Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Poll Results: One Through Five

flagpole-49506_640So, the 2013 listener poll has been over for a couple weeks, and I’ve finished doing what processing of the data we felt necessary– basically removing duplicate entries based on checksums and timestamps.

There was a lot of questions and discussion on the questions, as we expected, so I’ve decided to go over each question, where our thought stand on then, and answer some questions asked in the discussion session.



Question 1

Results for Question 1

Results for Question 1

Ask an Atheist doesn’t get a lot of phone calls. Does this lessen your enjoyment of the show?

I had figured that most listeners of the show in 2013 wouldn’t mind the lack of calls, but I was not expecting the resounding, 5:1 “No” answer to this question. I’m glad to see that– the show has evolved a lot over the last three years, and I really like the direction it’s gone in that time.

A lot of folks, even among the production staff, and especially early on, wanted us to be “TAE in Seattle.” I don’t know that a town known for its passive aggressive nature could really support such a show. And frankly, if I’m in the mood for that sort of thing, I’m more likely to watch the masters at work than try it myself. So, as the show went to commercial radio, and some of the personalities changed, we’ve evolved. I’m glad that evolution is appreciated.

I grew up listening to a lot of radio. When I think about how to put together Ask an Atheist, I think about Chicago talk radio in the late eighties and nineties– specifically, Steve & Garry. If you’re familiar with that show, I think the comparisons are fairly obvious.

Sam and Mike often disagree about specific topics and points of view which forces the listener to think about where they stand on a topic and think more critically.

This is something that Mike and I aim for. On nearly every subject, we’ll agree more than we disagree, but Mike and I like to hash out the details, and very rarely do we agree in details. The atheism community has a really diverse headspace, and we try to capture that as much as possible.

While “wrasslin” with viewers is certainly entertaining, it is by no means necessary to your broadcast. IF your show ran longer, I would encourage you to put forth the effort to get more phone calls. [ … ] find your unique niche and stick to it. Be different. Try new things. Discard what doesn’t work. Keep what does. And keep evaluating.

Thanks! This year’s survey, the first of many, is part of that evaluation process. We’d very much like to have a longer slot, and I think that shows. One of the things we’d focus on if we hit the 90 or 180 minute markers is a much larger focus on caller interactivity.

But, in the more than 2 years I’ve been listening, it has happened several times that when you finally do get a call, the call has been ended pretty quick by you saying ‘we got to move on’. And I never quite did understand why you, as a call-in show, had to ‘move on’ from a call.

There are two main reasons for this, one editorial and one based on timing.

First, we do want to keep calls sharp and to the point. If we feel like the caller has made the good point, or is beginning to circle around a lot, we’ll usually opt to end the call. Historically, people we’ve talked to after that decision usually aren’t bothered by it, as they can usually see what they were doing. We do try to fit as much material in as possible– partially because there’s always more stuff we’d like to cover, and also because I have a personal goal of rendering the “play at 2x speed” button on iPods useless.

Keeping the calls short does also tend to compensate for the ”dittohead effect,” which we do try to avoid. Certainly, we’re glad when people agree with us, and we love that you listen and support the show, but we don’t want it to become a love fest. Maybe when we hit 200 episodes or something, but certainly not as an ongoing thing.

Secondly, scheduling forces us to move on: interviews and breaks have to happen in certain time frames. Also, most of our calls happen in the last segment, and even in the last part of the last segment. It’s partly unavoidable, because callers want to react to what happened on the show. Please remember that we’re a broadcast show with strict time limits! We have 56 minutes, 50 seconds of show a week. If you call at 3:50, you’re only going to get a minute or two before we have to move on to final comments, announcements, and credits.

If we had a ninety minute or longer show, we’d treat callers differently, to be sure. But we’ve recognized that we’ve evolved a little bit away from the caller part of the show, so we’re becoming a lot more discriminating about calls.

I think audience interaction is better limited to emails that can be edited for time and read on the air.

We get far more emails than we do calls, and I think it suits the podcasting format better, if not the broadcast format. When I grew up, the other radio I would listen to (shortwave) was very much like Ask an Atheist is with emails, but with postcards. So it was sort of natural for me to do it this way.

I don’t really like calls. They’re unpredictable, and most people that want to be on the radio are lunatics with an ax to grind. (Not you guys!)

There’s something you better understand about me, ’cause it’s important and one day your life may depend on it. I am definitely a lunatic on the radio with an axe to grind.


Question 2

What would encourage you to call?

One could be a bit more specific on the call to action. not just call you your comments/questions. “Call if you think that such and such should or should not be so and so. Have you been in a position that you were afraid to tell someone that you were an atheist. How have you dealt with those awkward holiday dinner conversations when religion comes up? Call (206) 420-0997 again that’s (206) 420-0997 so Mike…” and so on. Yes you do this to an extent. Just make it more deliberate and more plain. Listen to say Radio west or Diane Rehm on how they take calls. Say you are on an anti vaccers topic. “Dr. so and so states that vaccines are bad for you. Do you think that they are? Call.” Then keep on the crazy guys position. “again he says this and that (few minutes more) Again call (206) 420-0997. Now esteemed guest what do you think? Uh huh Ok Now to the email… Bill says ALIENS!” Next caller.

When I say that we’d have a different take if we were a slightly longer show, this is exactly the sort of thing I have in mind. Diane Rehm can both give her interviewers a fair amount of discussion time, and then take calls. Also, she gets waaay27 more calls than we do.

This and your other idea (essentially a variant on this one) are both quite good.

If there was a way for me to leave a voicemail it is possible I would call.

We have a voice mail line! We’ve had it for years! (206) 420-0997 any time of the day!

  • “Perhaps a Skype contact as I’m outside the US.”
  • “lower long distance rates.”
  • “A toll-free number”

Various Folks

Fair enough! Skype is turning out to be somewhat difficult for voice mail, but we’re working on Google Voice and toll free numbers right now.


Question 3

Question 3 Results

Question 3 Results

What guests would you most like to see?

By far the prominent scientists and science educators was the popular answer. However, “No Answer” was also prominent, with complaints that “all of these” wasn’t an option. And to be sure, people from all of these categories (save, perhaps, for the theists) will be on the show, and hopefully regularly.

Yes, we could have gone with checkboxes. But the exercise was to pick one as “best”, and thanks to those of you who did.



recovering believers perhaps several in dialogue

We’ve done occasional episodes where it was a part of it, and we’ve got some material coming up. I love those stories, too, which is why I listen to our sibling podcast, Living After Faith.

Also a few happy celebs would help make the show a little less grumpy.

Crap. Are we grumpy? Am I grumpy?

If you need ideas for guests, I could help out as I was Program Director for a major SF/F convention for several years. Not sure how to get this ball rolling and maintain anonymity for survey purposes. Le me ponder that one a bit and come up with a solution.

By all means, click on the red button and let us know. You aren’t the only person with SF/F con experience who talked in the survey about it, so your anonymity is actually fairly preserved.

[…]Christians who say stuff like “People really shouldn’t take the personification of the God concept so literally” and “Atheism is another path to God because that is just a word we use to mean the ultimate reality.” and “I spend my prayer time reading science books because that is a good way to mediate on the nature of God (reality)” [These people are] basically atheists in that they don’t think gods exist the way [most] would define god – they believe strongly in belief and so they torture language [to] keep saying they are Christians/theists/whatever.

I’ve tried talking with people like this, with an eye towards doing a show about it, but honestly, it didn’t work out very well. Folks like this are rather unwilling to make many points, and any points they do make, they’ll tend to move the goal posts rather than defending or change their position. Lack of backbone may be a part of it, but I think it’s just a discomfort with debate.

On the other hand, the increasing numbers of these types of people are a sign that minds are changing and becoming more skeptical. I’m almost afraid of ruining it.

I’d love to have an episode featuring someone from the Secular Coalition for America or a similar organization.

We’ve done a couple episodes on the SCA, but we’d be happy to look at doing another discussion!

If you guys could get James Randi on, I would swoon hard core.

Behold, one of the high points of my existence!


Question 4

Question 4 ResultsAsk an Atheist is considering a subscription model to raise money for the show, adding premium content in addition to the free on-air show. How much, monthly, would you consider paying for such a service? (in US dollars)

I won’t lie, this is an important one.

We give away an hour of radio programming a week. We’re hoping to bring more as we improve, plus some seriously big projects in our potential future. Ask an Atheist is a full time volunteer job for me, and it’s a major time investment for others. We don’t joke: every dollar given to the Ask an Atheist paypal account or raised during our fundraisers goes towards the show, either directly for airtime, production equipment, or costs to produce episodes.

We’d love to do more. If we’re going to bring in some guests, we’re going to have to go to them. I’d love to be able to cover the conventions. And, frankly, I’d like to be less worried about the rent, if that’s even possible.

As we’ve said on the show, if everyone who downloaded the show tipped us a dollar a month, we’d be in a much better position. But, as we’ve said, we want to give people something in return for the money they give us– so we were thinking about a little bit of extra content each week, say, half an hour, as a thank you note to those helping to keep the lights on.

The answers to this question indicate that about half of you would be interested in something like this, so we’re starting to look into a way to make it happen with as little pain as possible. But make no mistake: The show “Ask an Atheist,” our main focus, will always be free to download. The extra content is designed to support the free content, not supplant it.

I contributed to the “Peggy’s challenge” fundraiser in the first week but never got recognized on the show. Felt a bit slighted (but not a lot)

We try to mention every person who meets Peggy’s Challenge. If you don’t hear your name in the week after your contribution, please let us know. I’m really sorry we didn’t, it’s very important to us that people get recognized.

Price parity with stopping by somewhere differnt for a mocha or a beer once a week.

This is exactly the model I had in mind– a “pay as much as you want” model, but with a minimum in something like this range.

Please make sure that the RSS feed for the paid content is compattible with all popular media players! I subscribed to the young turks and got burned cause thier RSS didnt work with winamp.

The technological dork that I am, I’d be disappointed if I didn’t have a good solution to this at launch.

You guys do a great job and I made a small donation last year and will do so again this year, but I would not subscribe. If you became a subscription only, I would let you go. I thought you considered yourselves “activists”.

Exactly so. This is why it would be extra content– my concept would be an extended discussion, maybe something a little off topic for the show, or perhaps a place to discuss things that are interesting internally to the atheism visibility movement. But again, the extra podcast would be a thank you note for people helping keep the free show afloat, not an exclusive replacement for our activism.

Question 5

Question 5 Results

Question 5 Results

How do you listen to Ask an Atheist?

No surprise here. 65 to 1 in favor of the podcast. Another thing is that we’ve discovered is that we’re Monday morning drive time for a large portion of our listenership. To me, that is quite an honor. Thank you.

Since I am in high school and my dad hates it when I listen to you, I only download the podcast.

I have no comment. They should have sent a poet.

That’s all for now, more questions next week!

About the Author: Sam Mulvey

Sam Mulvey is a producer and the technical brain behind Ask an Atheist. He is a collector of vinegar varieties, vintage computers, antique radios, and propaganda.

Notify of

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
"Cynda Poet"

What is this unapologetic Sagan worship? I thought you were an atheist. 😉

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x