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Exploring Experimental Content Formats with WAPI Radio: Community Spotlight with ReadMe’s Greg Koberger Ashley Dotterweich

Welcome to the Heavybit Community Spotlight Series, where we highlight the people that make up the Heavybit community, and the interesting projects and ideas that they’re exploring right now. This week we’re turning our spotlight to Greg Koberger, founder of ReadMe, and his team. In the wake of the shift to shelter-in-place, many teams had to find ways to reprogram their in-person events to a remote-friendly format quickly. The ReadMe team spun up WAPI Radio, a 24-hour internet radio station featuring guests from all corners of the DevTools community.

We chatted with Greg and Jon Bishop, Head of Growth and Marketing for ReadMe, about dreaming up unexpected content formats, the revival of the “unpolished” side of the internet, and how their partially-remote team is coping with the move to fully-remote life.

WAPI Radio’s 24 show aired a couple weeks ago (March 26-27th 11am-11am PST) and you had a ton of great guests come on. What sparked the idea for the show?

Greg: “Three years ago we did our first conference called API Mixtape. We called it API Mixtape because we wanted something that was memorable and not generic. I liked the concept of mixtapes, where you put together a lot of songs and create something that’s unique and just yours. Because when you put together a lot of APIs, the sum of their parts is way more valuable than each individual thing.

I don’t like to do things that already exist. I noticed there were a lot of conferences for APIs out there, but there wasn’t one for all the people involved in APIs that didn’t have a CS Degree, or weren’t programmers. There’s so much more to APIs beyond the technical stuff — how do people think about them? How do you get people who aren’t used to APIs — marketers, DevRels, etc. — to use them?

Don’t tell anyone, but my secret motivation for the theme was that I could get a bunch of songs made for it that were API-related. I wrote 5 or 6 songs and we released an album — “Our Love is 503 Forbidden” and stuff like that. My favorite one was “410 Gone Away.” It’s a country love song that’s kind of a generic love song, except it uses as many status codes as possible.

So for a few years I’ve wanted to take this concept of weird API conferences to a new level and frame it as a stereotypical radio station. We wanted to do it as an on-stage radio show. We also had a speaker series coming up but it was canceled because of COVID-19, so we were brainstorming ways to take the event online in a unique way. And for API Mixtape we had a bunch of ads made for the conference using the concept of “WAPI Radio,” kind of as a joke. So we combined all of these into creating WAPI Radio as a 24-hour radio station.

We figured that we were kind of restless at ReadMe, and had a bunch of speakers already lined up who were also restless and looking for something to do. We wanted to get it out there as soon as possible, and since it was audio only there wouldn’t be a huge amount of production necessary.

From a technical standpoint, what tools did you use to set up WAPI Radio?

Greg: Everything we used was off the shelf. I found software that broadcasted an online radio station, so if I wanted to play songs it would have been good off the shelf, but it didn’t have the concept of call-ins or interviews. We’ve been doing Discord game nights on Tuesdays at ReadMe — the sound quality is great, it sounds like a conversation — and that’s the feel I was going for with the radio station. I didn’t want it to be speakers and presentations. I wanted it to just be a bunch of people talking about developer stuff. So we decided to do a Discord channel for the conversations, and broadcasted it via RadioKing.com.

When you go to a music festival they have like 5 laptops hooked up together, and now I understand why they do that. You have all these inputs and outputs coming from different places and you’re trying to make it all work. I only have one computer, but I found this software called LoopBack that lets you do that virtually. It was a little tough to figure out, but once we figured it out it was pretty easy. And it was cheap; it cost about $100 for the entire set up.

I had a soundboard ready to go with cheesy sound effects, and then we just started inviting speakers in. We could let people into the Discord server, let them talk for a bit, then remove them when they were done talking and bring in new people. It went surprisingly without a hitch — there were a few times where people couldn’t hear other people, but overall it worked really well.

What was engagement like? What were you hoping to get out of the experience, and what did you actually get out of it?

Greg: We had about 1,500 people tuned in over the course of 24 hours. We didn’t really know how many people would tune in when we had the idea, but we were pretty happy with that turnout. We had a live chat where people could drop in and chat during the show with us.

One thing we’ve been trying to do is launch a community. It’s tough to start a community for any sort of company, because it can very quickly feel fake or like you’re just building community for the sake of community. I think it’s important when a company builds a community — I got this from a conversation we had on the air with Matt McClure from Muxthe company can’t be the community, it has to be part of the community. That’s why I liked the idea of the radio station. It was a little off to the side of ReadMe, rather than being ReadMe itself. ReadMe can be part of the community, but it doesn’t have to be the community.

We’ve packaged up the content and will be releasing over the next few weeks on wapi.fm. Some of the content definitely leaned more into the ephemeral aspect of the radio show, especially late at night — that might not see the light of day again.

How was the experience of running a 24-hour show at, say, the 3am mark?

Greg: We did have 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the night that were pre-recorded sessions. But around 4 and 5 am on the West Coast is morning on the East Coast, so we started bringing on people from the East Coast team to come back on and talk. It worked out pretty well.

Are you going to do another live radio show?

Greg: For every person who messaged us and said they listened and loved it, we had one or two people ping us and say they missed it and they wish they had known it was coming, so it makes sense to keep doing it! We did it with about a week of turnaround to capture that moment where people were bored and restless, but now that we know what went well and what didn’t go well, I’d love to do it again.

Who do you think is doing the coolest, most creative projects in the DevTools space right now?

Greg: We had someone from Glitch on the WAPI Radio show — it was one of the weirder talks we had. The DevRel team at Glitch is phenomenal, it was a great conversation. They have an amazing community too.

We spent a lot of time talking about things like TikTok instead of DevTools. They have kind of gone the GeoCities route of people making weird, ugly things. It’s cool because people are just trying to make something. They don’t feel like it has to be polished. I think for a lot of companies right now — us included — everything has to be polished and clean. We’ve lost the mentality of being crafty and hacky.

Netlify just hired Cassidy Williams — I don’t know what she’s going to do there, but she’s one of my favorite people on Twitter. Cassidy has their weird, unique content that’s dev-related on Twitter.

Let’s talk about your team. What’s been the biggest shift in workflow during this period of social distancing?

Greg: We’re mostly in SF, and we have a Columbus office, and then about 10% of the team is remote.  It’s been pretty easy to transition. We always did WFH Wednesdays and always had some remote people. There is a bit of loneliness — we’ve gone out of our way to add a bunch of random events for the team. Today we ordered lunch from UberEats and Zoom’ed during lunch. We always eat lunch together on Tuesdays and Thursdays anyway. And on Tuesday nights we do JackBox game nights that we stream via the internet.

We’re trying to do little things like a daily watercooler thing. At 10am people will hop on Zoom if they want to just to chat. And we’re trying to have more meetings.

Jon: We do have our first employee starting next week — hiring has been a little different. We’ll see how onboarding goes. I think it probably won’t go as smoothly as normal, but we’ll make it work. The other problem is interviewing. We put a lot of effort into our interviewing process, and a lot of stuff we do we just can’t do anymore. It’s really hard to get to know someone via Zoom.

What about in your down time? Have you picked up any hobbies?

Jon: I’m normally in San Francisco, but I’ve been staying in Sacramento so I have a backyard and I’m in the suburbs, so it’s easy to get out and take a walk.

Greg: A big reason for doing the radio station was having something to dive into. Nothing too exciting, just a lot of fun little side projects that I wouldn’t have had time for otherwise.

Anything you want to keep doing after we go back to a more regular schedule?

Jon: Our sales office is remote, and I don’t interact with them a lot normally, so I’m hoping after this I’m in contact with them more.

Greg: You have to be more intentional about who you talk to. I like how intentional life has to be when nothing is by default anymore.

Where can people learn more about what you’re working on?

Greg: If you missed WAPI Radio and want to check it out, sign up at wapi.fm and we’ll share the recordings with you. You can also find out more about what we’re working on at ReadMe.

Watch Greg’s talk on Building Great API Docs and check out more Community Spotlights in the Heavybit Library. 

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