A Life More Extra | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

A Life More Extra 

Scott Johnson’s new real life as podcaster is born from his virtual ones.

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Scott Johnson got an extra life. It sounds like an additional incarnation, when you get to come back to life in a video game, but it’s actually his vocation, requiring enough time and energy that it’s almost like a separate existence.

But, it’s a labor of love. His MyExtraLife.com online cartoon site and ExtraLife Radio podcast are so popular that the show is among the top-rated, and advertising revenues have allowed him to pursue it solely as a career.

MyExtraLife.com started out of Johnson’s love of drawing, going back to early childhood sketching Sesame Street characters. He continued through young adulthood studying graphic design and illustration at the University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College and Utah State University. He utilized his talents on behalf of a number of local agencies, but says “I didn’t really put my own work out on the Internet until the late ’90s.” He spent the early ’90s starting a family, and he has three kids.

The comic started in 2001, and—as the name suggests—it was originally intended to be just about video games. Over the years, the comic evolved in looks as well as topically to include movies, science fiction and politics. The comic is usually a single panel or, occasionally, several grouped together, featuring witticisms such as a dog dressed as Princess Leia, the caption reading “Hey, maybe Jeff just really likes Princess Leia and he doesn’t have to explain his life to anybody.”

For Johnson, starting a podcast was a natural fit. As a kid, he carried around a tape recorder and interviewed anyone who was willing. He hosted a computer advice show on the weekends on KSL from 1992- 2000. But, it wasn’t till podcasting started to become a phenomenon four or five years ago that he got the idea of producing his own podcast. “Podcasting has emerged as a way to put content out there without breaking the bank,” he explains.

Extralife Radio started in 2005 and gradually grew to the point that it is consistently near the top of iTunes downloads. Johnson has branched out and now produces five different shows under his Frogpants Studio production company.

Johnson says he just built his audience, which eventually led to advertisers approaching him the old-fashioned way: slowly and surely, over time. He advises being realistic about the amount of work it takes. Although podcasting is a relatively new field, Johnson says it offers unique target markets for advertisers. For example, TypeFrag.com—which designs voice-chat servers for online role-playing games— was a no-brainer to sponsor the World of Warcraft show.

Johnson’s four other podcasts after ExtraLife also grew out of his own desire to find something to listen to on subjects that interested him. “The Instance,” a show devoted to World of Warcraft, was started because he couldn’t find anything wellproduced and interesting on the game he participated in. “App Slappy” discusses iPhone applications. “Diary of a Cartoonist” discusses his first vocation. “Don’t let ideas go away,” he cautions, recommending the “spaghetti approach” of just throwing them at the wall and seeing what sticks.

He’s gained publicity for his shows by appearing on Buzz Out Loud, a nationally produced tech show that has 100,000 downloads per episode. Always networking, he made friends with host Tom Merritt, a nationally known podcasting personality, and they started Fourcast, a look at the future of tech. Their first episode featured tech podcasting heavyweights Leo LaPorte, Veronica Belmont and Jim Louderback.

But Johnson’s successes came from humble beginnings. He notes that you don’t have to have professional equipment to sound well-produced; for several hundred dollars, you can get some adequate condenser mikes and a four- to eight-channel mixer. Audio software like Audacity can be found free online, and sites like Ustream.tv and Stickam allow you to stream audio or video live on the Web at no cost, allowing your audience to comment and interact via chat in real time. Johnson finds interaction with listeners vital and even presents the “Big Nerdtacular” yearly meet-up, which listeners travel from miles to attend.

Great production values won’t improve uninteresting content, though, and if your content is great but you are unlistenable, that’s not good, either. Johnson says the most important thing in podcasting is to find a subject you are really passionate about and make a niche for yourself, especially if you want to be successful on the level of racking up at least 10,000 downloads per episode. By the same token, if you want to start listening, pick a topic you like and there is probably a show about it on iTunes. He follows the leaders in the field to look for examples of pods done right. “I listen to really well-produced stuff,” he explains. “I aspire to the quality of NPR or Leo LaPorte’s This Week in Tech.”

Brian Staker hosts The Awkward Hour podcast.

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