Alex Ross has always wanted to be behind a microphone. As a producer, he’s worked for numerous traditional media organizations. He’s also a freelancer who runs his own company called Ross Never Sleeps Productions. But that wasn’t getting him on air.
“Radio has always been the medium that speaks to me the most, no pun intended,” Ross says with a laugh. For his latest project, he launched the Never Sleeps Network in April to create and produce podcasts. “We’re calling ourselves the premier indie, independent, podcast network,” he says of NSN, which creates Toronto-centric content.
The Never Sleeps Network materialized out of a particularly productive therapy session. “After dealing with a lot of anxiety and just kind of a lack of motivation in some of my own 9-to-5 stuff,” Ross says, “I gave myself something to look forward to: my 5-to-9.”
Instead of simply creating his own podcast, he brought together a team of Toronto journalists, writers and artists including Aaron Broverman, whose show Speech Bubble is about comic books, and Lisa Schwartzman, who podcasts about comedy with Steven Shehori on You Better Don’t. Now, he’s providing his fellow collaborators with a venue to get creative on air all while giving a voice to Toronto, a city he considers underserved in terms of locally oriented podcasts.
Podcasts aren’t new. In fact, they emerged in the early 2000s. These radio-like shows are finally catching on as an enormously popular mass medium. Five million users downloaded the Serial podcast from the Apple Store. And in June, podcaster Marc Maron interviewed U.S. President Barack Obama on his show WTF with Marc Maron.
Among the six shows currently on the NSN, Ross has two of his own: Ross Never Sleeps and Speaking Duck. Ross describes the former as an industry insider program where he interviews various individuals such as comedians, musicians and bloggers. The latter is all about the Toronto food scene, which is recognized globally for its diversity.
“There’s a reason why the definition of zaftig has a picture of me in the dictionary,” Ross says. Food is his passion and by bringing chefs and restaurants onto his show, he’s able to interview his heroes. Recent episodes have included guests such as David Chrystian, who competed on Top Chef Canada in 2012, and Jesse Vallins from the Saint Tavern.
Like Marc Maron, who interviews guests (Obama included) from his garage, Ross produces his shows from his Toronto home at King and Bathurst streets. His company also has a production facility in the Junction neighbourhood. Along with putting out the podcasts, Ross and the NSN act as an agency by marketing them and building up a loyal following for each one. “Now we’re looking to launch more shows in the upcoming months,” says Ross.
Ross is unabashed about his Jewish background and he knows it comes out on air as he kibitzes with guests and fellow NSN producers. For him, there’s also something very Jewish about the NSN itself. “It’s about building a community for me,” he says. “If there’s anything more Jewish than building a community, I don’t know what it is.”