Ben Franklin

Going Platinum with 1 Million Downloads

bfworld-platinum-blogBen Franklin's World hit a big milestone this past weekend. On Saturday, September 17, 2016, it reached and surpassed 1 million downloads. Or as I like to joke, Ben Franklin's World went platinum.

In the world of podcasting, reaching and surpassing 1 million downloads is a remarkable achievement. What make's Ben Franklin's World achievement of this goal even more remarkable is that the show reached this milestone as an independently produced podcast before its 2-year anniversary (Oct 7). Also, it achieved these downloads without inflationary tactics such as "tweet bombing" and without paid advertising.

There are two main reasons the podcast has been as successful as it has over the last (almost) two years: First, it offers high-quality content that listeners enjoy enough to recommend to others. Second, I've had a lot of help from friends, colleagues, and listeners.


The People Behind-the-Scenes

Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions has served as the audio engineer and assistant editor for the show for the last year. He works hard to ensure that each episode sounds great and as good as it possibly can. Given my sensitive ears this not always an easy feat to achieve.

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture has played a sizable role in the evolution of the show. Last year, they helped me troubleshoot a lot of quick-growth "hiccups" that developed in the back end of the podcast. This year, they've helped shape the content side. They've done this with our "Doing History: How Historians Work" series and in providing silent, gentle encouragement to do better. (They asked me to keep doing what I was doing, but there's something about producing a podcast for the organization that publishes the leading journal in your field, and many of its leading books, to make you ask "what can I do to produce better episodes?")

Many friends and colleagues have listened to me talk ad nauseam about both history and podcasting. However, three friends and colleagues have gone above and beyond serving as sounding boards for this project: Sara Georgini, Joseph Adelman, and Karin Wulf. I can safely say all three now know more about podcasting and its technical workings than they ever thought they wanted to know.

My partner Tim Wilde also knows more about podcasting, digital media, and how they can complement history than he ever wanted to know. Tim has supported this project both literally and figuratively since I came up with idea to start a podcast. Not only did he make the project financially feasible for more than a year, he has also spent many nights and weekends being silent while I record, writing me code that integrates apps with the BFWorld website, and fixing technical issues that arise when WordPress, RSS feeds, and other code breaks. This is to say nothing of how he has yet to comment on the fact that Ben Franklin's World often turns him into a "podcast widower."

Listeners have been central in helping Ben Franklin's World grow from 288 downloads in October 2014 to a monthly average of over 68,000 downloads today. BFWorld listeners serve as the enthusiastic advertising department for the podcast. They recommend the show to their friends, family, and acquaintances because they love history, the guest historians and the topics they discuss in episodes, and that I work hard to provide them with high-quality content.

Plus, listeners have helped in other ways too. Some listeners go the extra mile to help support the show's production costs with financial donations. Many more offer support by sending e-mails, tweets, and Facebook posts of encouragement.

Podcasting is way more work than I ever thought it would be and the production schedule of a weekly show is downright grueling. There are weeks when I think about airing old content, skipping an episode, or reducing the production schedule to every other week because I'm exhausted and want to work on my book projects. There are also weeks where my perfectionist tendencies kick in and I fret over the quality of my work. Without fail, whenever I fall into a tired, mental rut, my inbox and social media streams start bulging with listener feedback telling me how much they love the show and feel enriched by it. And without fail, these words of encouragement spur me on.

I am sincerely grateful to all of these friends for their assistance.


Episode 100 & Beyond

million-download-whiskeyWhen episode 100 airs tomorrow (Sept 20), I will enter a different level in the podcasting space; the level that says I'm statistically likely to continue podcasting for another 1-3 years for a total of 3-5 years. It will be interesting to see if this holds true or if Ben Franklin's World and I become a statistical outlier. Time will tell.

Uncharacteristically, I'm mostly focused on the moment rather than on the future and all the work that needs to be done. Tim and I marked 1 million downloads by splurging on an expensive bottle of whiskey that we will enjoy for months to come. Next month, we will celebrate the show's 2-year anniversary with a long weekend away from Ben Franklin's World.


#TravelinBen: The Historian's Flat Stanley

Flat StanleyDo you know Flat Stanley? Flat Stanley is a paper boy that kids cut out, color, and send to friends, family, and pen pals. These friends and correspondents take pictures of Stanley in different places and send those pictures back to his owner. Once the pictures come back, the kids write stories about where Stanley has been and what he did during his trip(s).

The Flat Stanley exercise helps kids learn “authentic literacy.” Kids get to create and write about the stories and ideas they are passionate about.

Flat Stanley made me wonder, can historians and history teachers use a version of this idea to help kids learn and become passionate about history?

In this post, you will discover my new experiment for 2016: #TravelinBen.


The Inspiration

I have two nephews and a niece.

I met my eldest nephew when he was 6 or 7 years old. He talked my ear off for hours about Pokémon during our first meeting. It was cute even if I had no idea what to do with the conversation. Today, he’s 18 and a freshman in college.

My other nephew and niece are young. My youngest nephew is 1 year and my niece is 3.5 years old.

Admittedly, I am not a baby person and I feel (and likely look) clueless around little kids. However, my niece has decided she won’t stand for a clueless auntie.*

Every time I walk into her house for a visit, she runs up, gives me a hug, and takes me to her playroom. We color, build Lincoln Logs, go shopping at her store, play doctor, and serve tea with her princess tea set. Mostly, she just bosses me around.

It’s cute and smart. My niece is bringing me into her little-kid world through play.

My niece's intuitive actions have caused me to wonder whether the process can be reversed. If a 3.5 year old can bring a 34 year old into her world through play, why can’t I bring my niece into my world using the same idea?

If my niece loves to play princess tea party, why wouldn’t she love to play Boston Tea Party?

2016: The Year of Travel

TravelI am not sure how it happened, but January may have been the only month when I don’t travel in 2016.

Conferences, speaking engagements, family, and my ability to work remotely have combined so that I will visit Switzerland, Tampa, Baltimore, Providence, Honolulu, Kauai, Worcester, New Haven, Chicago, and central Florida by the end of September.

Trips to Ireland, England, and a second visit to Switzerland are also possibilities.


Remembering Flat Stanley

Over Christmas, I told my parents about how much travel Tim and I had planned in 2016. As we discussed both the craziness of our schedule, and how lucky and fortunate we are to travel, I saw Addison playing. The sight triggered the memory of Flat Stanley, who accompanied us on a family trip years before for a cousin.


Flat Stanley + Podcast Ben = Travelin’ Ben

Podcast BenI have friends and family who find my enthusiasm for early American history a bit eccentric. They send me bobbleheads and tell me about quirky items like the Unemployed Philosopher Guild’s Ben Franklin doll.

He kind of looks angry, but I liked him so I bought one for my desk. I call him "Podcast Ben." He sits by my mic and watches me produce Ben Franklin’s World.

After Christmas, I looked at Podcast Ben and thought: What if instead of Flat Stanley, I used Ben?

What if Podcast Ben could inspire “authentic literacy” and add a dash of history to the kids' experience?


Travelin’ Ben

I renamed Podcast Ben, "Travelin' Ben."

I will take him on my trips and use him as others use Flat Stanley. I will take pictures of Ben at unique places, historic sites, and when we are just having fun.

I plan to tweet my pictures with the hashtag #TravelinBen. At the end of the year, I will create a photo book for my niece and nephew so when they are older they can create stories and I can introduce them to history.

Travelin Ben

*In New England, we pronounce aunt and auntie with the “au” sound in “haunt."


State of Ben Franklin’s World: 4 Months Since Launch

State-of-the-PodcastAre you thinking about adding a podcast to your historian’s platform? I thought it would be interesting to share how “Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History” has fared as a method to communicate the work of professional historians to the history-loving public.

In this post, you will discover how Ben Franklin’s World has performed during its first four months.


Brief Overview of Launch

I launched Ben Franklin’s World in two phases: a soft launch and a hard launch.


Soft Launch

The soft launch took place on the website.

On October 7, 2014, I posted the first four interview episodes plus my short pilot episode; the pilot offers a brief explanation of who I am and why I started the podcast.

Until early December 2014, these episodes could only be accessed from

The soft launch gave me time to tweak the show and build a catalog of 8-10 episodes before I listed it on iTunes, the largest podcast directory.

Podcast experts recommend debuting a podcast on iTunes with 5-10 episodes.

Launching with several episodes allows new listeners to download multiple episodes. (Many podcast listeners like to binge listen to new shows.) This strategy also provides enough content for your podcast to generate the download numbers it needs for placement in iTunes' “New & Noteworthy” sections.

“New & Noteworthy” sections provide prominent placement within specific categories and/or the entire iTunes store. Placement in "New & Noteworthy" helps listeners discover your podcast faster; think free advertising.


Soyuz_fg_22.07.2012Hard Launch

The hard launch took place on December 2, 2014 when Apple accepted my submission and listed Ben Franklin’s World on iTunes.

New episodes appeared every other Tuesday until December 30, 2014, when Ben Franklin’s World became a weekly show.

By starting as a twice-monthly program, I created positive buzz for the podcast and gave myself time to build a sufficient store of new episodes to support a weekly show.


Strategy Results

This two-part launch strategy worked.

Ben Franklin's World built a small, but dedicated following of friends, family, and people who found the show via social media between October and December.

Early listeners provided useful feedback, which I used to tweak the show. They also helped to elevate the profile of the show when it launched on iTunes.

After iTunes listed Ben Franklin's World, I sent an e-mail to the 30+ people on my e-mail list. I informed them that they could now find the show in iTunes and asked them to provide honest ratings and reviews. (Apple uses ratings and reviews to help determine which shows to place in its "New & Noteworthy” sections.)

Their downloads, ratings, and reviews helped place Ben Franklin’s World in the “New & Noteworthy” section of the history category before the end of its first week on iTunes.

Placement in "New & Noteworthy" also boosted the profile of Ben Franklin’s World. Show download numbers went from single and double-digit downloads per day to 100 and 200 downloads per day.

Ben Franklin's World #35On December 28, 2014, the podcast took off.

The show received placement in the “New & Noteworthy” section for the entire iTunes store and two or three times appeared among the top 10 shows in “New & Noteworthy."

The result: December 28, marked my first 1,000+ download day with 1,304 downloads. On December 29, the show had 2,548 downloads. The peak came on December 30 with 3,545 downloads in a single day!

Throughout January, Ben Franklin’s World did not have a sub-1,000 download day.

Peak days always came on Tuesdays (new episode release days) when instead of having a 1,000+ download day, the show had a 2,000-2,500+ download day. Release days always put Ben Franklin’s World among the top 200 podcasts in the overall store.

Apple allows new podcasts about 8 weeks of eligibility for its “New & Noteworthy” categories. Ben Franklin’s World enjoyed great placement for exactly 8 weeks.


Downloads Post “New & Noteworthy"

On February 1, 2015, iTunes removed Ben Franklin’s World from “New & Noteworthy.”

History New & Noteworthy 123014Download numbers have dropped a bit, but I am very pleased with the performance of this young program.

New episodes still experience 2,000+ downloads on release day and numbers stay above 1,000 downloads per day until about Thursday or Friday when they dip into the 900-500+ downloads per day range for the rest of the week.

With that said, new episodes still reach 5,000 downloads in 7-14 days.

As of Thursday, February 12, 2015, at 9:57 am, listeners have downloaded episodes of Ben Franklin’s World 83,494 times.

Although downloads do not equal number of listeners, they illustrate that a lot of people are choosing to spend 35-55 minutes each week discovering the great work that academic and public historians are conducting in early American history.

In the near future, I would like to increase the reach of Ben Franklin's World and its daily download numbers so the podcast once again enjoys 1,000+ downloads per day. I have ideas for how I can achieve this feat and I will share my strategies for promotion in future posts.



I enjoy podcasting and the medium has provided me with many benefits.

First, podcasting has helped me achive my goal: It has enabled me to start bridging the gap between professional historians and the history-loving public.

Ben Franklin’s World has created a wider public awareness about my colleagues' historical research.

Second, podcasting has expanded my professional and social networks.

Each week, I have a meaningful conversation with a different colleague, often someone I have not had the chance to meet in person.

I also receive several e-mails per week from listeners who tell me how much they enjoy the podcast and learning about the work of its guest historians.

Third, my work as a podcaster has allowed me to become a more well-read historian.

Since August, I have read one history book a week that does not pertain to my research or my sepcific interests in early American history.

I look forward to continuing this new professional adventure.


Thoughtful-WomanWhat Do You Think?

Have you considered creating a podcast? Do you have questions about podcasting that I could help you answer?


How I Launched My Podcast

PodcastThe wait is over! On Tuesday October 7, 2014, I launched my podcast “Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History.”

In this post you will discover more about the show, its launch, and what I hope the show will accomplish.


The Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

Each episode runs approximately 30-45 minutes and contains an interview with an historian who shares their unique insights into our early American past.

The podcast is intended for a non-specialist audience of history lovers who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

ben_franklins_worldBen Franklin's World explores the history of early America in its broadest sense. Events in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America affected the way North Americans lived, dressed, worshipped, conducted business, and exercised diplomacy. Therefore, some episodes of Ben Franklin’s World investigate non-North American peoples and events and the effect they had on the lives of early Americans.

Similarly, episodes span a broad period of time. I intend to help my listeners explore not only the 18th-century world that Benjamin Franklin lived in, but the 17th-century world that brought forth the period he lived in and the early-to-mid 19th-century world that Franklin and his generation influenced.


The Launch

Tuesday, October 7, marked the soft launch of the podcast.

The full release of Ben Franklin’s World will take place in December when I will list the show in iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud, the three major podcast subscription services.

I have chosen a two-step launch for four reasons:

First, I want to bring history to as many people as I possibly can, which means that I need to produce a podcast that releases quality content on a consistent basis.

By delaying the release of my podcast onto the major networks, I am giving myself time to develop a catalog of 8-10 episodes.

Soyuz_fg_22.07.2012Many podcast listeners want to know that a podcaster has invested themselves in their show before they will spend time listening to it. This makes sense given that most podcasters never publish more than 7 episodes. Potential listeners determine a podcaster's investment in their show by the number of episodes available for download and by whether the podcaster has released those episodes on a regular schedule.

By launching Ben Franklin’s World onto the major subscription networks with 8-10 episodes, I will help entice people to give my podcast a try. My 8-10 episode catalog will offer proof that I am looking toward the long term with my show and that I have released content on a consistent basis.

Second, I need time to practice and improve my skills as an interviewer.

Interviewing is a practiced skill just like writing, teaching, and public speaking.

Thus far I have conducted seven interviews and with each interview I ask better questions and grow more comfortable and confident behind the mic. This is important as it increases the quality of the show and helps me grow my audience.

Most podcast listeners will download and listen to your most recent episode before they go back and listen to your earlier episodes. Having 8-10 episodes will allow me to hook potential listeners on an episode that has benefitted from my practice.

Third, the delay gives me time to seek feedback from early listeners.

Early feedback will allow me to tweak and improve the podcast either before or not long after it reaches iTunes.

Fourth, I would like to make a run at the iTunes “New and Noteworthy” section.

The “New and Noteworthy” section provides selected podcasts with free, prominent advertising on the front page of iTunes. Placement in this category would bring Ben Franklin’s World to the attention of countless history lovers.

New podcasts have just 8 weeks to make this section. iTunes determines placement based on show ratings and reviews and number of downloads. The more episodes I release with, the more downloads I will receive as most podcast listeners will download not just one episode, but the entire catalog of a show. I hope to encourage early listeners to help promote the show by giving it a rating and a review.


Show Goals

action plan checkboxI have three goals for the Podcast:

1. Create a broader awareness about early American history.

Do you remember when David McCullough published [simpleazon-link asin="0743223136" locale="us"]John Adams[/simpleazon-link]?

For most of 2001, and into 2002, everyone talked about that book. Even people who seemed to have only a marginal interest in history, picked up and read McCullough’s tome.

I applied to grad school because I wanted to learn how I could get people to talk about history the way David McCullough did.

2. Connect non-specialist history lovers with academic and public historians.

I hope Ben Franklin’s World will create wide public awareness about the fantastic research, books, and interpretive programs of academic and public historians.

3. Lead me to my next big professional opportunity.

I would be disingenuous if I did not share my hope that this podcast will lead me to my "next big thing."

My blog has created so many opportunities for me to speak, write, consult, and meet like-minded historians and writers. I hope the podcast will too.

Perhaps Ben Franklin's World will even turn into a self-supporting enterprise or a profitable endeavor that will support my historical research. Stranger things have happened.


Share Your Story

What is your current or next career endeavor?


*Video of Soyuz rocket launch courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor DryominG


Ben Franklin + Music = ?

Podcast-MicMy podcast is in development and I need your help. Presently, I am taking a month-long course with Jeff Brown to learn more about podcast intros, outros, and how to conduct interviews so that my listeners will feel like they are part of the conversation.

I am also finalizing the format of my show, which I am still tentatively calling “Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History.”


Segments for "Ben Franklin's World"

I have devised 4 different segments for the show outside of an introduction and concluding remarks.

1. Discovery: A brief segment where I will discuss any fascinating historical discoveries that I have made.

2. Interview/Historical Monologue: This will be the "meat" of the show. I will interview an historian who has conducted (or is conducting) fascinating research about important episodes and people in early American history.

Alternatively, some shows will feature me discussing a captivating story from my own historical research.

3. Time Warp: A post-interview segment where I will ask the interviewee a hypothetical history question for fun.

4. Ask the Historian: A segment where I will answer listener questions about early American history.



One aspect of the show that has me befuddled is the music.

I want to have background music play during my intro and outro segments, which leads me to the question I posed in my title: Ben Franklin + Music = ?

Ben Franklin Equation


What kind of music do you associate with Ben Franklin or early American history in general?

What type of music would you expect to hear on a podcast about early American history?

What type of music would draw you into the podcast?

I want to find music that fits the subject of early American history and yet also proclaims that this is “not another boring history podcast.”

Please leave a comment, send an e-mail, or tweet me with your ideas about possible genres and artists or if you have general suggestions/comments/questions about "Ben Franklin's World."