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Thursday / May 23.
HomemifeatureNerdzilla Strikes Again!

Nerdzilla Strikes Again!

There couldn’t be a better time for Andrew Hogan to be on this planet. A nerd since the day he was born, he’s living the dream as an optometrist, craft beer brewer, father and broadcaster of the ABC podcast Nerdzilla, in an era when – thanks in part to The Big Bang Theory – being a nerd is incredibly cool.

“I never intended to be a broadcaster,” Andrew Hogan told me from the wintry climes of Hobart in Tasmania where he practises optometry. “But when an ABC producer rang me to ask whether I knew someone who would like to talk about eyes on the morning show for 936 ABC Hobart, I knew no-one else would want to do it so I said I’d give it a go.”

That was back in 1999. One thing led to another and before he knew it, Andrew had been offering his advice on eye health to the Tasmanian community for 10 years. “Tim Cox was the presenter, we took a light-hearted approach to the answers, and it became a really popular show. I thought it would go for a few months but the calls just kept coming, with questions that ranged from the mundane to the bizarre. I wondered why people wouldn’t go to their optometrist to ask some of the questions we fielded rather than ringing the radio station, but that’s what they did. I had to make the answers entertaining because in reality of course, the answer to pretty much all the questions was ‘have an eye test’. So the idea was to turn the question around to what the audience would be interested in – to use the question as a springboard to talk about something broader. It was good fun and because I was sitting on the opposite side of the desk from Tim Cox, I learned a lot about broadcasting.”

That was just as well because it wasn’t long before Andrew’s talents were recognised and he was asked to broadcast the local Grandstand program one Saturday morning. “At that time ABC was deliberately looking to bring people in from outside the station to host programs. I was an AFL umpire’s coach at the time and I had a lot of sports contacts and so a mate of mine at the ABC, Joel Rheinberger, suggested me.”

I knew no-one else would want to do it. I said I’d give it a go

The producer called Andrew the following Monday morning ahead of the show to pitch the idea. “She asked me whether I could drive the studio. I said ‘I can do that’ then I spent the rest of the week running up to the studio between eye tests to sit in on a broadcast or take a lesson. On the Friday I went up there and planned the show and we did the broadcast the next day without a hitch. I have to admit I was pretty scared but I managed to run a quiz and I interviewed Drew Morphett about football without mucking up the phone lines – which is something most new broadcasters do.”

Grandstand became a reasonably regular gig and Andrew’s face – and obscure interests – increasingly recognised through the corridors of the ABC, helped by the fact that many of the station’s employees would drop into his practice for an eye test as it was just down the road.

“I was asked to go on Collectors one night because I have one of the biggest collections of Batman memorabilia in Australia, then I was asked to do a segment with the broadcaster Christopher Lawrence each Wednesday night on the history of comic books, starting from the 40s and working through the eras – the golden age, the silver age, it was amazing. ABC Tasmania in particular is amazing with this sort of thing. Their charter is to interact with the community, to engage with them on what they are interested in, and so that’s what we did.”

“The opportunity to produce a podcast Nerdzilla came as a complete surprise. The ABC was looking to expand the technology section of its website, they were asking for submissions. Joel and I are big fans of podcasts – I had an iPod filled with more podcasts than music – we got talking about the opportunity and we realised there weren’t any Australian made podcasts for nerds. Yet nerds are the ones who really know how to use computers. So we put together a proposal, we documented who the audience was, why there was a need for our nerdy podcast and we submitted it. That was what attracted the ABC – they recognised there was an audience out there that they weren’t catering to.

The duo was funded to produce 10 episodes, then, following a prestigious Apple iTunes Rewind award, ABC Hobart provided funding for a further 32 episodes. In its third year, Nerdzilla was nominated for a People’s Choice Podcast Award. There was also an opportunity to move
the show to television.

“We’d made about six episodes when the producer of Collectors dropped by and suggested we produce the 10th episode as a television program. “This was one of the most bizarre experiences. I was so very inexperienced at radio, let alone television. But he supplied the crew and we spent a day making the show. I sat there all day thinking I don’t know how to do this, but we proved that we could carry it off, we took all the elements we normally use to produce a podcast and took it to camera.

“The show was presented to the ABC, and some people in the television department really liked it. Ultimately, like most TV pilots, it didn’t get the go-ahead, but we put it on our YouTube channel and it continues to get views to this day,” said Andrew

“It was a really fun experience to work with a full film crew for a couple of days, and it made me realise how hard it is to make good telly. We’ve made quite a few video projects since then, and while I like it, I prefer radio… it’s so much more immediate and intimate, compared to television. Broadcasting is fun, probably because I like talking! But podcasts and other downloadable or streaming content is really the future of things. The Nerdzilla audience is extremely tech-savvy, and they love podcasts. We make episodes whenever we feel like it, trying for two a month, but it’s really when we decide we have enough good content to use.

Made by Nerds for Nerds

The Nerdzilla podcast – “made by nerds for nerds… geeks, technophiles, comic readers, sci-fi lovers, fantasists, gamers, brainiacs, gadgeteers and Mensa members”, continues to broadcast, supported by a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter. “It’s unique in that it’s exclusively a podcast – it’s not catch up radio,” said Andrew, adding that Nerdzilla ranks in the top 20 out of 120 ABC podcasts when it comes to downloads. Andrew has hopes that one day it will eventually make its way to television as new mediums emerge and the costs of production continue to decrease in line with the evolution of technology.

In the meantime, he says, he’s having a whole lot of fun, interviewing actors, writers and producers of some of the zaniest video games, books, movies,
comics and cartoons out there at pop culture expos around the country.

“It’s a massive industry. There are conventions on almost every weekend, like the Armageddon Expo and Supanova, which provide us with a great source of content,” said Andrew. “They bring in guests from overseas – artists who are about to launch a book or a movie, for instance – and we get to interview them for Nerdzilla.”

Stand Out Talents

Stand out actors Andrew has interviewed include Paul McGann, who played the eighth Doctor Who; Edward James Olmos who played William Adama in Battlestar Galactica and Wil Wheaton the child star
of Star Trek who played Wesley Crusher.

“I didn’t expect to get to interview Wil. I had an interview lined up with someone else, which fell over and so the publicist lined up Wil. He is about my age. He’s a nerd and a geek. The only difference is that when he was 14, he ended up on Star Trek. He was really interesting to talk to. He does a lot of voice acting but his main job is hosting a YouTube show called Table Top, which is all about board games. And that just goes to show you can make a living by hosting on YouTube.”

Michael Hogan, who played Colonel Tigh in Battlestar Galactica, was another favourite, perhaps in part to their shared last name. “I explained that in Australia, anyone with the last name Hogan is called Hoges. He’d never heard that before and so for the rest of the weekend, whenever he saw me roaming through the convention, he’d shout out ‘hey, Hoges’. It was like we were best mates.”

Andrew says after all these years its still hard to come to terms with the role he’s found himself as a podcaster of Nerdzilla. “When I’m interviewing these people, when I’m putting together the shows, I’m pinching myself all the time… you can’t do too much fan boy gushing of course – we’re there to make it entertaining for our listeners, not us!”

Recognition

He’s not the only one doing the pinching. “In my optometry practice I do a lot of contact lenses and I also see a lot of kids. There’s this weird thing that often happens when people are having their eyes tested by me for the first time. We’ll be half way through the test when they’ll recognise my voice from the radio and they’ll say, ‘hold on, aren’t you…’. One day I had a guy come in wearing his headphones and he was listening to my show but he didn’t realise who I was. Then he saw the Nerdzilla cup on my desk, he took notice of my voice and he put two and two together. That was hilarious.”

Then there are the kids who seek Andrew and Joel out at the conventions, itching to have a photo taken. “One couple wrote to me because they were coming from Melbourne to Tasmania and they wanted to meet us. We said come on the show, so the next minute we were all having a counter lunch at a local pub and interviewing them. Experiences like that are great.”

As a director of OptomEyes, which is a full franchise partner of OPSM, Andrew said fitting his ABC broadcasting career around optometry can be pretty hectic. Yet on top of that he is involved in the profession’s politics as a national board member of Optometry Australia, the director of education for Tasmania’s Lifestyle Congress (TLC) and a member of Guide Dogs Tasmania’s board as well. He’s also a husband, father of two children, runs a small farm and as we mentioned right up front, loves to brew craft beer.

Like all things in the world of Andrew Hogan, brewing beer is something he tackles with enthusiasm and commitment. “I’ve been making beer since I was too young to legally drink it – it was something my dad was also into – and it’s a great excuse to get friends around. I make it from grains and hops – I do all the grinding and mashing of the grains, and boiling it all up with hops; it’s the long way (when compared to using a kit) but you get the beer that’s exactly what you want.

“I’ve got the kitchen set up now so that I’ve got beer on tap. That’s fantastic because kegs are like a giant soda stream. Once you’ve gone through the brewing process, the beer can be ready to drink in an hour, unlike putting it into bottles, which then takes three weeks to gas up… the kids love it because when I’m not making beer, I can produce a pretty good soda by running water through the kegs – that’s also a great way to clean the lines,” he adds with a laugh.