There are freelancers, and then there are podcast showrunners. This week, I had the pleasure of running this Q&A with Gina Delvac, the L.A.-based producer who quarterbacks the popular Call Your Girlfriend podcast.
Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation.
Gina Delvac: I’m a podcast showrunner. Like the creative-meets-editorial-meets-business role that many TV show creators play, I work with brilliant hosts to make podcasts that best showcase their talents and interests.
The two shows I’m most focused on right now are:
Call Your Girlfriend, the podcast Aminatou Sow, Ann Friedman and I created in 2014. We explore the news and pop culture and our periods and Amina & Ann have really intimate, smart and fun weekly conversations along the way. A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
And Pitch Makeover, a project hosted and conceived by Natalia Oberti Noguera and which launched in May. Styled like a fashion makeover, Natalia offers targeted and insightful feedback to startup founders about their 60-second business pitches. If you love tech but are feeling rightly sick about its culture of discrimination and harassment, you might find a little glimmer of hope between Natalia’s infectious energy and our slate of women and nonbinary founders.
In the day-to-day that includes a little bit of everything for Call Your Girlfriend: high-level editorial, editing & mixing, and a bunch of meetings and admin on the business side, too. For Pitch Makeover, I work closely with Natalia to record and edit each episode. (I’ve even co-hosted).
HP: How did you get to this point? What does your career arc look like — where did you start, and how did you end up in this position?
Delvac: It started with bankruptcy. Okay, not mine. I was working as a paralegal at alegal aid clinic in 2008, fresh out of college and watching the economy collapsing.What I was reading in the New York Times didn’t square with what my bankruptcy clients described on a daily basis: thousands of dollars of credit issued to people living on SSI. Utility shutoffs that jeopardized the housing of single moms. The transference of debt from one collector to the next to the next.
When This American Life did their Giant Pool of Money story, I remember I was wandering down Benjamin Franklin Parkway (yes, toward the Rocky steps), listening to this podcast that was finally, finally explaining what the hell was going on. And it did it in a way that connected Wall Streeters to young college grads like me to my clients who were living in poverty. Of course, this essential style of documentary but accessible reporting became Planet Money.
It took me awhile to discover who these public radio producer people were and what they actually did, so when I moved home in Los Angeles in 2009, I started interning at KPCC, which I did for 18 months, something I was able to do thanks only to my mom letting me live in her basement (literally) in exchange for paying the gas bill.
Once I had some basic editorial chops and booking experience, I started down the freelance public radio path that so many producers have trodden. Picking up days when I could, taking the longest stints, trying to learn as much as possible and work on different types of shows, including Marketplace where I really cut my teeth as a journalist and producer.
My first real podcasting job was working with tech investor Jason Calacanis on his long-running show, This Week in Startups. There, I learned the startup beat, got to interact with a totally different kind of superfan and saw the insane drive and energy that so many entrepreneurs have. During that time, Aminatou and Ann and I started talking more seriously about Call Your Girlfriend. Being around founders all the time definitely made it seem like a no-brainer to quit my day job and get way more serious about my passion project.
It would be easy to pretend here that Call Your Girlfriend was an instant success and money-maker. While we found an audience early on, we didn’t turn a profit for over a year and all worked multiple jobs throughout. We love making the show but no one counts on it like a fulltime job. (More on this in our Businesswoman Special episode).
HP: How did you learn to do the job that you do today?
Delvac: After benefiting from the wisdom of so many people at KPCC (notably my bosses Linda Othenin-Girard and Kristen Muller, and my then-fellow-interns Lauren Osen and Arwen Nicks) I got a chance to start filling in at Marketplace.
What began as a two week “we’ll try you out, kid” fill-in run, turned into months of steady freelance work. Megan Larson (now at KPCC), Sitara Nieves and Kai Ryssdal took insane chances on the weird skits I wrote and field production ideas I pitched while I was still so green. They also taught me how to edit with a reliable and steady ear on a fierce deadline.
Later, I got a chance to work on the beginnings of the Wealth and Poverty Desk, and then its first standalone podcast, The Uncertain Hour, hosted by Krissy Clark. As a listener, Krissy is one of my favorite reporters. Getting to explore how welfare gets (de)funded — and who gets those funds — was a major highlight of 2016.
Aminatou and Ann have taught me pretty much everything else I know: how to break the established rules; how being your specific you — IRL and on a podcast — can be a path to personal fulfillment and success; and how to have fun and hold yourself accountable to your ideals and goals at the same time. I truly cannot say enough about my work-wives.
HP: When you started out, what did you think wanted to do?
Delvac: I didn’t — and still don’t — know what I want to be when I grow up.