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Every week, Nick Gelso reaches thousands of listeners across the country with a co-host who lives on the opposite coast, chatting with celebrities or featuring local business owners. He does all this without leaving his home computer.
Podcasting has become a part of daily life for the 35-year-old Swoyersville resident despite the fact that he was headed in a very different direction up until a few years ago. Working as a dishwasher and then a busboy at Grico's Restaurant in Exeter as a teenager, Gelso opened his own eatery, Gelpia'z (now Kevin's), at 22. After leaving the Kingston business years later, he became a restaurant consultant, but something was missing.
“You go from being constantly needed, your phone is ringing all the time, you're stressed out, and as much as you hate that feeling of constant anxiety, your mind, I think, becomes reliant on it in a way of kind of feeding your self-esteem at the same time, so when I got out of the restaurant business, I had a period of where the phone just stopped ringing. That feeling of need was gone, and I think I can honestly say I got a bit depressed and down on myself,” Gelso recalled.
“It was actually my mom who said, 'You need to get up every day and do something like it's a job until you actually go back out into the workforce.'”
He took her advice and did two things – he attended church every day for three months, and he started a sports blog. Both granted him a new perspective.
Gelso “stumbled into” podcasting, a relatively new technology at the time in which creators recorded their own streaming or downloadable shows – a format ripe for innovation. “Back then it was kind of like the Wild Wild West,” he described. “It was more like it found me more so than I found it.”
Growing up a Celtics fan because of his brother, his blog eventually grew into CLNS Radio in 2008, a podcasting network covering all New England sports. The company now has locker room access to all of the major sports teams in New England, shoots high-definition video, and records podcasts after every Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics game available on iTunes.
“You bring on one person as a contributor and it kind of snowballs, and now we're at the point where we have something like 20 on-air personalities and probably 20 writers and columnists as well,” Gelso explained.
“In New England, we are the only independently owned form of media that has locker room credentials with ESPN and The (Boston) Globe. My guys stand right alongside them in the locker room, but I believe we offer more of an intimate relationship with our audience because we aren't the huge corporation. We're not the four-letter monster ESPN. I interact with everybody on Twitter and I think that they feel personally invested in the company because they know us. Every year, we have an event where we get a luxury box at the Garden and our fans come up.
“We purposely meet up with our audience and try and spend time in those locations.”
Branded as a respected authority on New England sports, CLNS is a “labor of love” for contributors across the country organized by beat managers, a content manager, and a program director for podcast content. Getting “burned out of the sports coverage,” however, Gelso has since transitioned into a consulting role in the business to concentrate on his latest audio venture, “Beats & Eats.”
Gelso and Ty Ray, an over 20-year veteran of sports journalism residing in Tacoma, Wash., talked every day on the phone about their work for CLNS Radio, though that would always lead into hour-long conversations on music, current events, pop culture, or food. Essentially, they had another podcast on their hands – they just weren't recording it yet.
“We've never met face to face, and yet we speak every day and do five podcasts a week that upload on iTunes or our mobile app for Stitcher,” an on-demand Internet radio service for Android or iPhone users, Gelso explained.
“It was good timing. We launched in October and the growth has just been overwhelming and humbling. … I never really felt like I had a personality for pop culture, but I guess I do.”
Guests on “Beats & Eats” have ranged from actors Gavin MacLeod and Valerie Harper to rock stars Eddie Money and Foghat to celebrities as diverse as Diamond Dallas Page and Rhonda Shear. After just three months, they had hit the front page of iTunes and earned a nomination for Best Food and Wine show in the 2013 Stitcher Awards.
“I got an e-mail, I looked at it on my phone, and then I dropped my phone because I just couldn't believe it,” Gelso said.
“We were nominated alongside of NPR, Alton Brown, and Andrew Zimmern. We lost to Alton – I don't mind losing to Alton Brown. We were nominated, so that's the key. It was a win from the nomination.”
Remembering his roots in the food industry, Gelso not only brings popular television chefs on the show, but local restaurant owners and managers as well.
“I really focus on this area because I feel like my roots are here, the restaurateurs are all struggling, the economy is not great, so any way I can help anybody in the local industry here is just so very important to me,” he emphasized.
“We've had nationally known guests, but I always try to at least once a week put in a local, independently owned and operated restaurant, either have the chef on or the owner or the manager to talk about their business and to promote their business. It's kind of like my way of giving back to the restaurant industry, which has been really good to me over the years,” he continued.
“I like to be conversational. I like to not only talk about what the chefs are doing in the restaurants and in the kitchens, but also what they're doing in their own homes as far as cooking goes and what their lives are like because I think it's really important for people who are non-restaurant people to understand just how difficult the industry is for managers, owners. It's not a glamorous business like everybody thinks it is. It's a really hard business. I like to try and get all angles and not just talk solely about what their accomplishments are.”
Repeating past success, Gelso and Ray have been able to turn “Beats & Eats” into another network, hosting podcasts from Barret Beyer of “Hell's Kitchen,” Matthew Fahey from MTV's “Awkward,” and actress Lydia Cornell.
“It's just blossomed. What people can expect is a variety. There's something there for everybody,” Gelso pointed out.
“The goal is to make it a very profitable and successful business while not losing any aspects of the creative side of the business. I'd like to be able to see it at some point syndicated on satellite radio or terrestrial radio, but my roots are in podcasting. I believe in that form of media and I want to support it as much as I can.” Ray and Gelso will meet in person for the first time when they emcee a charity event in California next month for Michelle's Place, a breast cancer resource center, and though their speedy success has been significant, Gelso has remained humble and is still “dumbfounded” when people ask to come on the show, though it may be his friendly and relatable approach that draws listeners and guests in.
“You really have to make the listener feel like you're speaking directly to them every single show,” he said. “The more people podcasting, the more that the form of media grows and the more recognition it gets.”
Aside from CLNS brand recognition, he credits social media and word of mouth for the growth of “Beats & Eats,” his Twitter followers jumping from 1,200 to over 12,000. With the Stitcher app being built into 2014 Volvo, BMW, and Mazda 2014 models, Gelso believes podcasting is growing in popularity the same way satellite radio did just a few years before, and while he has listeners tuning in worldwide now, he'd like to see more podcasting right here at home, offering helpful advice to anyone else with a microphone, a computer, and a dream.
“Be consistent, be patient, do research. Realize that it's not an enormous financial investment to start, but it is an investment in time and also in what you're passionate about. I think that's probably the most important thing. Realize what your passion is and really go out and focus your subject matter around that passion because like I said earlier, podcasting is a very intimate thing. You have to have a very intimate connection with your audience,” he insisted.
“Anybody can do it as long as you're passionate about the subject matter.”
POD PEOPLE “Beats & Eats” isn't the only podcast created right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This is in no way a comprehensive list of all the podcasts recorded in the area, but it is a good place to start searching for your next favorite show.
Ajazz Networks: ajazznetworks.com ArtScene with Erika Funke: wviatv.org/radio/wvia-fm-programs/artscene
Circus $1: circusonedollar.podomatic.com
Defeated By Delicious Fruit Pies: defeatedbydeliciousfruitpies.com
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Nerdy: facebook.com/ExtremelyLoudAndIncrediblyNerdyThePodcastPage