I can’t think of much of an introduction for this piece because I don’t think it needs much more than this: How cool would it be to run a podcast with Shaq? I feel like it would be so awesome, and everyone I have mentioned this interview to has agreed. We all know Shaq is a friendly giant, has an incredible giggle, and is basically carrying the entire television advertising industry on his back, but if you didn’t know he has a podcast, you’re missing out. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Rob Jenners all about The Big Podcast with Shaq, which he produces and co-hosts. So if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to run a podcast with Shaquille O’Neal, you’re about to learn all about exactly that.
When I was growing up, Shaq was was still a top tier player in the NBA and I remember watching as he became a sports commentator. I remember Shaq towering over his fellow sportscasters and that, if I ever mentioned how massive the man was comparatively, my dad would quickly go through how incredible Shaq’s basketball career was and how great it was to watch him play the game. What my father failed to mention when recounting Shaquille O’Neal’s impressive career were his four rap albums (the first of which went platinum), his two reality shows, and the various movies he has appeared in. Of course, my sisters and I have always loved any commercial Shaq is in and I’m pretty sure that the man could sell anything to anyone but alas, there was something missing in the life of the amazing Shaquille O’Neal: a podcast.
And this is where Rob Jenners began telling me the story of The Big Podcast with Shaq. “About 2015 Shaq reached out to one of the hosts on our station, a guy named John Kinkade, who’s the cohost on the podcast, and kind of out of nowhere said ‘hey look, I’m trying to start a podcast, I don’t know anything about really doing it, I need a co host, I need a producer, what do you think?’” John and Rob had been working together for around twelve years at this point, with Rob running the sports show production for an Atlanta radio station, so when John was contacted by Shaq – a complete cold call, by the way – he reached out to Rob.
The Big Podcast with Shaq would be Rob’s first foray into making a podcast, but he and John began working through what the podcast would look like, drawing on their radio experience. “Putting together a podcast for me was kind of a similar approach to putting together a radio show in that I wanted it to be topical, I wanted it to be about Shaquille’s life, we talk about a lot of nonsense,” Rob explained. “I knew at some point we would develop this set of recurring themes and bits and benchmarks and concepts which we did over the first half the year we did it.” Of course, knowing the way a show will progress and build on itself is a little different from knowing where to start. For that, Rob had to talk to Shaquille himself.
The first thing Shaq made clear was that he didn’t “want to do a podcast with people that [were] going to agree with everything [he] said, because that isn’t very compelling or interesting.” Actually, Shaq had sought out John Kinkade because John didn’t mind arguing with his co host on air and Shaq thought “that’s a guy I could probably argue with.” but debate isn’t enough to build a podcast around, so Rob asked Shaq “what do you want to do every week?” “He kind of said ‘Look, I want to talk about everything. If it’s in the public eye and it’s being discussed online or social media is blowing up about it, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t talk about it.” From the very start Shaq made it clear he didn’t want to just have an NBA podcast. Rob explained that of course The Big Podcast with Shaq is a sports show because everyone involved is a sports guy, but Shaq wanted it to be more than that.
“I always find, and I’ve found as the show’s gone on,” Rob said, “the show’s conversation has been dominated by entertainment news or the news itself or something that was going on in Shaquille’s life or crazy random videos and audio that he was finding online. So early on I kind of realized that he wants to do more of a general coverage type of a show than trying to do an NBA podcast.” The idea is really cool and the show has certainly grown to address anything and everything the hosts find interesting on a weekly basis but, as Rob was putting together a plan for making the podcast, he had to ask why Shaq wanted one. “His schedule is so busy, he’s got so much going on, he’s the corporate spokesmen for every other business on television, I was like ‘why do you want to add a podcast to your schedule?’”
“Honestly, I think it’s a really genuine way to connect with the people that are either fans of mine or the people that want to hear what I have to say about certain topics,” Shaq told Rob. “And I want to have fun. I listen to a lot of podcasts where they have a good star or a good celebrity and no one’s having fun.” Rob summarized Shaq’ goal for the podcast with the simple note “Shaq wants to have fun” and told me he knew it was a “silly, simple note” but that this has also been the guiding principle behind structuring the show. “There’s an underlying directive [in making the show] of ‘make Shaq laugh,’” Rob explained. “Find a way to get him laughing, find a way to get him riffing on something or being entertaining and then swing back into the more topical stuff because the minute he’s in a better mood and he’s laughing and giggling he’s got way more to say.”
Of course, because Shaq meant it when he said he wanted to cover everything, the crew doesn’t shy away from serious topics and even offers their listeners a fresh perspective on those issues. “We have an interesting dichotomy on our show where Shaquille and my co-producer, a guy named Brandon Harper, are black guys and John and I are both white guys and we talk a lot about race and race relations and stuff that seems to get overrun in sports and politically,” Rob said. That dynamic works well because the men are good friends who deeply respect one another and know that their listeners benefit from hearing them work through issues and questions honestly.
Recording the show is always a lot of fun and Rob has enjoyed the process, but there was definitely a lot to learn moving from radio into podcasting.
If you find Rob Jenners on Twitter, his bio states that he is the co host and producer of The Big Podcast with Shaq and I was curious to hear how those two balance out. Sure, plenty of podcasters make their entire show themselves; researching, writing, recording, editing, and promoting all on their own, but I also knew John Kinkade was a co host so I asked Rob how all of them sort of fit together. He explained that it works a lot like radio shows where lots of people may be on mic (for this podcast there are always at least four guys with a mic at any given time) but everyone isn’t necessarily in every conversation. As far as balancing the roles, Rob said “my job’s always producer first… And that’s any show I’ve produced for. While I love to be on the air and it’s always been part of my job one way or the other, if my role is to produce the show… it’s more important for me to make sure they are getting their point and Shaquille and John are being highlighted.”
To that end, Rob told me that he didn’t speak at all during the first four or five episodes, instead waiting until Shaq brought him into the conversation to begin contributing beyond his role of bringing prepare content to the duo. While Rob is more than willing to join in the discussion, as a producer he is always listening to make sure the room isn’t getting too full. “If for any reason I feel like the conversation is crowded or there are too many people talking I try to go into producer mode pretty fast to try and slow the room down a little bit, to make sure we’re not stepping on each other,” Rob said. Usually Rob will drop out of the discussion if things do feel cluttered because his main goal is making sure John and Shaq get their points in and sound great, not getting to participate in the conversation.
Beyond transferring his skill in running a room while recording to podcasting, Rob pointed to the adjustment of podcasts not being a daily project as probably the biggest change. “I’m used to working in daily, terrestrial radio where everything is very in the moment,” Rob said. “We release the podcast every Monday and sometimes we tape those podcasts as far as two weeks ahead because of Shaquille’s schedule. So it’s building content that’s entertaining but not content that’s going to be really dated in two weeks.” Learning to balance the topical with what won’t be old news to listeners once the podcast airs has been difficult to adjust to but The Big Podcast with Shaq has continued to tackle relevant issues in an entertaining and up-to-date way.
“Also, working with your advertisers is a whole different ball game in advertising,” Rod continued. “What people are trying to accomplish with their ads, how you’re trying to drive traffic to either a website or to social media, works very differently than radio.” Rob explained that podcasting requires a lot more work between hosts and sponsors to find out who the advertisers are going to hit and what they are trying to communicate in order to really see the benefit of backing a podcast, and that’s really different from the traditional branding radio has become comfortable with.
Some of the learning has actually been a bit of a relief. “The one thing I love most about podcasting over traditional radio is I have the power of edit,” Rob said, comparing that to the fact that in radio “whatever you said in the moment is what you said in the moment and it’s on you forever.” When Rob mentioned that awesome “power of edit” I was curious as to how much post-production The Big Podcast with Shaq goes through and who has the final word on the show that gets released. Rob explained that that has been a learning process as well but that once he learned the hosts’ limits as far as tricky subjects or new ideas that may not work, he hasn’t had to edit episodes very heavily at all. Also, over the four years of making the show, Shaq really trusts Rob to put out a great show.
After running a consistently successful podcast for over four years, I was curious about what the team of The Big Podcast with Shaq was excited about as the show continued. The first thing Rob mentioned was the show’s 200th episode coming up pretty soon and the fact that it would be taped live in Atlanta for fans and listeners to attend. The team hasn’t gotten to do as many live shows as they’d want because of Shaq’s hectic work schedule (Rob mentioned that in four years he could only remember one time when Shaq was in one city for more than four days in a row), but they are hoping to incorporate more live events -when the schedules permit – into the life of the show to better connect with their audience.
Rob also mentioned that he is looking forward to using video for the show as well. “We’ve been filming everything we record and putting out clips online,” Rob said. “Our goal is to start filming a full video edit of every show to put on YouTube.” This makes it easy for clips of the show to be shared and lets listeners really engage in a new way with what is discussed on the show. “The video is tremendously impactful for a show like our because you get to not only hear Shaq say something but you get to watch him talk about it. That’s pretty neat and compelling,” Rob said, citing the moments when Shaq is really passionate and the way those videos can be used on sports television shows which draws people in and ads more depth for existing fans, who they are always looking to give the best possible content.
So if you love Shaq, hot topics, sports, lively debate, or just a really fun time with friends, listen to The Big Podcast with Shaq and be sure to leave a rating and review to let Rob and the team know what you think!