A Q+A with Nick Quah — Founder of Hot Pod

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Nick Quah is the guy you want to read on podcasts. His Hot Pod newsletter comes in both free and paid levels, and covers every angle of the podcast industry, from which new shows are being made to what advertisers want. He’s a journalist on a beat, but also an entrepreneur running his own small media company. We asked him about his career path, creating a newsletter business, and the future of audio. — Kyle Chayka

SH: Growing up, what were your earliest media consumption habits or influences?

Oh boy. Good question. So, I grew up in Malaysia, which may or may not have any bearing on this question, because my early media consumption habits were pretty generic. I watched a lot of TV (my youth tracked alongside the early cable TV boom in Southeast Asia), watched a lot of movies (cinemas in my part of the world are palatial, still are), and read the local English newspaper. When 56k dial-up modems hit the country, I was online a lot, pretending to be an adult on IRC and going down Lycos rabbit holes. It could easily have been one of those bullshit tech boy origin stories, except my early interests ended up clustering more in places like FanFiction.net than C++ forums or whatever.

I didn't read books much. I'd like to blame that on the fact I had little influence or opportunity to do so, but that wouldn't be accurate, because my older sister read a whole bunch growing up. So maybe I was just a little philistine.

SH: When did you start listening to podcasts, and what do they mean to you?

I started listening to podcasts not long after I came to the States for college, around late 2008 and early 2009. Blame it on public radio. I didn't have anything like that growing up in Malaysia — or maybe I just didn't find it, who knows — and I think I first encountered it when I was hanging out in the student center on a random weekend afternoon, and someone was playing it out loud. I don't remember what exactly I heard, but I liked it enough to go poking around for it online. Soon enough, I was downloading Radiolab onto my iPod Shuffle and going on long runs. And then WTF with Marc Maron came along, and then Comedy Bang! Bang!, and then This American Life, and then some random stuff like Oxford lecture recordings. Suddenly I had this entire universe of stuff on my iPod that I kept piping into my ears.

For a while, podcasts were just a thing I was into. That shifted somewhere in 2012-2013, when I moved to Chicago to spend a lost year in graduate school right out of college. Like many naive undergrads looking for anything to hold onto, I went in thinking I wanted to be a professor or something, but I quickly realized a few weeks into the program that I wanted nothing to do with any of it. There was also a lot of shit happening in my life at that point, and so I spent the year in a very bad place. I wouldn't sleep for days at a time, I was depressed.

And I would spend a lot of time walking around the city and listening to podcasts for hours at a time. They kept me from feeling too lonely or going off the deep end. At some point, they just became this thing that helped me modulate my emotions. It's weird. Anyway, that's when I struck up a really intense relationship with podcasts, and that's when I started playing with the idea of getting involved somehow, someday.....

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Peter Moskowitz