A Look Back At 13 Years of The MrExcel Podcast
October 12, 2018 - by Bill Jelen
In the summer of 2005. I was flying to Toronto every month to record two appearances on Leo Laporte’s Call for Help TV Show. On the way home, I was having dinner at the airport bar and the guy sitting next to me said a sentence that was a complete mystery to me:
"Did you know that Leo’s TWiT Podcast is the Number One Podcast on iTunes?"
I had never heard of a podcast. I had never heard of iTunes. I had never heard of TWiT.
TWiT stands for This Week in Tech. It is Leo’s audio podcast that debuted April 18, 2005.
On my next trip to the Rogers TV studios in Toronto, I asked Leo about podcasting. He was the one who suggested that I start an Excel podcast. Now – all of Leo’s podcasts at that time were audio. You would subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and once a week, a new hour-long episode would arrive and be downloaded to your iPod.
The crew on Call For Help were young, hip, and tech-savvy. Former co-host Andy Walker and Sean Carruthers started The Lab Rats podcast in October 2005.
Co-host Amber MacArthur and Production Assistant Mike Lazazzera had started the CommandN podcast on June 28, 2005. CommandN was a video podcast, which seemed crazy at the time, because the iPods of that era could only play audio, not video. Amber assured me that video was the way to go because Apple would be releasing an iPod that supported video by the end of the year.
Over the next several monthly tapings of Call for Help, I remember getting more advice. Sean Carruthers suggested Camtasia Studio for Windows as the recording software. Leo suggested that I do a daily two-minute podcast instead of a weekly one-hour show.
Thirteen years ago today, on October 12 2005, Apple released the first iPod that offered video playback. I was ready, and released the first episode of the MrExcel Podcast – Episode #101 – a 68-second video showing how to stop Excel 2003’s annoying habit of hiding menu items.
Top 10 Podcast on iTunes
Back then, you would release the episode to iTunes and people could subscribe. Being one of the only video podcasts, I was immediately one of the Top 10 Tech Video Podcasts on iTunes. It sounds impressive, but there were probably only 11 podcasts total. As podcasting grew in popularity, there were many podcasting platforms. We would upload each day’s podcast to several syndicators. Eventually, though, YouTube launched and became my platform of choice in 2009.
The (Somewhat) Lost Episodes
While Scottie P had uploaded episodes 101, 104, 105, and 107 as Time Warp Wednesdays, the YouTube collection spans from episode #340 (released in 2007) through #2245 (released in 2018). Episodes 108-339 are not necessarily “lost” – they exist on the Podcast DVD that I created to sell as part of the Power Excel Bundle. But they are no longer online as far as I can tell.
Plus Sixty Unlisted Videos
There are also sixty videos that are unlisted – these were situations where someone wrote in with a question and it was easier to show them how to solve the problem in a video rather than write out all the steps. Here is an example where I created a Running Variance in a Pivot Table.
My original goal was a 2-minute podcast every weekday. Another show on the TWiT network – The Giz Wiz with Leo Laporte and Dick Debartolo had started with a five-day-a-week schedule and I was chasing them to see who could be the first podcast to reach 500 episodes. That competition kept the original pace going. Eventually, though, particularly when I was on a 120-day writing period, I would take a hiatus from the podcast. At various times, it went from five episodes a week to two episodes to three episodes. Over the course of 678 weeks, I have produced 2145 episodes, representing an average of 3.16 episodes per week.
For many years, I would record an episode at 4AM, edit it, and the episode would go live at 6 AM. In general, it takes just under an hour to completely produce and upload an episode of the podcast. Each podcast now includes a written article, as it is often faster to read the steps rather than watch them.
Today, following the accessibility commitment with Microsoft Press, I plan to use Closed Captions on all future videos. Because the captioning service provider requires 72 hours to caption a video, everything has to be recorded ahead of time. Captions help people who are watching the video in a cubicle environment – they can read the podcast with the volume turned down.
The transcription service is working on adding captions to the 136 hours of existing video content, although this will take several months. As of today, 330 videos have captions with more captions added every week.
Over the years, there have been several theme songs used on the podcast:
I am always surprised which videos become very popular. My number one video – episode 1663 - is about creating a bell curve in Excel. It seems boring to me, but it must be a common task for students. The video has generated 1,364,288 minutes of watch time.
My plans are to keep doing the videos on YouTube as I learn of new features, new ideas, or to answer questions that come in. The planned cadence is 2-3 per week, but in some weeks (such as the recent announcement of Dynamic Arrays), there will be more videos released in a week.
Title Photo: israel palacio on Unsplash