PORT TOWNSEND — It might be a surreal experience for Luke Burbank, host of the popular podcast “Too Beautiful to Live.”
He’ll probably talk about it, too.
Burbank, formerly of Port Townsend, wedded his wife, Carey, at the Wheeler Theater at Fort Worden. When he returns this month, he’ll be with his co-host, Andrew Walsh, performing as part of Thing, a two-day arts festival Aug. 24-25 produced by the Seattle Theatre Group at the state park.
Two-day tickets were still available at www.thingnw.org on Friday, but single-day passes were sold out.
A 45-minute version of “Too Beautiful to Live” is scheduled to be recorded live at 4:45 p.m. Aug. 24.
Burbank has been a radio host for National Public Radio, KIRO and others, and he served for three years as a co-host with Dave Ross in Seattle.
But his vision extended to a conversational piece he and Walsh lovingly call “TBTL,” (“Too Beautiful to Live”) a place where pop culture mixes with news and often goes down tangential paths of their own lives.
“It started out as a nighttime radio show in Seattle over 10 years ago, and the producer at the time and I worked on a lot of different radio shows,” Burbank said.
He often found it unsatisfying and wanted to take it in another direction, knowing there was a chance it would be canceled immediately.
“I thought, ‘This might be too beautiful for this world,’ ” Burbank said. “We were, in fact, fired after about a year and a half.”
By that time, the show had a small following. When it last hit the radio airwaves, Burbank knew he wanted to continue it in another format.
“We had our last show on a Friday night, and I started it from my house the following Monday,” he said.
Burbank, who now lives in Bellingham, once ran the podcast from a room he rented at the Port Townsend Post Office. He likes to joke he had “10s” of listeners, and most of the fans of the show identify themselves as a “10.”
Now he’s approaching his 3,000th episode — “in a collector’s series,” as he likes to say when he starts the show — and Walsh is the longest running co-host, having joined Burbank in 2012.
Burbank also hosts a Live Wire show based in Portland, Ore., but TBTL is his where he focuses the bulk of his time. He connects from his Bellingham studio with Walsh — “in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle,” Burbank says every day — and they spend a couple of hours with each other Monday through Friday, talking about strange news events and relating it to what’s going on in their lives.
American Public Media manages the podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Google Play music, Stitcher or Radio Public. It also can be found at www.tbtl.net.
It was a great relief for Burbank when he signed on with American Public Media.
“I was in North Beach, living in Port Townsend, and it meant I’d have a regular paycheck and benefits,” he said. “My wife and I popped a champagne cork, and our dog went and got it and hid under a table and ate it.”
Port Townsend became a major part of the show because Burbank often would narrate his experiences with people and places in town.
Walsh said Burbank would do a bit called “PT Cruisin’ ” that listeners loved.
“He’d go around and talk to some of the people who caught your eye, someone who looked like a character,” Walsh said.
Walsh, originally from New Hampshire, is a radio producer in his own right. He’d heard of Burbank and knew he was a public radio personality when he was still back on the East Coast; he relished the opportunity to work with him seven years ago.
“One of the things I’m really proud of is our listener interaction,” Walsh said. “We’ve built this entire community around inside jokes that we have. It’s almost like they have a language of their own. It’s unlike anything I’ve really seen before.”
Walsh said the barriers to broadcasting have been broken down with general access to smartphones and recording devices. But there are tricks of the trade, including the sound quality of voices, potential delay between multiple speakers and how well co-hosts jump in and out of a discussion.
“We maybe don’t give ourselves enough credit, because it’s a listenable, comfortable sound, like you could hear us on the radio,” Walsh said.
In terms of content, Burbank called their real-life experiences a “renewable resource.”
“One thing that happened early on is that we didn’t get a ton of emails,” he said. “Whenever we got a decent email, we would always read it.
“When I was a kid, I would call into this radio station and request a song. Sometimes they would record it and play it on the air. It’s the only one I’d ever been on, and I realized if people have their email read on a show, they’ll have more of a connection to it.”
There’s structure. There’s humor. There’s connection.
“It would still be tough to make it a success on radio, because radio is about broadcasting, where you’re trying to get as many people as possible to listen to your gig,” Burbank said.
“I definitely think it being available as a podcast has been critical for its success, and we got very lucky we got into this sort of thing when podcasting had just started.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].