Talk shows are something people think of being on the radio rather than on the Internet or Second Life. But they can be found here on the Grid. One such show is "East Coast Conservative," hosted by Hatton Humphrey and Ken Johnson, which besides podcasted on the Internet and the Red State Radio Network and on several locations in Second Life. Hatton Humphrey is also known in Second Life by his avatar, Hatton Hunghi, and has a place for the show at the mainland Pop sim. Recently, he contacted me, and we soon agreed to an interview.
When I arrived at his location, Hatton Hunghi greeted me, "Well, this is my new 'home' in Second Life. Let me give you the tour. The first was a prefab that I shoehorned stuff into." The room we were in looked like a cozy den with a couple chairs and an American flag on the wall. He called this his basement.
Hatton paused momentarily, " One of the things that happened recently was a bit of a change in the presence of the GOP in Second Life. Much like what happened in 2007 between the pro and anti McCain folks, there are once again two different GOP groups with individual locations and events. Understand, i've been streaming the recording sessions for my podcast into SL since 2007; I've seen a lot change in the groups and support."
Hatton pointed to a wall, which had six signs on it, "This wall is something I've put up to provide 'equal access,' three groups and three landmarks. Though any group or location that wants to be on the board and fits the description can get a spot or three." With just six in the upper left corner, the wall looked a bit bare, "I'd love to see this thing filled up. But we'll talk about that more later, on with the tour!"
We stepped outside, the adjacent Second Life Highway clearly visible with an occasional bus driving down it, and walked the stairs to the top, where there was a semicircle seating stand: the theater, "It's custom built by a couple of GOP members, my building skills are about as good as my graphics. I constantly say me and graphics equals stick figures. People think I'm joking until I point out the show's logo is an example of my graphics skills … I'm a technologist and programmer by trade, graphics has never been my strong suit."
"There is some hidden technology running behind the scenes here," he pointed to the talk show's sign, "the easel with the show notes is actually part of a networked notecard giver that runs grid-wide, and there is an intercom system that will relay local chat to any other box. There are similar, though not same shaped, intercom devices in each of the other GOP locations as well as easels. What this allows me to do is host the show from here but get SL input from any place that has the easel and the intercom. The system that we use to record the podcast generates an MP3 steam that can be loaded into the audio section to Second Life. I'll spare you the sausage factory on how it works (grin). In each place it's 'hidden,' here it's the (sign) frame. … that's a programming reference - nobody wants to know what goes on in the sausage factory just like nobody wants to know the technical details of how something works. Right now all the other intercoms are probably turned off. Notice how the frame changed to full bright? That means it's on. I'm checking to see if one of the others can turn on their end."
Looking back at the audience area, "nyway, seating was a concern and the risers are all sittable. At this point I'm not sure what full capacity is." He then walked a bit to a teleporter, "Okay, the last part of the spot is at the other end of the teleporter … This is something that I just started working on." We took the teleporter to a skybox, which he called a future showcase for conservatives, "It's bare at the moment, but plans are to put links and info about famous conservatives, links to writings by the founding fathers, information about what I call "Civics 101", videos produced by another SL member, things like that."
We then headed back to the show location's "basement. " Asking him what gave him the idea to do the show, Hatton informed this was his second talk show, "he first one was a drive-rant recording called the 'Nifty Things' report to go with the domain I owned, ithinkitsnifty.com - it was a play on a blog I used to read that was ithinkitsucks.com. Podcasting allows gives you the ability to put emphasis on words and ideas that writing does not."
"The East Coast Conservative podcast actually came out of a blog site as well. I served in the Navy with Ken Johnston, my co-host on the podcast. We started off with a blog site called the 'Three-Legged Dog,' an homage to Ken's real-life rescue dog Rocky. After some time we realized we were talking more about things on the phone than we were posting on the site and the idea of the podcast came about. … We recorded our first two episodes using Skype in 2007. However because of hardware problems only the first episode was published. We 're-launched' the podcast in November 2007."
The size of East Coast's Conservative's audience can vary "wildly," at least those whom listen through podcast downloads from the Internet, "During the 2008 elections we were as high as 350-375 downloads per week. In slow times it's been as low as 65-75 per week." With the 2012 Presidential election season, ratings have picked up again, "the long run of the primaries has helped." Besides the podcasts downloads and listening in through the website and Second Life, "we have additional distribution channels. Stitcher.com carries the show as does the Red State Talk Radio network. … it's more exposure for the show, though tracking can be a bit tedious. Between feedburner, talkshoe stats, google analytics, stitcher stats and monthly reports from the radio station, keeping track of the numbers can get your eyes crossed."
Hatton first began running the show from Second Life in 2008. The sim "was the home of the 'Republican Party in SL.' They were recording a podcast of their own, Conservative Matters with Ron Skytower, and I offered to bring my show in-world as well. That was in June of 2008, episode 32, and unless there's been technical issues, we've been doing it every week since then, except for the odd Christmas, Thanksgiving or other vacation."
Of the show's topics, "We open our podcast with a funny/odd/human interest story. Over the years those have been the most fun. For example, when there were shark attacks in Egypt on the Red Sea resorts, there was an article accusing the Israelis of planting the shark near those shores. Then a couple of weeks later we opened with an article about a Romanian that was on holiday at one of those resorts, got plastered, and jumped off a pier and landed directly on a shark, killing it. So those were each opening articles. But for me the interesting articles are those that make me appreciate some kind of positive in the world, which, due to the nature of our podcast, we don't get to talk about as often as I'd like."
When asked how rough the political talk can get, "It can, absolutely, and not always in ways you might be able to directly infer. Since we depend on news articles and the occasional blog entry for our content, a slow news week can be a bit of a challenge when it comes time to put together the program. And then there are times when there are tons of things going on and I have 40-50 articles to pick 7-9 out of for the content. Generally, though, the attitude and flow that Ken and I have established over the years lends itself to more comfortable conversation. We have regular listeners from many different political areas, including liberals, moderates, conservative democrats and libertarians."
For a time, the show was at the GOP sim, "I've always wanted 'my own place' for the podcast, and had planned to make the investment when Keen closed down. The owner of Sagamore (later renamed Grand Old Party) offered me free space. I'd been toying with the idea more and more over the last 6 months or so. Then there were some changes that happened within the support structure of the groups behind that sim and the decision was made to close it. That kinda sealed the concept for me. This spot is the podcast's second true 'home.' The Cafe and the Theater on Keen before it were broadcast points. We had built a 'radio station' on GOP and I was able to put things but there was a disconnection between the information and the recording location. Here that's not the case."
Asked about visitors of different persuasions coming by, "we do get some visitors. Being so new on the mainland I'm still building up a search presence for this location. On GOP or Keen I saw so many people go by, but they were there for that sim, not always my podcast. … if they came in as griefers they probably didn't stay for very long. Griefers were not tolerated on Keen or Sagamore. Sometimes we do get comments or contact from folks that don't agree with something we're saying. If the comments are worth mentioning then I'll address them in the recording. If they're just there to be an ass, that's a different story. But that goes back to the concept that I have about debate and conversation. If one has no other response than a rude one, they're not worth making my blood pressure medication work harder and SL has this nifty 'mute' button. A freedom of speech does not translate to a freedom to be heard (grin). That's one of the joys of modern media." When asked about the "Occupy" movement, "I've had interactions with Occupy folks on other podcasts but none directly on mine. And no, nobody's occupied Pop yet."
For now, there is nothing special planned for the nomination conventions or Election Night, "Right now we are sticking with the regular schedule. … Ken and I may opt for something different as time draws nearer, however for other dates I tend to join in with a round-table of other Republican/conservative podcast hosts for a special event."
For the moment, Hatton isn't doing much else in Second Life, "In the past I was involved in various religious debates but those got a bit heated at times. I've got a lot of different real-life things going on, between band (I'm a tuba player), church, work, kids and studying for a MBA. … I've come across some interesting places in SL but none that have ever made me consider sticking around. I am a little active in the US Military Veteran group, mainly when they need someone to confirm a Navy vet in the time frame that I served. It's been interesting to watch Second Life grow over the years. It's a very fluid environment and continues to surprise me in what folks can do with it. Politics in SL is also very fluid. SL provides a microcosm in which the whole spectrum of though can be found and, when amiable, shared."
"I'm working to provide a place where folks can learn about conservatism, talk about politics in a friendly manner and relax a bit. Though to be honest that last part is the least represented in what I've put together so far. This place will continue to grow. Being a land owner is a new experience and I'm sure I've only scratched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what can and will be done here."
Second Life's East Coast Conservative location can be found at the Pop sim at (158, 21, 68), next to the Inter-sim Highway. The website for the show is at: http://www.eastcoastconservative.com .