A local podcasting pioneer
In 2014, Paul Vogelzang found himself packing up his desk at computer technology company Oracle as part of a company layoff.
“That was a shock to the system in every way,” said Vogelzang, who lives in Reston, Va. “At 58, it was tough to get a job, particularly in the technology sector, which apparently wants to have a younger workforce. It was a rough kind of divorce, in the sense I had never gone through something like that.”
He proceeded to interview for 75 to 100 jobs without an offer, despite his years of experience in digital marketing and podcasting. The interviews were often conducted by managers half his age, some asking inscrutable questions, unlike ones he recalled when he applied to jobs in the past.
“For example, I was asked, ‘What’s your favorite cake?’ I answered that I liked chocolate cake, but I think I was supposed to answer in some other, deeper way. Perhaps make connections between how cake is a good tool with which to engage people and…I really don’t know…,” he trailed off.
But not one to become bitter, Vogelzang (whose name means “birdsong” by the way) decided to parlay that experience into amusing posts on LinkedIn about his forays into the job market.
“It was a time I felt I needed to pivot. I wasn’t getting any jobs, and writing about this unpleasant job search experience was exciting to me. People were beginning to pay attention to the problems facing older workers.
“I thought, ‘I have this background in podcasting. Why don’t I start my own one?’” he recalled. Podcasts are audio or video interviews and lectures that can be accessed via computer or mobile devices, usually for free, and often as part of a series.
The name is derived from the Apple iPod, which first enabled millions of people to listen to music and a variety of interesting programs through a digital device. The name “podcast” (short for iPod broadcast) stuck and is now used for any such digital file.
A show for “better” adults
Thus began the idea for Vogelzang’s podcast, the “Not Old — Better Show,” which now has hundreds of thousands of listeners. He typically produces two or three episodes a week, all geared toward older adults.
Recent episodes touch on such diverse topics as genealogy, artificial intelligence, how the ride-sharing service Lyft helps older riders, and how the Beacon newspaper got started. Vogelzang also regularly interviews book authors and celebrities.
Singer Judy Collins had been on Vogelzang’s initial wish list of interviews, and he was excited to interview her just three months after “Not Old — Better” got off the ground in 2015.
Last summer, he landed interviews with star Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarry when the movie Mission Impossible — Fallout was released. This spring, he talked with Ron Howard, about his role directing the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story.
“[Howard] was on his cell phone in his car,” Vogelzang related. “You can hear that. It’s not the highest fidelity interview. Then in the middle he said, ‘I’ve got to go,’ and I thought that’s that, I’ll never hear from him again. But he called me back from a cocktail party, and you can hear it going on in the background, too.”
His favorite interview? That would be “Weird Al” Yankovic, whom he interviewed two years ago at Wolf Trap. Yankovic has parodied other singers for more than 30 years, with his versions sometimes gaining more popularity than the originals.
“As much as I am immersed in the technology, I still really value the connection that comes with interviewing and meeting guests on the show,” he said.
Each week, he also produces a segment called “Fitness Friday,” with topics ranging from tips on how to start exercising, to the best hikes around the Beltway area.
Teaming up with the feds
Vogelzang’s first foray into podcasting came at the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2001, back in the infancy of the Internet, he worked on the department’s website.
But after 9/11, there was a significant shift in the government’s use of technology and in his role. Vogelzang was instrumental in the creation and promotion of a new site, TreasuryDirect.gov, which first enabled the public to buy Savings Bonds and T-bills directly.
He was sent throughout the U.S. and internationally to promote the new service. “I started traveling with and recording the Treasury Secretary and other department heads giving speeches. We’d then post those on our website.
“That basically turned into the very first Treasury podcast. In that sense, I was early in the world of podcasting,” he said.
Thanks to that experience, Vogelzang has ties to a number of other government agencies, which he approached to offer interviews on his “Not Old” podcast.
For example, he’s interviewed Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, several times. Fauci is perhaps best well known for helping develop the AIDS vaccine.
Vogelzang similarly interviews a number of the speakers participating in the Smithsonian Associates educational programs. More than 300,000 listeners tuned in to his interview with best-selling author Jodi Piccoult, who was one of their featured speakers.
“With over 750 programs offered annually, our events cover the full scope of the humanities, sciences and arts,” said Lauren Lyons, Smithsonian Associates spokesperson. “And it is apparent in his interviews that Paul is genuinely interested in and enthusiastic about so many of the subjects we cover.
“He has a unique ability to guide the conversations with Smithsonian Associates guest speakers so his audience can learn the most from their stories. I’ve also heard from many of our speakers how much they have enjoyed being a part of the show,” Lyons added.
Successful early podcasts
Another early success in the podcast arena for Vogelzang involved his work with his wife Gretchen to create the first podcast for moms featured on iTunes, called MommyCast. The podcast, hosted by Gretchen and another mom, ran for seven years, garnering a number of sponsors, a video edition, and even a Latina version.
He and Gretchen have two sons, ages 25 and 19. In addition to her MommyCast work, Gretchen, a dancer and choreographer, is the founder and owner of the Greater Washington Dance Center in Reston.
Despite spending nearly full-time conducting and managing his podcasts, Vogelzang doesn’t make a living from “Not Old — Better” (though he is exploring partnering with sponsors and advertisers). Rather, he earns money from voiceover work, speeches, and teaching others how to create podcasts.
He plans to continue with “Not Old — Better” indefinitely. “I’m proud of this show. It’s important to my generation.
“It’s not my personal soapbox, in the sense that I have a particular or political statement to make. But I’m pleased to offer this platform to a variety of people who have meaningful things to say. I think that’s important in this day and age,” he said.
“I like to talk to anybody and everybody, and I think a lot of people have really great stories to tell.”
Find more than 200 past episodes of “Not Old — Better” at https://notold-better.com. The podcasts can also be accessed through Spotify, SoundCloud, Vimeo, YouTube and other such services. “Not Old — Better” is also available as a free app at the iTunes and Google Play stores.