Hey Amarillo: An Explanation in Seven Parts
Jason Boyett’s “Hey Amarillo” podcast has caused people across the High Plains to rethink this land and the people who live here. He’s interviewed all kinds of people, from Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson to local poets, artists and academics, to an opera singer and a DACA recipient. No podcast—and perhaps no media at all—is delving so deeply into what it means to dwell in the Texas Panhandle. The podcast helps us to understand where we live by allowing us to view the same place from dozens of perspectives and angles. We here in the Llano are lucky to have Jason. In our latest Sad Monkey blog post, he explains why he launched his podcast—and why podcasts themselves are indispensable media.
So this is where I admit to having a podcast which, in some circles, is already a tired cliche. But rest assured that I am not a hipster millennial in love with the sound of his own voice. Nor is this post brought to you by Blue Apron.
But yes, I started a podcast last fall. It’s a one-on-one interview show with a local person. We sit down together. I set up a couple of mics. We talk. It’s called Hey Amarillo and I’ll give you seven reasons why I decided to do it.
There are too many good, local stories we don’t hear. I’m a writer living in Amarillo, but most of my work is for national or international clients. Over the past several years, only my Amarillo Magazine feature assignments have kept me connected to local content. And because of those pieces, I kept meeting interesting people. I kept hearing interesting stories. While transcribing these interviews, I kept thinking, “I wish people could hear this.” I found myself annoyed by the limitations of magazine-based journalism.
Podcasts avoid those limitations. In writing magazine features, a journalist selects quotes from larger conversations and uses them to tell a specific story. The quotes are accurate, but they don’t always give you a sense of the interviewee’s personality. Other forms of journalism aren’t much better. For instance, TV news gives you video and visuals, at least, but the format breaks 10- or 15-minute interviews into three-minute sound bites. Podcasts are different. They allow people to talk for 30 minutes straight, mostly unfiltered. You get personality. You get intimacy. You meet someone.
I wanted to experiment. Everyone who starts a podcast dreams of a huge listenership. Tens of thousands of downloads. Listeners around the world. Celebrity interviews. Sponsorships from Squarespace and the Cash App and one of the half-dozen mattress companies based in Brooklyn. But what if you limited a podcast to a specific region—say, a metro area of 200,000-plus people? I’d never really heard of such a micro-focused podcast. Would 100 people listen? A thousand people? Would local companies sponsor it?
Sometimes you have to create. Sometimes you get ideas and you stew them over for a few days and then you talk yourself out of them. But sometimes you have ideas and you can’t let them go. I had the “what if?” thought related to this podcast on a drive home from Dallas, somewhere between Estelline and Memphis. Three months later, I was still thinking about it. I bought a URL. I ordered equipment from Amazon. I knew I would regret not trying it, so I committed.
It seemed like the right moment. First, though I continue to find would-be local listeners who aren’t even sure how to subscribe to a podcast, the medium is bigger than ever. Second, for the most part, people are excited about the city. New businesses are being launched. Restaurants are opening their doors. Ballparks are being built. Leaders are actually leading. Things are buzzing. If there was ever a good time to use a newish technology to tell the story of this place, this could be that time.
We need to expand our conversations. For all the area’s wonderful qualities, there’s way too much insular thinking around here. We like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient mavericks out on the High Plains, but then we surround ourselves with people who look like us and think like us. What if we spent 30 minutes a week with someone who had a different perspective? A podcast squeezes that new perspective right into your ears. (Don’t tell anyone this is one of my goals.)
I wanted to do a good thing. The interminable 2016 election and its aftermath left me feeling powerless and pretty isolated—from my fellow residents, from the morality and political norms of my upbringing, and even from the country I loved. The national climate left me wanting to do something that mattered, that was positive and local. I don’t run a foundation or have a nonprofit. But I do have a voice. What if my investment in making this community a better place happened through a podcast?
So with all these reasons blossoming in my brain, I tried it. Last October, I launched Hey Amarillo, a weekly interview podcast with locals who do interesting things, have interesting perspectives, and tell interesting stories. I’ve interviewed business leaders and politicians and young entrepreneurs. I’ve interviewed writers and musicians and pastors. I’ve gotten Amarillo’s mayor to admit she eats cheeseburgers at Tex-Mex joints and introduced listeners to a “Dreamer” who discovered in high school that he was an illegal immigrant
People keep asking me if I worry about running out of people to interview. I always laugh. There’s no lack of fascinating characters who live here. There’s no lack of residents who have a good story to tell. I’m not worried.