INTERVIEW: Lopez Radio and the search for truth, comfortable silences and conversational unpredictability
When you love doing something, you put in the time. You plug away, digging your heels in when laziness tempts. You watch the clock tick past midnight for the umpteenth time as you try to find better ways to ply your trade and more refined methods with which to reach your next set of goals. You trudge towards that “10,000 hours” mark – the temporal Gladwell signpost marking your entry to the proverbial experts’ club – and upon reaching it you plod onward to the next ten thousand hours.
To love something is to want to continue doing it, and therefore your life – and whatever you choose to make your life’s work – winds up being about the journey and all the discoveries made along the way instead of about determining where it ends.
For the last three years Jeremy Lopez has been putting in the time every week – sometimes multiple times a week – on Lopez Radio, an independent podcast through which he has, to date, produced 211 episodes not counting peripheral programs he put out on a pair of now-defunct shows: Ten Minute First Round, a short sports podcast, and The Half Ass Morning Show, a 30-minute political commentary program. For two to three hours per episode, Lopez, often with a guest but sometimes without, covers everything from pop culture, politics and publishing to sports, space travel and spelunking.
In the arena of do-it-yourself broadcasting, Lopez is a genuine factotum: a genial, engaging and insightful jack-of-all-trades whose conversational acumen and robust, smooth voice earns listeners with every episode.
TuffGnarl.com: How old were you when you realized you wanted to make broadcasting a priority in your life?
Jeremy Lopez: It was actually later than you would think. I got out of high school – I went to school right here, outside of Athens, Georgia – and, like most people my age, my friends and I were all like “We’re going to be IT people and do computers” since we were the only people in our families that knew anything about the internet, how to set up a modem or a zip drive at the time. We were like, “Well I guess we’re kind of good at this,” since that’s all you heard. So we jumped into tech school together and that lasted maybe a couple of semesters before we were looking for something else. It’s something that’s classic with our generation, the feeling of “I can’t decide what I want.”
I was approaching my mid-20s and a friend of mine, Sheets, who I did a radio show with, he was just obsessed with the medium. He would download MP3s, before YouTube was big, of these radio shows I’d never heard of before because they weren’t in our market. He was pretty much the one who showed me how radio could be funny and provoke thought.
You know, when you’re growing up the radio’s just kind of something that’s always there; you never think about it as a job that you could do. Looking back on it, in middle school I didn’t have cable or satellite TV. We lived out in the middle of the country, so all you had was the local station. We had the local alternative station here that every evening would have a guest DJ, someone who called in, intro a song from the Top Five of the day, or something like that. So I would call in as much as I could, using different names. I guess that was… I didn’t realize that was where that was leading me, but I guess I always had an inkling toward, “Hey, I like getting my voice out there.”
And then you ended up interning for Opie and Anthony, working for a few stations in Georgia and doing broadcast work in Jacksonville, Florida. I feel like that kind of experience, it translates. You carry with you the things that work, discard the things that don’t and, listening to your show now, there’s never any dead air and the production value is always terrific. You keep things flowing. It’s extremely professional in its execution, but completely casual in its mood.
It’s like a comfort thing, I guess. In broadcasting school you’re told that dead air is the loudest thing that you could possibly put on the radio. You may have a loud commercial or there’s a rock song going on or someone’s talking, but everyone seems to notice in the car when the radio goes silent. They’re just kind of like, “What’s going on?” Like something’s pulled out of the background that’s so loud because you’re not used to not having any background noise. You’re taught that dead air is the most horrible thing that could possibly happen.
Over the course of 206 episodes, I’ve tried to pull back on that a little bit. In normal conversation, if you and I were having a sidebar, there are moments of silence, you know? If you’re having dinner and talking with your friends, there are a few moments where people are enjoying their food and no one’s saying anything. I try to let some of those silences kind of marinate sometimes. I don’t like to just let it sit there and be silent, but it’s definitely a holdover from what was drilled into my brain from my early broadcast days, for sure.
In what ways are you trying to do that?
I feel like when people have a conversation – it happens a lot now because of politics, with the election going on – that people often are just waiting for their turn to talk rather than listening to the other person. They’re like, “I’ve already got my point in my head that I’m going to fire off next,” and they’re just waiting for that person’s mouth to stop moving so they can fire it off. I’m trying to actively sit back and listen to what the person is saying. I do that anyway, because obviously I can carry on a conversation, but sometimes you do it half-assed. To have a real conversation with someone, it’s good to sit back and listen and give it a couple beats. It doesn’t have to be a long pause or anything like that, but to give it a couple beats to digest what they said and then respond is huge. In radio, it’s just like, “No, fill that air; don’t let anything drag along or you’re going to be in trouble.” That’s kind of where I’m going with it. Instead of looking at my notes to see where I’m going next, I try to focus on looking at them and processing their words. Sometimes that leads to a little bit of a silence, but it’s not anything that’s unbearable.
Creating a comfortable silence.
Sure. Creating a comfortable silence… I’ve gotten so sensitive in having conversations and debates with people to when someone’s not listening to me and just waiting to say what they want to say. I don’t want someone to feel that when they talk to me.
That’s the difference between the best talk radio broadcasters and the ones who aren’t so great. Everyone who goes into broadcasting is to some degree a good conversationalist, but the best are intensive listeners. Who among them are the ones you’d say you most admire?
As far as radio goes, I was obviously a big fan of Opie and Anthony. Them more so for the comedic value and all the comedians. They got me into so much stand-up comedy.
In terms of interviewing, the best interviewer I listen to and someone I point to all the time is a guy named Ron Bennington. He was part of a show called The Ron and Fez Show. Fez retired. Ron now runs a show called Bennington that he actually does with his daughter, who is in her early 30s now. Their chemistry is wonderful, but when he actually interviews someone you can tell he’s listening and the thing I like to do, what I do in my interviews that I took from him is… Know when to take some side roads. Let’s say you and I are talking about mixed martial arts and you happen to mention in passing that you like a certain band – “It’s like that Pennywise track,” blah, blah, blah – I might take that side road and go, “Oh, what Pennywise album do you like?” Being able to listen and pick up on cues, that this person knows about this and so do I and choosing to go in that direction, and also sensing when people have exhausted themselves on a topic and knowing when to move onto the next thing important. You don’t want to hit that wall where you both are like, “Yeah…” and you just kind of sit there. You don’t want it to fizzle like that. Ron Bennington’s great at that. He can sit down with the biggest profile person and just make it seem like he’s talking to one of his friends.
Another guy that’s really big – and he’s really old school, but he was huge on radio before he had a show on CNN – is Larry King, one of the best interviewers ever. I think he’s had like over 2,000 interviews in his career.
On the opposite side of things, have you ever not aired a show?
Yes. There’s one show that I think I still have saved somewhere. I don’t think I’ll ever release it. I had some friends over. We’d gone out one night and came back and one of my friends was kind of giving me shit because I’d never had him on the show. I’d never thought to have him on the show. He’s not really one of my friends that I thought would really be into something like that. But I was like, “Alright, let’s do it!”
We jump in, we start talking, some other people are hanging out with us and they jump in and it was just kind of a bit of a drunk, rambling mess. Some people got upset. People started arguing back and forth about stuff. It was completely airable stuff – I could’ve put it up – but you know how you can be hanging with people and partying and some people get stuck in a loop where they keep coming back to the same point? I had like two or three people doing that. I can’t subject my listeners to that.
But it’s very difficult for me to decide to not air something. You could go through and see that in the 206 episodes I’ve done… We’ve done movie reviews, where my buddies Fagan and Tyler and I have sat down and watched movies and basically did Mystery Science Theater 3000. My format is probably as open as it gets. I think that can be to the detriment of the show sometimes, because I think a lot of people search out podcasts for very niche things and I think those tend to be your more successful shows. Mine, I like that it can’t find that, but at the same time I’m just kind of like, “Man… It’s such a weird and unstable thing.”
I’m very similar. I don’t like to stay on one topic for an especially long time. I like to write about a bunch of different things. It sort of keeps things interesting and keeps you from getting bogged down in the mundanity of routine.
Yeah. Talking about writing, I can appreciate what Jack Slack does. Jack Slack is one of the best guys at breaking down, in written word, a fight or strategies for an upcoming big fight that might be happening. He’s good at that. He’s really good. You can tell that’s his bread and butter.
Part of the downfall for me, or what caused me to absorb 10 Minute First Round back into Lopez Radio was that I didn’t feel like, in 10 minutes, I was saying anything different than what most other journalists and shows were saying. I was like, “Man, I don’t want to be just some other guy spitting out the same thing over and over again. I want something fresh and to have a normal conversation about things.”
I don’t want to get bored with it, so that’s why I always do a bunch of different things. We’re getting ready to do our Fantasy Football draft this weekend, and we’re going to do a podcast. We’re going to sit around the table, have our fantasy draft, silence and all. Like when we’re waiting for someone to pick, we might be giving them shit – stuff like that. I like the fact that my show is always something different. I tell people up front, “This might be your thing and it might not be. We’re going to be talking a lot about fighting and if that isn’t your thing I’ll release something next week that could be.”
In addition to some high-profile guests, you’ve developed a evolving cast of regulars on your show, a few of which we’ve mentioned already – Sheets, Lord Fagan, the guys from the Parting Shot Podcast, James Lynch and Carlin Bardsley. I know that you have your wife, Krista, on regularly. What in your opinion constitutes a good guest and one that you’d want to have on again?
Usually what constitutes a good guest for me is the ease of talking to them. When you’re interviewing somebody or talking to them, you’re trying to pull information out. But sometimes it can be painful. It can be one of those things where you’re just like, “Alright, elaborate on that.” But you don’t want to be too much like a teacher at school saying, “Okay… Please explain.” So it’s usually the ease of talking to them.
My wife is probably, to me, one of the more unpredictable people to talk to. I’ll pull a story aside just to talk to her about that. I’ll be like, “Man, she’s just going to go crazy about this.” It might be something where the writer has… not necessarily a sexist lean, but there’ll be something in the story that I’ll pick up on where I know she’s going to be like, “This guy’s full of shit.” And then she’ll pull something else out that she has a problem with. That, to me – the unpredictability mixed with the ability to just have a conversation – is probably what keeps people coming back through the door.
And then there are certain people I just bring on when things are going on. If there’s something political that I want to discuss because I don’t really understand it, that’s when I call in Lord Fagan because he’s a guy that, I don’t know if he ever sleeps, but he can tell you just about anything having to do with politics if you bring it up. He’ll explain it. He’ll over-explain it, but it’s always in a good way.
What do you perceive are some of the advantages of living in your hometown – still living in your hometown. I’m very much the same way. I live in Miami. I was born in Miami. You were born in Athens and you still live there. I know you’ve briefly lived in other places, but you still decided to call Athens your home at the end of the day. Why is that?
I think the main thing is family. My entire family is here. The friends I grew up with are here for the most part. Some have moved away. I love to travel and I always daydream about living somewhere else, maybe near the beach because I love SCUBA diving. It’d be really cool to live in Denver. But when you’ve got your entire family and support system here, that’s pretty important. My friends and my family are probably the most important driving force behind everything I do.
Obviously I’ve tried my career in radio and now I’m doing IT work but looking at maybe brewing professionally. For a while I was trying to be an air traffic controller. That didn’t work out, but just having those people to support you in your ideas… I think it would be different if they weren’t supportive, if they were all skeptical of the things that I do. But throughout all these different things that I’ve tried to do as a career they’re always like, “Yeah, you can do that. Go for it.”
I think that keeps me here, because it’s tough. When I moved to Jacksonville to finish up school, I had a couple of friends there, but for the most part my support system was back in Athens. That’s weird. It’s cool to live by yourself and be away from all of that, but I didn’t think twice when I had the opportunity to move back. When you know you’ve got the support, it’s easy to live there. I guess I don’t have the jaded outlook some people have about their hometowns. You talk to some folks and they either love being there or they want to get the hell out. I think that some people don’t know anything else. I know people that have never left the state of Georgia. I could never be like that, but I’m OK with being here as long as I have the same support.
Some people treat not leaving your hometown as some sort of tragedy, like you’ve wasted your life’s potential. But what if you’re born and raised in a cool town? What’s the problem with still living there, then?
I think a lot of people, especially here in Athens, they’ll move here for college, get caught up in the scene and wake up one day approaching 40 and still caught up in the scene. There’s nothing wrong with being in the scene, but they’re not really doing anything and then they’re like, “I’m not doing anything,” and then they have their mid-life crisis. It’s important to be aware that you’re in Neverland so you can get the hell out in time, you know?
It’s about perspective.
It’s hard to ignore this current election cycle, and you’ve thrown a new name into the hat. It’s on your page. I don’t know what the fuck it is – I think I missed the show where it was explained – but what is the deal with “Pinestraw ‘16”? Can you please explain this concept to me? Because, even reading what you have on the site, I had a very hard time figuring out what the hell is going on there.
Pinestraw… It was just kind of a goof. Someone put up a meme back when Trump was still running in the primary. The primaries were ramping up and someone had taken a picture on, like, a hill. It had a bunch of different campaign signs. You had Trump and Cruz and Rubio and Hillary and Bernie. And then someone had put one of those makeshift signs that read “Pinestraw” and listed a phone number for pine straw, so you could purchase it. And the meme just said, “I’m going with Pinestraw.” I just thought that was hilarious, so I brought it up with my friends and we were talking about how it would be so funny to have bumper stickers for Pinestraw 2016. I found a site and it wasn’t that expensive to have these things made, so I made some Pinestraw 2016 bumper stickers and just threw them up on the site, thinking if someone donates five bucks I’ll send them a Pinestraw 2016 sticker. It wasn’t anything that ever went crazy and took off, so I’ve got a small stack of these stickers and my wife has one her car. [Laughs] People are like, “What the hell is Pinestraw 2016?”
I’ve always thumbed my nose at the presidential election process. I had this thing that got me into arguments with people that I knew and with family back when I was on the radio with Sheets. I forget which election it was. It was either the second go-round for Bush or the first go-round for Obama, and the slogan on the show for me was: “Don’t Vote.”
“Don’t Vote 2004,” or whatever year it was. That would just be my thing, and people would call into the show like, “I can’t believe you would tell people not to vote, blah blah blah.” And then of course I’d have the veterans in my family tell me, “That’s a very irresponsible thing to say on the radio.” But I’ve always thumbed my nose at the process and I guess that’s a lingering thumbing of the nose, the Pinestraw 2016.
Are there any recent podcasts that you’ve put out that you’d like to specifically point people towards?
Well I mentioned the Fantasy Football podcast. We had a lot of fun doing that last year. We have a nice mixture of people who know how to play Fantasy Football and people who have no idea what the hell they’re doing, so it’s always fun to talk with them. I also recently had the author T. Blake Braddy on. He’s been on the show before and runs the Principled Uncertainty Podcast, which I’ve been on several times. He recently released his second book. We’re going to talk about his first book con he attended and talk about his two books, Boogie House and The Devil Came Calling. It’s so weird to have a friend who is an author and to read their book. His first book, Boogie House, it took a while for me to get past the fact that my friend wrote it. Every page I’m just trying to figure out, “Who is he trying to relate this character to? Do I know this person?” It’s really cool to get into that second book and see that he’s really, really developing as a writer. Not to say that anything was bad in the first book, but he’s just gotten better at describing things with less words, if that makes any sense.
Another person I’ve had on recently is a buddy I met in Atlanta through a show we used to do called Take On the News. It was a very short-lived internet TV show. His name is Shawn Arnold and he’s a lot of fun. He’s married to a CNN anchor here in Atlanta and quite a brilliant guy. He worked with a bunch of cable and satellite companies to create an app that consolidates all the broadcast information about your favorite sports team. Basically, you pull the app up and whatever your favorite team is – his is Mercer University down here in Macon, Ga. – you can type their name in and it’ll show you any listing where that team is playing on TV. It’s a pretty neat little app.
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