How a Pittsburgh company helped make Joe Rogan the king of all podcasters
PITTSBURGH — Rob Walch had been working for the Pittsburgh-based company Libsyn for three years when he shot off an email to then-fledgling podcaster Joe Rogan.
It was 2010 and he was listening to “The Joe Rogan Experience” when the host — by then well known as a comedian and star of “Hardball,” “NewsRadio” and “Fear Factor” — began to complain about the server he was using.
“I sent an email to Joe’s show,” Walch says, “And I said, ‘Hey, I'm with Libsyn. We host ‘WTF’ with Marc Maron, ‘Keith and the Girl’ and some other folks. We'd love to have you.’
“Fifteen minutes later, my phone rings and I hear, ‘This is Joe.’ I’m like ‘Joe who?’ ‘Joe Rogan! You just emailed me.’ I’m like, ‘Oh sorry. I didn't expect YOU to be calling me.’ He goes, ‘No, I do all this stuff. I'm a nerd.’”
Rogan went on to tell Walch he was the first comedian to have his own website, having done all the HTML coding himself.
By then, Libsyn, formed in 1995 on Baum Boulevard, had been a podcast platform for six years and it ruled the market — and still does, with more than 77,000 podcasts. Rogan signed on to Libysn (short for Liberated Syndications) to monetize his podcast and create an iPhone application.
“His show was big,” Walch says, “But it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today or before he went to Spotify. Early on, we were able to get him [onto Libsyn], and then we were able to bring him his first real advertisers, Ting and Audible, so we helped him really start monetizing it.
“If you go back to the very early episodes, you'll hear a different product that he used to advertise on there, and we were able to get him to get that product out of there so mainstream advertisers would want to be on his show.”
Back then, his podcast format was similar — long-form conversations with comedians, politicians, musicians, scientists, etc. — but they were clocking in at about an hour rather than the two- to three-hour marathons he does now.
It didn’t take long for Rogan's show to become a top 10 podcast, on its way to becoming the most popular on the planet.
“Joe Rogan got 4 billion downloads hosting his files on Libsyn,” Walch says. “Only four podcasts have ever gotten over a billion — [‘HowStuffWorks,’ ‘The Daily’ and ‘The Dave Ramsey Show’] — and none have gotten over 2 billion, other than Joe.”
In 2021, the media scours his podcasts, which shifted to Spotify last year in a deal worth an estimated $100 million, looking for controversy — whether it be his criticisms of Joe Biden, his skepticism of the mRNA vaccines, or his positive views on ivermectin for COVID and psychedelics for depression.
In the early days, it was all more word of mouth, Walch says.
“He’s always had guests that have gone to extremes on beliefs. He's done a good job bringing a wide variety of voices on the show, not just being all one way — not all libertarian, not all this way or that way. He’s shown that he’s willing to pretty much sit down and talk to anyone over the years.
“We were joking that we delivered over 4 billion downloads for Joe Rogan. If there’s 50 f-bombs per episode, that means in Libsyn’s 17-year history, we delivered about 420 f-bombs per second.”