Post-Serial Podcasting in the Twin Cities: The Weekend Starts Now


Two Twin Cities niche media champions – James Norton from The Heavy Table and Taylor Carik from Secrets of the City (SotC) – have joined forces to produce The Weekend Starts Now, a triumphant new local podcast series, with help from audio engineer Adam Voreis. However, this is not their first podcasting rodeo. We spoke to SotC head Carik to get the history of the pair’s podcasting power, what they aim to do with a new foray into the format, and why email and podcasting are arguably more relevant than ever.

Norton and Carik ran Flak Radio as a regular podcast for several years and more than 120 episodes during the 00’s. In the “pre-Serial” era of podcasting, you could say it was ahead of its time. Despite a lot of initial hype, podcasts largely went unnoticed outside of major names like Radiolab, Comedy Bang Bang, and This American Life. During this time, the pair learned the ins and outs of podcasting.

Norton brought experience from The Al Franken Show to the table, and the pair developed their own distinct voice. Memorable guests for Carik include T.J. Miller from under-the-radar comedy She’s Out of My League, and Tay Zonday of “Chocolate Rain” fame, but the subject matter was all-encompassing and its wide-ranging topics were indicative of early meme-culture.

Podcasting with James Norton and Taylor Carik, photo by Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Podcasting with James Norton and Taylor Carik, photo by Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

While the podcast was fun and engaging for both hosts, with no advanced tracking techniques in place, nor the raucously boisterous attitude needed to stand out in podcasting’s early days, the two moved on to various other media-related prospects. Eventually, Norton went on to found The Heavy Table, a widely influential Minnesotan food blog, with a hybrid critical/causal attitude reflective of culture and media consumption in the Twin Cities.

Carik, through a long and storied series of media deals and transformations, eventually took the reins of Secrets of the City, a daily email newsletter collecting a vastly diverse selection of events happening around the Twin Cities. Growing out of the long-running message board MNSPEAK, the community’s voice came along with it, bringing plenty of whip-smart commentary along for the ride.

A daily newsletter may seem like an odd format choice in a world where no one wants more inbox clutter. But with the current focus on mobile media, bloated home pages, and the transitory nature of social media updates, a daily newsletter takes on its own personality. Carik compares it to a vinyl record, saying that its particular character “translates into experience” – an email is arguably the closest thing to having a physical object delivered to you digitally.

When looking at it from this angle, a once-a-day email is oddly modern – in a time where Netflix and Hulu rule, subscribers can choose to read email on their own time, rather than haphazardly catching it in their news feed. The daily occurrence also strikes a healthy balance: “It’s not a dozen tweets a day, and it’s not Game of Thrones every week,” as Carik puts it.

From an advertising perspective, a direct line to the inbox of a highly tuned-in, experience-seeking audience is packed with potential. Email metrics are quantifiable and avoid the “halo effect” leap of faith often associated with a magazine page or radio buy.

Which brings us to The Weekend Starts Now. Norton has been exploring how to bring new revenue to Heavy Table through advertising, events, and custom publications. With the duo’s media-savvy background in a post-Serial world, the time seemed right to give podcasting another try. Launching with a limited run of episodes, they are building out a new avenue of media, using food and the culinary world as a means to explore the Twin Cities’ people, places, and happenings, in a hybrid of the two publications.

The ultimate goal is offering something more substantial to their audiences, with pieces that achieve more in-depth coverage than blog posts or a newsletter. The tone of voice appeals to the formation of a new Northern identify for Minnesota, often alluded to recently by local pundits and publications. And as evidenced from the podcast, the claim for Minnesota’s new namesake as “The North” is well-deserved.

In the episode taping we saw at the Bachelor Farmer, a fascinatingly down-to-earth interview with Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges was followed by details of The Heavy Table’s recent foray down Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, a high-spirited trivia session, and a quirky, in-depth deconstruction of Murder She Wrote. As Carik uses another Game of Thrones reference for comparison, the Twin Cities are like Winterfell – a Northern outpost that has become increasingly influential and important to a national identity. From the pride and unique opportunities found in the unique media like The Weekend Starts Now, it’s clear that’s where things are headed.
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