Almost a decade before he evolved into the Texas potentate of self-promotional podcasting, Gary Leland made his first run at creating a conventional website in 1995 to promote his store, Leland’s Wallpaper. And failed. He didn’t like the complexity of it and put off his entry into the World Wide Web until the next year.
“The site was so complicated that even I couldn’t figure it out, particularly how a customer could easily buy something on it,” said Leland, 64, an Arlington entrepreneur with businesses that range from fast-pitch softball supplies and wallpaper to cryptocurrency. Though the decision to market on the internet seems a no-brainer today, in 1995 Amazon struggled as a year-old on-line book seller and less than 5 percent of the U.S. had internet access.
“Yes, only a small percentage of the country had internet, but the number – 12 million people – was big, a giant new market,” he said.
The autodidactic Leland persevered and prospered with marketing websites, but he wanted something more from his on-line efforts. Something with evergreen content and the capacity to build a marketable persona. It took a while, but he finally found it in podcasting.
A definition for those unfamiliar with podcasting: The practice of using the internet to make digital recording for downloading to a computer or mobile device like a cellphone. In short, your own TV show.
Podcast sites are also specialized websites but typically also have the advantage of informing subscribers of a new podcast and also store old podcasts on the site. This country alone has more than 550,000 podcasters, the podcasts themselves ranging from outlandishly amateurish offerings produced on smart phones – the name itself is a spinoff of the once popular iPod — to highly sophisticated productions. Podcast popularity grows steadily, a Nielsen study indicating half of all U.S. homes now tune in a podcast at least monthly. Podcasting hit the mainstream in 2014 with the debut of Serial, a true-crime podcast that examined the potential innocence of a man convicted of a crime in Baltimore. Serial won ratings and a Peabody award, but perhaps more important, it legitimized the medium.
This popularity was not the case, however, back in 2004. After having trouble finding specialized gear for his daughter’s fast-pitch softball hobby, Leland had also started a business complimented by a website called softballjunk.com. Then another idea came along.
“A consultant told me that I might want to look into this podcasting thing, though he himself wasn’t sure how it worked,” Leland recalled. “It turned out to be the best advice I ever took.”
He debuted Fastpitch Radio podcast in late 2004 (early podcasts tended to be voice only), followed by Fastpitch TV. These definitely spurred sales but also resulted in a phenomenon Leland didn’t expect: The podcasts, seen by millions of softball aficionados, made him a national celebrity in that particular niche. It has made him a popular consultant about podcasting and by now he has made hundreds of “how-to-and-why” lectures and seminars about the craft.
Time magazine once listed one of his podcasts (about women’s fast-pitch softball) as among the 50 most interesting in America. Lots of other plaudits for his podcasts have followed. Leland in 2016 was inducted into the Academy of Podcasters Hall of Fame. He’s also included in the Pod 11, a who’s who of the most influential entities in podcasting. Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams even proclaimed a “Gary Leland Day” last year.
Besides managing more than a dozen conventional websites marketing his various interests – he’s a salesman, not a hobbyist – Leland maintains two podcasts focusing on fast-pitch softball, three on decorating, one on podcasting itself (The Podcast Ambassador) and two on his newest fascination, digital currency like Bitcoin (4MinuteCrypto.com and CryptoCousins.com).
“I figure I know more than 99 percent of the world about digital currency, not saying much since 98 percent of the people know nothing about it,” Leland says with a laugh.
That said, he’s now being asked to guide seminars on cryptocurrency all over the country – once again a demonstration of the power of podcasting to create its own specialized celebrities.
O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.