The Bat Segundo Show, 2004-2008?

The Bat Segundo Show is going on indefinite hiatus. Which pretty much means that it’s over, unless some magical sponsor or benefactor can appear at the eleventh hour to save the show. But I doubt it.

I tried to keep the show running as long as I could, supporting it with my own money. A typical show took me about twenty to thirty hours to produce from start to finish. Segundo was a full-time job for which I received nothing but generous donations, including many of you who kindly chipped in during last year’s pledge drive. The hell of it is that the money required to keep the show going was peanuts.

But now that most of my freelancing income sources have dried up — in some cases permanently — I’m looking for a full-time job to make ends meet. And I only have so much time and energy to go around.

I feel tremendously sad about all this. I know that for some authors, Segundo was the only place they had to discuss their books. But I see no other option but to fold the show under the current economic circumstances.

Thanks to all the authors who took the time out of their busy schedules to talk with me. Thanks to all the publicists who went along with the crazy concept. And thanks, most of all, to the listeners. For four years, we offered a bona-fide alternative to the mainstream. And I’m extremely disheartened to abandon this. I never felt entitled to a living from this. But I do feel as if I’ve drowned a baby.

There are about nine shows left to be released, with a few more interviews I’ve set up that have yet to be conducted. I’ll be putting these shows up in the forthcoming weeks.

In the meantime, if you need a guy to write for you full-time or wait tables, please feel free to email me.

[UPDATE: I’ve added a question mark to the post’s title, since it seems possible to carry on the show in a severely reduced capacity. Perhaps through a seasonal special or two. Last night, I left a comment in the accompanying thread outlining some of the options. I conducted an interview this morning. Lots of laughs. Knowing that it would be one of the last ones (at least for a while), I appreciated it more than I usually do.]


  1. In a just world, NPR would hire you to replace Terry Gross… or just let her interview musicians, where she does have some chops.

    Any chance someone would be interested in publishing selections?

  2. P.S. Couldn’t you try building an audio portfolio and shopping your skillz out to the local public radio stations? That’s some impressive stuff.

  3. Ed, I wish I was a dotcom millionaire instead of a struggling professional blogger myself, then I could ladle $100 bills over your head while you interviewed my favorite authors. Let me know if I can be of any help, not only was Bat Sugundo one of the only podcasts worth downloading, but it was the best literary show, period. Plus, I have great respect for you both as a critic and as a friend.

    I definitely second the public radio suggestion (if you would like to make the podcast a career).

  4. Folks, thanks for the kind words and the efforts to brainstorm — both here and in email. I’ll respond to the emails at some point tomorrow or the next day. Tomorrow, I have two interviews to conduct, which are part of the nine or ten podcasts left in the group. So for the nonce, let me be transparent here.

    A year ago, when I set about to live the life I now lead, which essentially involved moving to New York and surviving on freelancing money (in hindsight, this was crazed folly that somehow worked out, at least for the last year), I felt that if I was going to live this life that I needed to use my skills, such as they are, to offer the kind of inquiry that you don’t see elsewhere. I tried to give authors who wouldn’t get the kind of exposure elsewhere a place to talk about their work. And I tried a different approach with more established authors, who, by and large, seemed to appreciate it.

    With the freelancing, I was able to pay the rent (barely) and sustain a kind of existence that permitted lots of Segundo and progress on the fiction. I also enjoyed the freelancing and tried to make everything I wrote fun and engaging. Managed to persuade a few editors (including Ulin, who really has done a hell of a job over the last two years and is now in an extremely terrible position with the Zell craziness at the LATBR; Josh Getlin got axed, if you didn’t hear the news) to cover unusual or alternative titles, offering humor and a few mainstream cultural access points, along with text-based analysis.

    But as the freelancing sources dried up, it became less possible to do this. The newspaper cuts, which have been quite recent, destroyed my ability to keep Segundo going. What you see here are economic consequences.

    To address some of the ideas:

    1. Public radio. There have been a few exchanges. One program director told me that Segundo was “too smart.” There was another possibility of offering edited versions of the interviews for another program, but, while one producer was hep, it was axed by another producer. And you folks may not know this, but, even if you CAN get your show into major markets, the money is slim. Jesse Thorn, host of “The Sound of Young America,” revealed some astonishing truths in this Metafilter thread:

    He points out that, despite being distributed on WNYC and WHYY, he only gets $5-10K a year from syndication. Most stations don’t even pay at all. Thorn survives largely off of donations and underwriting. And while I think he complains a bit too much, considering he seems to have the money to fly around the country for promotional purposes (I certainly don’t), he does have very interesting thoughts on why public radio continues to play it safe. So is it possible? Maybe. If a few program directors can be persuaded. But even the Bryant Park Project people, who Thorn claims were “fighting the good fight,” apparently couldn’t get past some internecine bureaucracy and fixed ideas about demographics. The struggle, as a result, is a long and hard one that requires a considerable amount of work over many months, if not years.

    2. Grants. I’ve thought about this too. But that would, in many cases, involve setting up a 501(c)(3). If there’s one thing I learned from reading Victor Navasky’s candid and very interesting memoir, A MATTER OF OPINION, if you want to be political under a 501(c)(3), you’re going to have problems under the tax code, which specifically prohibits this. Because we live in undeniably political times, I have felt it important to include a few political guests on the program to address particular issues. If Segundo reflects our present epoch, it must as a matter of course not be afraid to talk about politics. But since talking politics runs some risk of violating the tax code, this means avoiding a 501(c)(3).

    Of course, I could always incorporate. But that would involve $500 and legal fees that I don’t have right now. (And did you know that the New York Times has received grants for some of its podcasts AND they get sponsors? Why? Because they’re a corporation.)

    So let’s say that I do incorporate and apply for a NEA Radio & Television grant. Well, take a look at the 2008 grant recipients:

    Observe who they are giving the grants to: programs that appear on public radio. Again, we find ourselves in a catch-22. The minute that I start dealing with public radio, I will then have to adjust Segundo to meet a specific demographic. Never mind that this is ostensibly PUBLIC radio. It may very will be a replay of the “good fight” that the Bryant Park Project people had to go through. Unless, of course, they think Segundo, as it currently exists, is in some sense stellar. But then I’d have to purchase new equipment to meet their understandable audio standards and possibly shift these interviews to a studio environment that might affect the unique answers and conversation you’ll find throughout these podcasts, which of course take place in natural locations (quite deliberately). The natural approach may work for Nardwuar and CBC. I’m not certain that this would work for NPR.

    3. Sponsors and donations. This is probably the best short-term solution here. I tried things out with Bluberry, but they did nothing. And it’s a telling sign that Bluberry recently introduced a hosting profit model. I guess they’re done with looking out for podcasters.

    Donations offer a short-term burst to keep things going. But let’s say we conduct a pledge drive. In a few months, I might very well be in the same position I’m in right now. And frankly, I owe some donors chapbooks that I promised from the last pledge drive, but that I haven’t yet made or sent. I feel very bad about this. Although in the grand scheme of things, we weren’t talking about significant sums, this remains my fault, but lack of time and resources on my part prevented me from fulfilling this, and I plan to atone for it someday to those who were kind enough to donate. My humble apologies.

    I don’t know if Best Buy (or another sponsor) could be cajoled to offer the $30,000 they did to the Denver Post to sponsor their podcasts. And while some of the podcasts have received as many as 50,000 listeners, there are a few that have received listeners in the very low four figures. In defense of Bluberry, is this really enough to attract a sponsor? It’s a question I’ve wanted to pursue. But this likewise requires time and resources.

    What I may very well need is a devoted person willing to look into this. Jason asked how much cash I would need. I’d say that if you could get me at least $30K a year, I could keep Segundo going at the same level of frequency and with the current bandwidth. (And bandwidth is another problem that, for the moment, I won’t go into.)

    I hope I’ve summed up some of the problems here. It’s late, but if you have any jumping off points from this, feel free to weigh in. Again, I wish to reiterate that the world DOESN’T owe me a living and that it’s been a privilege to do this. Perhaps all this was really a fluke or a pipe dream and I somehow got lucky. But maybe in sharing some of these thoughts with you, we might be able to come up with a few solutions.

    Incidentally, I’m not adverse to doing the occasional special or two if we can work it in. Doctor Who had four years and next year we get some specials. Perhaps we can do something similar with Segundo in the time being? I don’t know. Signing off for now.

  5. Ed,

    I’m sorry to hear that the Bat has to fold up his wings for now. You created an amazing show that many people enjoyed and appreciated. Perhaps, a door will open for you along your way so that the bat can fly again. It seems to me that you have done everything possible to keep your show going. There can be no regrets that you failed to fight a mighty battle. You know, even Einstein had to work a patent job while he worked on that Relativity thing.


    Aunt Laura

  6. This is the saddest news I’ve heard in a while. For someone who lives outside of the U.S., the brilliant interviews you conducted were often a lifeline for me and a way to keep in touch with literary/intellectual concerns of English-speaking writers. I dearly hope that some respite will reach you, amid the financial woes. All the best to you Ed in all of your endeavors! Although things look grim now, your dedication to literature is paving the way for *something* good to happen… In the meantime, we could raise funds for the specials you mentioned, once the more pressing concerns are taken care of.

  7. Ed, I’m sorry to hear this, Segundo was one of the few podcasts that I makes me light up as it comes through my podcatcher.

    It was brilliant, and some of the best interviewing I’ve ever heard. It should take you places.

  8. Have you tried applying for a grant? Even though I don’t listen to every single podcast as it comes out, I often find myself going back to older ones as I discover/research new authors. The podcasts are definitely valuable resources for both entertainment purposes and scholarly research.

  9. Ed-
    I’m so sorry! However,I firmly believe that this hiatus will only be a temporary measure. Your ability to land on your feet despite the distance of the fall is legendary. Keep your chin up and believe as I do that the baby isn’t drowned; he’s away at boarding school. And by God when he’s back, the stories he will tell!

  10. I just discovered and bookmarked this site and your podcast through that Metafilter thread. I’ve got a lot of material to read and listen to, but I hope you’ll find a way to continue.

  11. How Can Freelancers Survive These Days?…

    Can freelance writers survive in this challenging economy?One of the best freelance book reviewers and podcasters in the business has put all his interviewing efforts on hold–rocked by shrinking book reviewing budgets at his favorite outlets.Read the …

  12. Sorry to hear about this, Ed, but I certainly understand. I can’t tell you how many of these podcasts I’ve listened to and enjoyed. Thanks again for all the hard work!

  13. Really sorry to hear it, Ed – I hope something comes through to make it possible again. It’s mighty impressive that you’re cranking out these extra podcasts under such circumstances, but then it’s always been impressive.

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