Updated: May 17, 2019
Welcome to #PodcastingHistory 6! In this entry we go to ancient Greece with Ryan Stitt, host of the History of Ancient Greece podcast. Read on to learn about his process and the development of a series of episodes inspired by the writings of Herodotus, starting with "Herodotus and the Rise of Persia":
The most common questions I receive from listeners of the History of Ancient Greece are, “how I was able to make my podcast so popular?” and, similarly, “what can they do to launch a podcast and ensure its success?” I tell of all those who inquire the exact same thing: the most important thing when starting a podcast isn’t your audio set-up or your experience with technology. No, the most important thing is to select a topic for your podcast that you are so passionate about that at 9pm, after a long day of work, you can still somehow muster the energy to sit at your kitchen table (like I do) and research and write for an episode. That type of dedication can only be made possible if you have a love for what you’re doing. It’s not something that I have to force myself to get excited about. In fact, I look forward to it. For me, there is no question that I possess that kind of enthusiasm for not only my podcast’s topic (ancient Greek history), but for the educational benefits it provides to millions of people worldwide. As someone who came to the Classics by unconventional means (see Scott Lepisto's Itinera, Episode 11 - Ryan Stitt), I am deeply interested in podcast history learning.
Since the foundation of the podcast is a decade plus of ancient history learning on my part, both formal (at the undergraduate and graduate level) and informal (other podcasts, books, etc.), a large chunk of the initial research has already been done. Basically, the skeleton (outline) was put into place, but a bare bones telling of the history would not suffice for me. That’s because the aim of the History of Ancient Greece is to provide a comprehensive, in-depth political, social, and cultural history of ancient Greece. So I then dig deeper into the literature and archaeological evidence “fill out” the episodes with the many details. While the podcast technically follows a narrative history, there are many (and I mean many) topics to cover (just look at the Outline) and so there have been many, many different diversions, a lot of which have been unplanned. Usually I will cover all of the political happenings in a century and then circle back and talk about the various social and cultural changes of that century. When I am preparing to choose a direction for a podcast episode, it’s actually quite simple. I already know what major points need to be checked off along the way. The fun, though, is in the process of getting there and experiencing the unexpected rabbit holes, twists, and turns that I find myself in along the way. A topic originally meant to be for just one episode might turn into three, another topic might get added all together, and so forth. In this sense, I’ve come to appreciate more, through my research, that history isn’t just about huge events and the equally huge people who shaped them but about all the people and the way they lived and viewed the world around them, the stories they believed, and their day-to-day lives. This is something that I truly came to appreciate more by digging deeper into one of ancient Greece’s most famous authors, the father of history himself, Herodotus, who was the main source for my episodes on the Persian Wars.
My fascination with Herodotus began in the summer of 2009. I was in the middle of the summer break from my freshman year of undergrad and I had just finished taking a history of western civilization survey course. I really enjoyed the unit on the ancient Greeks and so I had purchased the Landmark Herodotus from a local book store and spent that entire summer just devouring the many *ahem* interesting anecdotes that just leapt out from the pages. Fast forward to 2017, and it was those same stories (and even that same book) that formed the backbone for many of the stories that listeners have found to be the most popular from THOAG. Little did I know that what I thought was only going to be a handful of episodes covering the Persian wars, would become ten. Much like Herodotus before me, I concluded that I could not simply tell the tale of the Persian wars without making it sound like a good story, but at the same time I didn’t want to make it just sound like a simple retelling of Herodotus either. So there needed to be critical analysis of the events in question and the details described plus even further backstory pulled from other primary sources, archaeological evidence, and theories from modern scholarship. In order to understand the wars, you need to understand the Persians and the Greeks, and in order to understand the Persians I decided to tell their entire history (based upon the available evidence).
So when putting together this series of episodes I began by gathering all of the available resources that I could muster (from my personal and, of course, the public library) on the Persians and the Persian Wars. They included books such as those found here. I essentially read through all of these and synthesized the information as best as I could, forming it into a very detailed (and hopefully compelling) narrative. That’s essentially what the podcast is—a large amount of synthesis. After I finished with that, I sat down with my old friend, the Landmark Herodotus, read it from cover to cover, and filled the episode in with the juicy (and sometimes salacious) details that often get overlooked or not as fleshed out, and tried to comment or elaborate on things where he exaggerated or where other sources had another opinion.
The typical routine for creating a podcast episode goes as follows: I aim for a narrative somewhere between 12-18 pages, single-spaced, for each episode. I complete a rough draft and then I move onto my next episode. I don’t finalize the draft nor do I immediately record that episode because I like to stay 6-8 episodes ahead (in terms of research) in case I come across something else and need to go back and make changes or notice a trend or something else developing in later episodes that I should mention earlier (to set it up better). The week that I plan to record the episode, though, I take that rough draft and turn it into a final copy by combing through the narrative, reading it aloud, and just seeing how it sounds, adding transitions, that sort of stuff to make it flow better. Sometimes I have to move paragraphs around. Basically, I take it big picture view of the episode and fit the puzzle pieces where they best make sense and then smooth everything out into the final draft so that it’s ready to be recorded.
My recording “studio” is my home, and I record from my kitchen table. I usually have to lock my Golden Labrador in the bedroom or you would hear all sorts of background noise. For this particular episode I used an Audio Technica 2100, but I have since switched to a Blue Yeti. I haven’t determined yet if that has been a good switch. The Yeti tends to pick up a lot more outside noise and, for someone who doesn’t have a professional studio, that can be troublesome. Then again, I have recently moved and the acoustics are much better in this place than in the place where I recorded this episode. Anyway, I usually record on Saturday mornings. It typically takes me two hours because of bloopers. I usually return to the audio on Sundays and spend most of my day editing it. A rule of thumb is that it takes one hour for every ten minutes of actual product so since this episode was 75 minutes, I would estimate that I spent 7.5 hours that Sunday editing it for a Sunday night release at 8pm. My release schedule is sporadic, though. The aim is to be every week but life (and my day job) do get in the way sometimes. For 2017, I was able to release 36 episodes in 52 weeks (so 69% of the weeks). I am happy with that production rate and it might even go down as I progress at work.
All-in-all, I spend upwards of 30-40 hours per episode. I essentially treat podcasting as a second job in terms of the dedication. There are some nights I am bone tired and the last thing I want to do is open up a book and start writing, but I do it and keep the discipline because podcasting for me is more than just a hobby. It may sound cliché but it really is a passion. Unfortunately, I decided to leave the field of academia and went down a different career path, but through podcasting I’ve been able to stay connected and share my love of the ancient world (in particular Greek history) with millions of people around the world, something that I don’t take lightly.
Ryan Stitt is the host of the History of Ancient Greece Podcast. Ryan graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Classics and History in 2011 and attended graduate courses for Classics at the University of California-Los Angeles. Ryan currently serves as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He coaches youth football in his spare time, and being originally from south-central Pennsylvania, he is a lifelong Philly sports fan. Ryan can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @greekhistorypod.