What’s the 411?

Rob Walch always liked hearing himself on the radio. When he first moved to Kansas City in 1988, he jammed the phone lines of morning zoo crews as a caller and dreamed of someday being on the other end of the microphone. But with a wife and a career that moved him to Connecticut and Pennsylvania, Walch set aside notions of FM stardom. Years later, the advent of blogs and their audio equivalent, podcasts, allowed Walch to make his dream of hosting a popular talk show a reality. And he didn’t have to change out of his pajamas.

Walch’s radio station is a free Internet broadcast that listeners subscribe to, then burn to a CD or download onto an MP3 player. Walch’s show, PodCast411, has become, in his words, “a kind of Inside the Actor’s Studio for podcasting.” Guests have included former VP hopeful John Edwards and supposed podcasting inventor (and former MTV VJ) Adam Curry. It has also become one of the top-rated podcasts in a sea of audio blogs with subject matter as varied as weather fixations and impending parenthood. Broadcasting three times a week (with a two-month backlog of upcoming guests), Walch has given up his six-figure salary to podcast full time.

Besides working on his own show, Walch also wants to help people set up their own podcasts. “All you need is a computer, a microphone and an Internet connection and you could have your first podcast up in a few hours.” With tutorials on his Web site and at monthly KC Podcasters meetings, he hopes to point bloggers to the new medium. “It’s more difficult and time-consuming than a blog, but the message delivered with the human voice is much more intimate,” Walch says.

Since he took over leadership of the KC Podcasters meetup group a few months ago, membership has tripled. It’s heavy with locals “sharing war stories and seeking advice,” he says, but there are members just interested in exploring the secrets of making a regular person’s voice and opinion compelling. People show up for the same reason people podcast, he explains. “Most people have something to say — the trick is figuring out what that is.”