A Morgantown-based podcast collective finds numbers in numbers.
➼ Morgantown transplant Kelen Conley started making podcasts around 2008, long before shows like Serial, StartUp, and WTF with Marc Maron made on-demand audio a national obsession. But his experiments never lasted long. “I was in my 20s, and I was easily distracted by shiny things,” he says. Conley was mostly focused on rapping at the time.
Then, in January 2016, he launched Hyphen Nation. He was inspired by shows like Maron’s and The Bill Simmons Podcast, where hosts explore issues in the news or topics that just interest them, by themselves or with guests. “I always loved how their conversations flowed when they did have a guest on,” he says. “I wanted to try to do it on my own.”
Most of the early shows feature Conley alone on the mic—recording in his car, the quietest space he could find—discussing the NBA, mixed martial arts, pro wrestling, and comic books. When he did book guests, he went for people he knew he could talk freely with. He invited his sister-in-law on to talk about musicals and his wife to talk about her favorite TV shows. He interviewed his dad about life.
Later, he added occasional co-host Marcus Robinson, who always comes to the studio with six or seven questions that he and Conley can argue over. He built a makeshift studio in his basement, although he sometimes still uses his car.
The show gained some popularity. In summer 2017, a friend of Conley’s from Boston—who goes by the nom-de-microphone Handsome Bane—said he wanted to try a show of his own. Bane recruited his friend Everyday Rogue as co-host and launched It’s Like a Podcast or Whatever, where they discuss superhero movies, cosplay, anime, music, and just about everything else pop-culture related.
“As soon as I saw the very first thing they did, I said ‘I want it,’” Conley says. He went to Bane with an idea. “I said, ‘Why don’t we try to do this podcast network thing, so everything’s coming from one direction?’” Bane liked the idea but told Conley he didn’t have money to invest. “I’m like, ‘Pay me? I’m not making any money. I just want to have this network of podcasts I think is really cool.’”
Podcast networks take several forms. Sometimes a network is a stable of shows produced by a single team of producers. Other times the shows’ only connection is to promote one another—which is what Conley had in mind.
Hyphen Nation and It’s Like a Podcast or Whatever joined forces, and the Hyphen Podcast Group was born. The network has grown since, and now the network has a roster of seven regular shows—the original two plus five more:
Browns in Our Blood, a Cleveland Browns podcast featuring hosts Anthony Sellers and Eric Jordan and moderated by Conley;
Catch the Show, a concert review podcast hosted by Eric Jordan, Jr.;
I, Blackman, a current events show hosted by Detroit podcaster Miles Amadeus Prower;
Lemon on the Edge, a sports talk podcast hosted by Lane Lemon; and
Victory Jumpoff Radio, a Conley-hosted dance music podcast that occasionally features guests DJs.
The shows advertise one another on-air. And when one of the shows publishes a new episode, Conley adds it to the Hyphen Podcast Network website, which automatically posts to Twitter and Facebook. He also posts an update on Instagram.
This is in addition to producing his own show—and all the research, recording, and editing that entails. Sometimes this means late nights for Conley, who also works a day job at Fairmont Federal Credit Union. It’s worth it, he says. “I’m a creative person so, even if I’m not getting the feedback I desire, I get such gratification from just releasing it and knowing I was able to get it out there.”
The collective also gives Conley a community of like-minded people to workshop ideas with. “It’s nice having that camaraderie,” he says.
He hopes to keep expanding the podcast group’s network. “We definitely want to get some female voices going. I know we’re just a bunch of dudes talking, and we’re missing a bunch of voices.”
And, of course, he wants to attract a larger audience. That will grow the network’s ability to attract advertising dollars—something they haven’t been able to do yet. “The numbers don’t do too bad. We’re not doing millions of downloads, but there are weeks they’re doing hundreds of downloads.”
He figures once Hyphen’s shows get a consistent audience of 500 listeners each episode, he’ll be able to start selling ads to support this all-consuming hobby. He’s confident the group is on the path to that goal. “As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll build an audience,” he says.