Anderson Cowan has been been entrenched in talk radio since 1999. As the main board engineer for Loveline, KROQ’s syndicated radio call-in juggernaut, Cowan has worked with, even openly admonished, many of the 30-year-old program’s cast of revolving hosts and recurring fill-ins, including Dr. Drew Pinsky and Adam Carolla. But Loveline is only a small part of the Anderson Cowan story.
Quietly, one of the more effective voices in podcasting, Cowan has established loyal listenership away from the terrestrial call-in platform as the highly-competent co-host of The Film Vault and The After Disaster.
He’s been accurately described as “acerbic,” “divisive,” and “brutally honest.” But one need only listen to his shows to understand the dualism of this podcaster’s personality; he’s also quick-witted, compassionate and insightful. His opinions always make sense to me. And I trust the aspiring director’s movie reviews implicitly.
He graciously answered a few questions for me about life on his end of the microphone.
Your love of film seems to precede everything. Can you pinpoint when and how it started?
I’ve talked a lot about my dad taking me to inappropriate movies at a young age. I remember some of those experiences more vividly than family vacations, birthdays and holidays. That, coupled with exposure to movie pay channels, namely the Z Channel, movies fascinated me and were one of the only things that could hold my attention for more than 10 minutes at a time which remains that case today.
“To be shamefully honest, there was also something very alluring about understanding how my dad, who I had some degree of respect for, could like a movie such as Dune which I found so boring and dislike a great movie such a Gremlins which he called ‘stupid’.”
It occurred to me at a very early age that there was some kind of code there within the art of movies and I was determined to crack it. However, I maintain to this day that Dune is dull and Gremlins is great. It was when I realized that certain directors maintained a distinct style from one film to the next and were able to say something that would be frozen in a type of time capsule for the rest of recorded time that I really became somewhat obsessive with the medium.
You’ve said you discovered talk radio while high on vicodin after breaking your back. Are you as passionate about “talk” now that you’re the voice going out into the ether?
Stern is where my love of talk radio began, but before that it was George Carlin’s stand up that made me appreciate the power and lasting effects of the spoken word. For an individual to be armed with nothing more than a mic and a voice to be capable of captivating large audiences is incredible.
I love that such a simple and primitive form of entertainment continues to thrive. I find this even more impressive today when there is so much more going on in your pocket with the continued advancements in technology. There are so many entertainment choices from RPGs, porn, sports and movies all available on your phone.
“Yet people like Bill Burr, Adam Carolla, Emily Morse and the ultra minimalist, Mike Carano can effectively entertain people with only a microphone. To answer your question, yes I will always have passion for talk, despite the the celebration of mediocrity with the likes of myself now a small part of it.”
You’ve been with “Loveline” since the late ’90s. Obviously, you’ve gleaned a lot from that show. What about traditional broadcasting did you NOT want to bring to your own shows?
I’ve always felt uncomfortable listening to shows where the host uses that broadcasting voice. I guess it makes some sense if you’re spinning records. There is a certain energy of performance that needs to be brought, but if your job is to talk to the audience for long stretches of time I think you should be authentic. I need to hear the voice and authenticity you’d use with your friends and family if I’m going to buy in. I’m shocked that there are still people thriving in this business who rely almost entirely on shtick.
You did Film Vault on 97.1 Free 2HD originally. You’ve said you loved it there. Is it apples and oranges when you compare it to the podcasts?
I loved it there only because it was the first time we ever did the show for anyone other than ourselves. It was exciting to know that our voices were actually leaving the studio. Bryan and I did about a half a dozen practice shows in the early years. I know he shared those demos with some friends and potential suitors, but mostly it was for no reason other than a bit of fun.
I never really felt that Bryan was heeding any of my recommendations. While I had no idea how many people were actually hearing the 97.1 show, it was exciting to know that some of the lesser known movies I was raving about might be reaching some semblance of an audience. It wasn’t until months, if not over a year after we had been doing the show, that I came across a message board where I was stunned to discover that a good group of people were not only finding the show, but discussing it, recording and sharing it and arguing about our choices.
Loveline Super Fan Giovani should be credited with some of the show’s momentum at that time. After 97.1 flipped formats from talk to pop The Film Vault once again found itself orphaned until a fine Irish gentleman named Stephen McCune contacted me about a website he had secured in the name of the show. He was eager to host it on said website and for a good while we continued to record shows on a semi regular basis and post them to Stephen’s run site.
“Not sure [The Film Vault] would’ve made the leap to Ace Network had it not been for his unsolicited help. The show has changed a bit over the years, but that has nothing to do with where we do it.”
We’ve been fortunate to this point as far as our independence and total control of the content. There have never been any bosses telling us how to do our show. Don’t think I could handle that.
How would you describe the differences in your relationships between Bryan and your relationships with Mike and Tyler?
I could go on a long road trips with Mike and Tyler, go camping and even live comfortably with those two. The three of us have similar views and sensibilities.
“Bryan and I are so fundamentally different in so many ways that I’m not sure we could be neighbors without incident. In fact, we could never be neighbors as Bryan would prefer to live in a neighborhood with a Home Owners Association whereas I would rather be homeless than deal with such forced conformity.”
I do not trust authority nor the establishment and Bryan seems to thrive in and around it. I’m well aware that much of my animosity toward him is the product of envy. Life must be such a better time if you aren’t constantly challenging and questioning everyone and everything. I imagine it might be like living in a world filled with Mikes and Tylers. I’m at a point now where I have grown to love Bryan and would do anything for him.
“If the show were to abruptly come to an end I would make sure that [Bryan’s and my] relationship survived whether he was interested or not. I remember breaking down in my car while in heavy traffic when I learned of his diagnosis … It was very embarrassing, and I never told Bryan about that or anyone else for that matter.”
I couldn’t control myself and people were staring at me from their cars, wondering what was wrong with me. I wanted to kill them all as I sobbed. I continue to be cautiously optimistic about his condition and realize that another difference between us is I wouldn’t be here today if I was faced with the same challenge. I look forward to reading his book.
As “The Film Vault” continues to grow, you and Bryan have managed to eloquently incorporate monetization into the program with your Amazon list. Where do you stand on live reads, advertising in podcasts, and the necessity to promote sponsors, however awkward that promotion may be?
Advertisement is tricky across the board. Televising, print, terrestrial radio and podcasts most recently need it to survive on a respectable level, but that line is a fine one in terms of insulting your audience. I’ve been under the impression for awhile now that the more personal the better as far as talk goes. If the host or hosts believe in and use the products they push then I’m less likely to be annoyed or insulted. I can tell you that Bryan and I have turned down far more advertising opportunities than we have accepted.
The work that goes into the show is without a doubt work. Both of us spend hours on our show notes and research looking for things the listeners might find of interest every week and that’s not counting the time spent actually watching movies. It’s nice to be able to receive some monetary compensation for our efforts and without asking for donations or subscriptions.
Your refreshingly quick to reveal yourself on your shows. Have you always been a candid person? What are some situations when your candor has gotten you into trouble?
My candor gets me in trouble on a regular basis. I upset my wife just a few hours ago with something honest, but stupid that I said. The idea of someone telling you they feel one way when they actually feel another strikes me as one of the biggest disservices we can do to one another as people.
Not sure where that comes from, maybe my brother. He’s one of those rare people who can’t lie even if it’s the right thing to do. We all experience ourselves through other people. If that experience is constantly clouded with pity inspired compliments or sympathy laden laughter how would any of us ever improve? Like I said before, if you expect people to buy in, you have to be revealing and authentic. Didn’t mean to try to get all deep there, but that was a fine question.
Some people are surprised to hear about your summer job? How did you start working with the kids at the the camp, and how does it inform your day-to-day life?
Years ago I made a living as a residential counselor at a home for mentally disabled adults. That continues to be my favorite job I’ve ever had. The routine included carting the residents around to various activities, one of which was horseback riding. The horseback riding company was packing up one day and on their way to camp for the summer.
The idea of a place where sick kids could be kids immediately appealed to me, so I signed up. It’s been almost 20 summers now and it still gives me more perspective than anything else I have in my life. Those kids have seen, experienced and dealt with more grave scenarios than most every adult I know, and they still smile more often than most of those adults as well.
Any film projects cooking right now?
I’ve been slow simmering countless projects in my head for the past decade. Most recently I began looking to fill out my newly created production company and am currently accepting applications at andersoncowan.com. I have a number of things I’ve wanted to shoot for a long time now, and I’m sick of not shooting them.
Hack question I know, but applicable: What do you hope to be doing in five years?
What’s pathetic and sad is that the answer to this question would’ve been the same five years ago and five years before that. It all ties into the answer above, I hope to be working on my second or third feature. God I hope that answer is different five years from now.
You can follow Anderson at @AndersonCowan or check in with him at andersoncowan.com.