Producer Download: Adam Wilbourn

WhatCulture’s head of podcasts talks wrestling, recording and wrangling shows

Wrestling is a multi-million dollar business, and one that has generated legions of devoted fans. These fans have an insatiable appetite for content, and numerous podcasts have sprung up over the years to meet that need, and the WhatCulture Wrestling podcast has been one of the most successful, growing from a small experimental project to the number one wrestling podcast in the UK, even travelling to the US to record live podcasts and cover major shows attended by wrestling superfans.

One of those fans is Adam Wilbourn, head of podcasts at WhatCulture, who has run the company’s audio strategy since he joined in 2017. Now part of Future Publishing, Wilbourn is responsible for overseeing the role of audio content within WhatCulture’s wider editorial strategy, including sister podcasts like WhatCulture Gaming. “I was just hopeful for a little side project that I could do,” says Wilbourn, “So I’m really, really chuffed with how it's all gone and I’m excited to see what happens next.”

We spoke to Wilbourn about the joys of soundboards, the importance of going on tangents, and how he went from student radio to a career in podcasting.

How many podcasts do you work on?

Generally I run the WhatCulture Wrestling podcast feed – I occasionally help in other areas of WhatCulture podcasting, but that's the only one I really do the work on. In terms of output, we probably release between three and five podcasts a day, because there's such a wide range of topics and programming to cover across wrestling. So probably weekly, let's say 20 to 25 podcasts. We're kept busy.

The breakdown of our wrestling podcasts is a variety of the wrestling news that has broken overnight to previewing and reviewing wrestling shows - because there’s a wrestling show almost every day of the week, if you knowwhat you're looking for to analyse or look forward to. And then, on top of that, you have topics or interviews that we also release. And that can be as simple as a 10-minute phone call with a wrestler, or three people sat around a table arguing for half an hour about the latest matches.

How many podcasts do you listen to per week?

I don't know how many episodes I listen to, but I'm very, very passionate about podcasting, as you can probably tell. And so I listen to a variety of different programmes – between three and five. Sometimes they're wrestling and sometimes you want to step away from something you do as your day job and just enjoy the wide variety of podcasts that there are out there, whether they be comedy or drama. I'm really into a forensic science podcast right now.

What’s your podcast app of choice?

I prefer the Apple Podcast app, but I also use Spotify as well, because it's inbuilt with the actual app rather than a separate app. The amount of times that I'll go to listen to an album and decide I want to listen to another podcast. It's understandable why Spotify is so popular to consume it, as well. But Apple Podcasts is something that I've been using from my first forays into podcasts, so it's the trusty blanket.

What are your three items of essential podcast equipment?

The first thing that came to my mind when you said that wasn't good editing software, it wasn't even a quality microphone - It was a soundboard. We got a soundboard for the WhatCulture Wrestling podcast, probably, about a year ago. For better or for worse, it has been game-changing for WhatCulture Wrestling - whether it be utilising it for legitimate reasons to put the podcast together live, or just interjecting with sound effects as and when we feel it's necessary.

The other two probably shouldn't be as secondary to that as they are. I'd say a quality microphone. I think for anyone who is a fan of podcasting audio quality, it’s the first thing you hear, the first thing you notice. One of the first things that turns me off a podcast is if they don't have that. And finally, software. My beginnings in podcasting, I was using Audacity but when you get to use something like Audition and realise the options that gives you... For example, recently, we wanted to make a voice sound distorted, or another person sound like they were leaving a voicemail, and with Audition, it was the easiest job in the world.

How long does the average podcast take to turn around?

It's quite an easy process because we've got good presenters here at WhatCulture. It doesn't really require a great deal of editing, especially because the style is very conversational, which obviously helps. As we get quite passionate about our wrestling here, there may be the odd swear that needs to be edited. 

For the most part, circling back to the soundboard, because we’ve got that production to hand, the turnaround time is less than an hour in terms of editing, because it's just the snapshot of what happened when we went into the studio. Whether that podcast is 20 minutes or whether it's an hour and a half because we get so passionate about these topics varies, but in terms of turnaround time, it’s thankfully minimal.

What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis? 

Obviously I wear a variety of different hats as head of podcasts. So as well as doing the production for the wrestling podcast, I host - and I also manage advertising and all the admin that goes with it. The process of working with our podcast provider Acast, for example, and just making sure that we have the right eye-catching titles and artwork.

But I've got to say, I love every aspect of it. It's something that I genuinely can't believe I get to do as a day job. I loved what I did when I first joined WhatCulture in terms of presenting on camera; just getting to talk about wrestling as a job is preposterous and not something ‘done’ when I went to school. But now, combining that with my passion for audio - it's one of those things where you wear a variety of different hats, but every aspect of it is enjoyable and intriguing for me.

What's one thing that you wish every podcast host knew?

Tangents make your podcast better. Because I think whether you’re a silly wrestling podcaster like we are, or an incredibly serious debate podcast, tangents showcase you. They can be as unimportant as discussing your food quirks. But the amount of times that I've seen or heard from people who get to know our personality after 20 minutes of us talking about our favourite matches is crazy. 

You get far more engagement sometimes when you just reveal a personality trait that people weren't aware that you have, or were unaware that they have in common with you. And I think that's such a great way to form a bond with your audience. It's just letting people in and letting them know that you have this knowledge of an area, that we all have these amazing things in common and that there isn’t really that much difference between the presenter and the person listening to the podcast.

What makes a good episode?

I'm gonna sound a hypocrite here, because I'd say organisation – so know the points you're going to go through, know the areas, the subjects you're gonna cover and the questions you're going to ask – but at the same time, have the flexibility to go off-topic and go where the podcast takes you. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say, “Right, well, we can't talk about that, let's talk about what we're here to talk about and not go there.” No! Let's see where that takes us and then you can always come back. If you listen to that podcast, you'll go with them. So don't be afraid to bend or break the rules sometimes.

How did you get into the podcast industry?

I began doing student radio when I was at Warwick University studying theatre. Almost overnight, it went from something that was fun to do between lectures to something I very quickly realised I wanted to do for my career. I did a show with my friends on the student radio station RAW 1251 AM that became really successful, won us some student radio awards. That in turn allowed us to do a show on Radio 1, work experience at Capital and I ended up presenting on a radio station in Birmingham across the West Midlands called Free Radio. I did that for about eight or nine years, then discovered WhatCulture Wrestling

Wrestling has always been a guilty pleasure of mine and as part of my transition into this job, the one thing I said to them was: “You've got this incredibly successful website, you've got this YouTube channel with two million subscribers on it, and you have barely any audio presence.” They did do a podcast before I started, but it was very much an end-of-the-week, if we've got time thing. That was my sell to the bosses at WhatCulture, and thankfully they supported me on that and developed it into what it is today. 

What's the last podcast you listened to?

Probably the last podcast I listened to was If I Were You by Jake and Amir, who are two guys I've adored for over a decade now, since they were doing videos at College Humor. The podcast series I've really gotten into recently is one called Smoking Gun, which is all about crime cases and how forensic science has been used to either convict or exonerate people involved in pretty shocking crimes. 

I reckon my wife and I on our drives down south usually get through three or four podcasts on the journey. We just sit there in silence and listen to it. It's brilliantly produced, and it's also one of those ones that I'm enjoying so much that I have to stop myself listening to, a) because I'll get in trouble if I listen to it without my wife in the car, and b) because I don't want to burn through all the episodes and have nothing left to listen to. But I'm getting to that point and I really hope there's a season three on the horizon, because it's the podcast right now that I've recommended to every single one of my friends!