I wanted to speak with Daniele Bolelli of the History on Fire podcast because one, I think his show is terrific and I’ve featured it in the newsletter before, and two, because I found his recent move to Luminary quite fascinating. So it was good to speak with someone that had made that move and their perspective on it.
Daniele is an author of multiple books, a history professor at CSULB, and Santa Monica college and came to prominence in the 2010s starting with his appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
Here’s my interview with Daniele:
There are now at least a few dozen high-quality history podcasts covering various topics and events. What do you think makes History on Fire unique?
Daniele: Holding the interest of listeners in a long-form history podcast (over 90 minutes and often over two hours) is not an easy task. I think I can tell epic stories in a way that is fairly unique. There are many good historians. and there are some great storytellers. not too many people can do both.
What was the driving force behind starting History on Fire?
Daniele: I was already podcasting… I had an audience… I teach history in college for a living… and my favorite podcast was hardcore history, so I put two and two together and decided that historical podcasting was a good step for me.
Tell me a little bit about your process and the things that go into producing each episode?
Daniele: I have to find a story I really enjoy. the story needs to be epic, include great characters, and need to have enough sources that I won’t run out of things to say quickly. After this, I get an essential bibliography on the topic going and pick what seems the most comprehensive book. I take copious notes and come up with a solid first draft for the story. Then I read many more books and add details. Then I add a touch of my own style to it all. And then it’s time to record. About anywhere between 100 and 200 hours of work go into each two-hour episode.
Do you ever think about the lasting impact of your show? What would you want its legacy to be?
Daniele: Of course, I want to entertain, ideally inspire, and give people some stimuli that they can use to improve the quality of their lives.
Do you take the time to promote your show? What have you found to be the most effective?
Daniele: The main thing I do is I tend to engage a lot with listeners on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, etc. I don’t know how effective it is time-wise, but I feel it’s the right thing to do.
What advice would you give to a podcaster just starting out?
Daniele: Most people quit after a few episodes because they don’t realize it’s a lot of work and it may be a while before anyone begins to listen. So, like with all creative endeavors, you need to do it for yourself–first and foremost for your own pleasure.
I know you recently moved over to the Luminary platform, which is a gated pay service for audio shows. What was the motivation behind moving History on Fire to Luminary?
Daniele: History on fire requires a monstrous amount of work to get done. I can’t do it as an amateur because, in terms of time commitment, it’s a full-time job. As such, I need to make sure that it pays for all my bills. Otherwise, I can’t do it and I’d have to find something else that pays. the free podcasting model may work for podcasts that require less time investments. Luminary offers me security that the free model does not. Hence, I can dedicate myself fully to it, and it’s much healthier for me to do so, rather than podcasting while trying to do 10,000 other things to make sure bills get paid.
What do you think is the future of podcasting? Increasing walled gardens like what Spotify and Luminar are doing or do you think the open RSS format will prevail?
Daniele: The open RSS format could work if listeners supported the shows they love. But for the most part, they don’t. Imagine a podcast with 200,000 listeners… if everyone donated something… even as little as $ 1 x year, the creator would be making good money and the show would remain viable. But on average, something in the neighborhood of 1% of listeners supports a podcast, so clearly with such low numbers, the model is not feasible.
Give me 3 of your best podcast recommendations.