Q&A: “Garage Logic”

Columnist and podcaster Joe Soucheray takes the Center’s John Hinderaker on a tour of Gumption County.

When KSTP cancelled Joe Soucheray’s “Garage Logic” radio show three years ago, his legion of local listeners fretted that they had lost their daily source of common-sense conservative commentary and good humor. Their worries were short-lived. “Garage Logic” came roaring back as a hugely successful podcast that in October notched more than one million downloads.

Soucheray began his career as a sportswriter for the Minneapolis Tribune in the early ‘70s before moving across the river to work as a columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, where he remains today. He launched his radio career in 1980 as host of Monday Night Sports Talk on KSTP radio, along with co-host Patrick Reusse. He became a fulltime radio host in 1993, quickly developing the “Garage Logic” persona. American Experiment President John Hinderaker caught up with him for an interview on the day Soucheray had just finished recording his 738th show.

At some point you made a transition from being a newspaper columnist, to being a newspaper columnist who had his own radio show. I think you were a pioneer, moving on to the radio.

That came about because I covered the 1980 Winter Olympics. Those games really captured Minnesota because of the hockey team. Most of the guys were from Minnesota and they beat the dreaded USSR, then won the gold medal. When we came back to town, I wasn’t the only one who was contacted by other media, I think a lot of us were. KSTP called me and said, “Would you like to come on the air and talk about your experiences covering those winter games in Lake Placid?” And I said, “Sure.” It grew quickly into a weekly sports talk show that became known as “Monday Night Sports Talk” and that all stems from my exposure at the Olympics.

Describe how that developed into “Garage Logic.”

As I grew more and more comfortable doing the sports talk show, I would occasionally be asked if I wanted to fill in for somebody if they would need some days off, most principally Barbara Carlson. Then I was offered my own show and I gladly took it. I had kids that needed money for college, and I was at a critical time in my life when I needed to boost my income. At the beginning, it was just called, “The Joe Soucheray Show” and it was just going to be like any other talk show on the air, I guess. The typical cliche topics and politics, and what have you. We started the daily show in April of ‘93, and by the fall of ‘93, so just four or five months later, we were going to start interviewing political candidates, just like every other show.

But for some reason we got the idea to interview them in people’s garages. Let’s put these political aspirants on the scene of the people who actually pay the bills; you can see their lawn mower and their rakes and their step ladders. I saw the garage as a symbol of work life and what have you. And that caught on; people volunteering their garages. So we interviewed mayoral candidates in somebody’s garage in South Minneapolis, and then next week it was in somebody’s garage in North Oaks. And it was from that, that the term “Garage Logic” sprang. I can’t remember exactly how or why, but that’s where it came from.

I interpret “Garage Logic” as basically meaning the kind of common sense some guys might talk about as they’re hanging out or maybe working in their garage.

Exactly. The underlying phrase was always, “We can figure out things in the garage that we don’t need the government to figure out for us.” That theme stuck and it grew, and as a byproduct of that, we began to imagine the town. And then the next thing you know a real talented artist named Greg Holcomb began drawing the town and coming up with maps and then characters developed. Within two to three years it was really picking up steam. I was really enjoying the sense that it was completely different from anything else on radio. I suppose there are inevitable comparisons to Lake Wobegon, but I’ve never worried about being remotely close to that kind of show.

Why do you think the “Garage Logic” theme resonated so much with Minnesotans? Is there just a hunger for a daily dose of common sense?

I’ve thought a lot about that. One answer I’ve come up with is that to write a good newspaper column, it’s my belief that you need to be aware of what people are talking about around their own kitchen tables. I transfer that to radio. To do a unique radio show you’ve got to be aware of what concerns those people. You just don’t come in and do trivia and kill time. I feel that we’re doing a show that’s based on being in touch with what people are dealing with in their own lives.

So your show started out on KSTP radio, and I think spread pretty quickly to where it was on many radio stations across the state of Minnesota?

Right. KSTP developed a network and we were on in the Dakotas, much of Minnesota, and some stations in Wisconsin.

But then changes were coming to the radio industry and coming to KSTP. A couple years ago, the “Garage Logic” show evolved from being a daily radio program into being a podcast. Describe that process.

I’ve been doing it so long, I guess I was on the ground floor to witness the weakening of AM radio, if not its demise. I think that’s true all across the country. There are 25-year-olds who probably have never listened to an AM radio station because they have so many different ways now to get news and music and entertainment.

I’ll tell you something interesting. As the ratings plummeted for AM radio stations, including my show, it just didn’t jibe with the anecdotal evidence I was getting that “Garage Logic” was still wildly popular. No matter where I was in the country, I would run into people who would tell me, “Hey, love the show, man.” “Hi, Mayor.” “Hey, flashlight king.” “Hello, fireworks commissioner.” This was happening all over. I always had this feeling that this rating mechanism was deceptive. It was not capturing the people who were actually listening.

So cut to the chase. We go to podcast and the numbers started rising fairly quickly. In October of this year, we surpassed a million downloads for the month, about 1,150,000. It clarified for me that we were anecdotally still very popular. It wasn’t being measured the way you could now measure those things with a podcast.

You mentioned that you took the “Garage Logic” concept right over into the podcast. You also took your crew.

There have been some changes. Rookie’s not on every day and John Heidt’s not on every day, but for the most part, we kept the crew. It’s a crew show. I might be the mayor and I might run the thing, but I’m really happy to have those guys around me.

What are the logistics of recording the podcast?

Remember I said that they weren’t even planning to get into the podcast business. Well, the next thing you know, they built us a podcast studio. It’s really cool. The show is taped in the Hubbard building, the KSTP building, where we have our own “Garage Logic” podcast studio. I do all my prep work pretty much at home and then I finish the prep work at the studio, and then we record. We record every day between noon and whenever we want to be done with it. The podcast is so freeing. It’s just amazing. You could be talking to an author and you never have to worry about stopping for a time to advertise. You never have to worry about a time-out for anything. You’re completely the master of your own fate. It’s just a fun way to do it.

The podcast sounds a lot like your old radio show. It’s got a very similar feel, but as you say, it is completely unconstrained by the constant ins and outs that we get in radio.

The other main difference is we don’t take phone calls. We’re thinking about how we could make that happen. I think taking phone calls brings a lot to a show like ours. I’m sure there are many listeners who miss the ability to participate. We’re still experimenting with how to broaden its scope.

I can’t believe the way podcasting has taken off.

Do you know how many of these damn things there are in the country? 740,000. You go to Best Buy and buy a machine. Bing, bang, boom. You think you’re a podcaster.

What’s enjoyable for the listeners is the whole pod, all that means is play-on-demand. You can go to the dry cleaners, hit pause, come back out. You haven’t missed anything. You can also listen to it whenever you want. I didn’t know that I would like it this much. I do. I love it.

And your podcast, as you say, there are literally hundreds of thousands of podcasts, but yours, the “Garage Logic” podcast is one of the most popular.

We’re very fortunate. We’ve stumbled on something and we don’t want to over-analyze it. So we just go with the flow here. We know what we’ve got and we keep doing it.

That’s another thing that distinguishes our podcast. We do it every day. Most podcasts are once a week or two times a week. We do it every single day because we wanted to mimic the radio show.

One of the early challenges for podcasts was how to monetize them. But you guys have been able to monetize the “Garage Logic” podcast pretty well, haven’t you?

Very well, but that’s among the things we keep tinkering with. I’m sure the big hitters like Joe Rogan are heavily monetized. Closer to home, I think we’ve probably done the best job of getting it monetized.

Another advantage of a podcast is that listeners can download it anywhere. It’s enabled “Garage Logic” to reach more of a national audience.

Absolutely, I can’t believe the listeners we have. We might be capturing a lot of Minnesotans who have moved away and like our show for the way it keeps them in touch.

While you continue to evolve with technology, the basic theme of “Garage Logic” hasn’t changed, has it? You guys turn a gimlet eye on the foolishness and the lack of common sense that we see from government officials, but also from a lot of sources in today’s world.

Absolutely. I’ve called it “the mystery” for many years. The United States seems to be in the throes of a mystery. There’s an attempt by a faction of Americans to bring about a country that we don’t even recognize. “Garage Logic” is the clinging to the conventions in history and traditions of the America we’ve all known and appreciated all our lives. We reject the failed academy and the nonsense that comes out of the academy system, the university system. We reject artificial attempts to create equity. There’s nothing wrong with equity, we just don’t like the artificial and whimsical attempts to bring it about. We believe criminals should be caught and suffer consequences for their crimes. I could go on and on and on and on. But “Garage Logic” is basically a look at America, that many Americans will not let go of, nor should they.

It’s interesting that after all the years you’ve been doing “Garage Logic” the ideas you just outlined are right in the thick of what is going on in our country. You see recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey. You see what’s going on now in the schools and debates over school boards. “Garage Logic” really is as timely as it ever has been.

Isn’t that something? It’s more timely now than it was when we started the podcast three years ago. I can’t keep up with the need to reinforce a belief in the conventions and traditions and customs of capitalism, truth and justice, and holding people accountable. I think what’s being done to black Americans, particularly in the educational system, is unconscionable. It’s just unconscionable that you have a failed academy that’s attempting to make black children less than they are. I have begged black parents, for example, to go to their school boards and quit telling these people to do you a favor. They’re not helping your child. Your child’s as capable as anybody else of success and achievement, whatever. And for those kids to be told, “Oh, don’t worry. You don’t have to have your test in on time” or, “Don’t worry, we’ll ignore that grade and give you another chance to do it.” What utter BS. It harms the child. It terrifies me that every day when we get up, there’s something new for us to worry about.

You and the crew at “Garage Logic” are not going to run out of stories to take on and to lampoon and to respond to.

I don’t think so. Red Smith, the great, now late, New York Times sports columnist was always asked, “Red, how in the hell are you writing six columns a week?” And Red said, “God is good.” It’s the same with us. Why are you doing a podcast every day? Well, God is good. We’re not ever short of anything to talk about.