, most people have absolutely no idea what that means, and to a certain extent I still don’t because it varies from show to show. For a moment, let me do my best to consolidate all of the things I did “as producer” and list them for you.
I have pitched guest possibilities, booked guests, and fielded guest queries. I have written show notes and moderated chat rooms during live recordings. I’ve been an in-the-moment fact checker and a preliminary researcher. I’ve helped brainstorm bits, written scripts, planned events, and sought out ads and sponsors. Then there’s the organizational management aspect of keeping show hosts on a schedule for recording dates and in-show elements and then there’s an entire piece dealing with marketing, branding, and promotion.
I’m proud of the producer credits I tallied up. The fine shows I worked with as some sort of producer includes 7 Days A Geek, The Wicked Theory Podcast, Preacher Vs. Preacher, Our Liner Notes, Chronicles Unwritten, The Diamond Dave Show, and The Stranger Conversations.
I’ve even helped with technical troubleshooting, which isn’t easy considering none of these shows are in the same geographical area I’m in. The Wicked Theory Podcast is the closest show to me and that’s at least 90 minutes away, depending on traffic. Almost all this work and technical troubleshooting was handled remotely, often across multiple time zones, and sometimes internationally.
To this point I was a blogger; then a listener; then a guest-turned-serial-guest to Proxycaster; then editor, producer, and eventually podcaster. And my own show was yet to be created.
Since the beginning of the process of talking about Season Two of The Stranger Conversations with Grant, I had been tossing around ideas in my head for what I would want my own show to be. There are plenty of people within the circle and others who asked why I didn’t have a show on my own.
While all of these experiences should have built up my podcasting confidence, the truth is that I clung to The Proxycast title like a life raft. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of guesting on someone else’s show knows how much fun podcasting can be when all you have to do is show up on the mic and talk.
Truth be told, I had to ask many of the questions I forced others to answer as a producer. What did I want to do? Should there be a format? How long will it be? How often will it come out? What happens, if anything, to my existing blog? What will it be called? I don’t think I appreciated the pressure I put on other hosts until I had to ask those questions of myself. But as I embarked on trying to answer those questions, I realized that over time, I had, at the very least, been asking the right questions.
Finally, the Podcaster
First and foremost, I knew I wanted my show to include one host plus a guest. I did a solo show for an episode of Spybrary. While I have done a few, it’s not my preferred format. Since starting the Palmer Files, I have used solo episodes for particular purposes, but the show is better when I’ve having a genuine conversation with an interesting person. I also knew that I didn’t want a regular co-host because those I considered to join me were in different time zones which would complicate scheduling with guests, and additionally, none of them had the time to do the requisite research and record. And lastly, I didn’t like the idea of launching a show where I couldn’t control the whole thing.
I chose to name my show “The Palmer Files Podcast,” based on my persona and brand as Agent Palmer, acknowledging that Agent Palmer and I, Jason Stershic, were one and the same by this point. What makes this intriguing is that it goes against most of the advice I give to others about naming podcasts, especially when it comes to ease of growth.
Growth is easier to achieve in niche markets and topics. By naming my show The Palmer Files, I was making it hard to determine what the show is about. And in early mental descriptions of the show, I was moving away from a niche market, making it impossible for me to cover just one thing or discuss one topic.
But that’s the nature of decision making. There are tradeoffs. So I chose a show name I could effectively tie-in with my existing brand, including my blog, but also utilizing the general naming convention as to not pigeon-hole myself in a niche so that I could host discussions and conversations with a variety of guests on a wide range of topics.
When I finally committed to the idea, I decided to launch with three episodes completed. I also chose to not initially promote it because I figured I would get enough buzz from people talking about how I “finally had my own show.”
Since there were and maybe even are plenty of people in the world who have no idea who I am, and since I had the ability to, I stacked the first three episodes to be a subliminal three-part backstory for myself.
The first episode talked about decision-making based on a book called The Dip with Bill Sweeney, who was the one who first recommended the book to me. We discussed, among other things, the decision making process for starting this podcast. The second show featured Kristin Maier, a fellow blogger, so we could talk about blogging, which was how this crazy saga all began in the first place. And the third involved Dan Lizette of The Podcast Digest to discuss my past of podcasting and proxycasting.
All of these launch episodes provided an overview of how this show came to be as well as; who I was as a blogger before podcasting, what podcasting is, and what it means to me.
I recorded the three and then got to editing, while reaching out to my very talented friend Henno Heitur for some original music. After getting all of the episodes edited, I started to work up ideas on when this was actually going to go down.
On September 10, 2019, I was excited to release the first episode of The Palmer Files and have since released new episodes every two weeks.
Since beginning the podcast some patterns have emerged; process and origin, journey and chance, challenges, risks, above all, storytelling. I enjoy getting to know how things happened, and why they happened and I’ve been enthralled by the capacity that everyone has to share those stories, even if they need a little help or convincing to do so.
Why did you start podcasting?
Since I have covered the when and how so thoroughly, I feel comfortable borrowing a quote from my 5th guest Tristan the Anarchaeologist about why I started podcasting. It was inevitable.
To quote Tristan: “I had to make it, there was no choice in it, I had to make it… And that’s what I feel is so important about podcasting is, you almost have to feel like you have to make it, like there’s a relentless energy behind it… And I think that… It was always inevitable Jason, always inevitable, always… DOOMED. Doomed to podcast.”
Whether I was actually doomed to podcast or not remains a valid question. Whatever the case may be, all of the skills I have learned and circumstances that led me to create The Palmer Files has just leveraged my experiences and surprising technical know-how in a remarkable way. I’m so incredibly proud to hit publish every two weeks for a new episode, just as I’ve been proud to hit publish every week on my blog.
I enjoyed my time as a “proxycaster” and guest on various shows. I enjoyed my time behind the scenes of every show I’ve been able to help. I’ve enjoyed stepping into co-hosting roles and guest hosting. Taking ownership of my role in hosting my own show is just another step in the journey.
Was it really inevitable? Perhaps it’s more poetic to look at it that way… So.
Why did I start podcasting? It was inevitable.