The Two I’s in Pod – Southgate Media Group
Bravo 2.1 Magazine – January 2016
In January 2013, after recently graduating with two bachelor’s degrees, Rob Southgate found himself in the same pained position as so many other grads found themselves: out of work and quickly burning through unemployment benefits.
When this “do or die” situation presented itself, Southgate, along with wife Martha, made the conscious decision to take a leap of faith and venture into the world of broadcasting.
Their business, Southgate Media Group, which started with an “Under the Dome” themed podcast hosted by Rob and Martha themselves, now boasts nearly 90 program titles and an equal number of podcasters.
The duo’s foray into entertainment began in the early nineties with the production of an Elvis Presley themed ‘zine, Disgraceland, out of their living room in Evanston, Il.
Before the Southgates fully recognized the scope of their audience, their work had been featured in arts and culture publications such as Mojo and Access Magazine, accompanied by invitations to participate in panels at Comic-cons and other entertainment conventions.
Gaining clout as broadcasters proved to be more challenging. In the pre-internet epoch of their ‘zine writing days, the Southgates recall a broad accessibility to business and media ventures. You could call the president of Pepsi, Martha Southgate said, and he would answer.
The advent of the internet has made everyone an entertainer, a writer, a broadcaster. Where there were once a select few sources for niche entertainment, a quick Google search now unveils thousands.
Trying to get anyone to notice their work in the din of the internet has been the couple’s greatest obstacle to success, according to their matriarch.
“Everybody is crazy and everybody is out there,” said Martha Southgate. “Everybody’s doing what you’re doing. Even if you’re doing it differently, you almost have to just go viral.”
Due to the stresses of administrating a business, the Southgates find themselves sought after by patrons of Comic-cons and other SMG listeners to absorb their own media networks, resulting in their massive body of broadcasters dispersed primarily across the Midwest and Chicagoland-area.
Martha Southgate describes their network as a symbiotic relationship: all of Southgate Media Group’s broadcasters work pro bono in exchange for creative support and a platform to exercise their passions.
SMG’s programs primarily comment on “geek culture” by providing recaps, news, analysis and predictions for TV shows, movies and games. Titles include “Coo Coo For Who”, a Doctor Who themed podcast, “Radio Ramen”, and anime podcast, and “This Week in Geek”, a review of recent industry releases and announcements.
The network also reaches out of the “geek” realm with a business and marketing podcast entitled “New Media Lab”, a Pinterest-centric pursuit called “Pinheads”, and a program for the avid Springsteen fan, “Set Lusting Bruce.”
One of the network’s most prominent broadcasts is “Live at the Blue Box”, a weekly three-hour podcast, more aptly described by the Southgates as live theater. The broadcast takes on a three-act structure, typically two panels followed by a self-generated game show, and is completely adlibbed.
According to the Southgates, the most rewarding yield of their work is the community they have cultivated within their broadcasting network. Several podcasters became involved in broadcasting during a period of emotional turmoil or devastating life events that left them feeling isolated and hopeless.
Inclusion in the SMG family has put several of them on a whole new trajectory, said Martha Southgate.
Southgate Media Group seeks to produce content that entertains, enlightens and is intelligent, with the added principle of cleanliness – though not all subject matter discussed on SMG podcasts is considered “family-friendly,” the way that subject matter is approached consistently is.
The Southgates’ primary motivation is to support their broadcasters in creating the work they want to create, without consideration of how many hits they earn for the network. Both Rob and Martha agree that when you chase numbers, you lose the humanity in the art of broadcasting.
“If you have three people listen, we’re just as excited as if you have 10,000 people listen,” said Martha Southgate.
“You could make a show about drill bits, as long as you can stretch it out,” Rob Southgate added.