Why Did I Start A Podcast? And What Does The Name Mean?!
Motorbikes, Ricky Gervais and doing the dishes.
By Niall Mackay
How many bikes?!
The most common question I get at a show, or when I’m interviewing someone, asked half sheepishly, half curiously is… “Why Seven Million Bikes?”
The short answer: when I was starting Seven Million Bikes; A Saigon Podcast in the beginning of 2019 there were over seven million motorbikes in Saigon. To be precise, 7.4 million bikes in a city of just 9m people!
The question is often followed up jokingly by, “Will you change the name when there are over 8 million bikes?” By July 2019, with over 8,000 motorbikes sold every day in Vietnam, this has already happened, but the name was already set.
By this point Seven Million Bikes had grown to not just A Saigon Podcast, but also Where You From? and The Blue Monkey comedy shows.
At the beginning of 2021, the decision was made to change the podcast name, not based on the amount of bikes in Saigon, but the reach and scope of the podcast over the past two years. A Saigon Podcast became A Vietnam Podcast.
The long answer to “Why Seven Million Bikes?” starts with Ricky Gervais and doing the dishes on a Sunday.
When most people hear you have a podcast, the reaction is something along the lines of, “Oh like Joe Rogan?”
While Joe Rogan is now synonymous with podcasting, the real Podfather is Ricky Gervais.
Back in 2005 when I was busing to my mundane call centre job in dreary Glasgow, and iPod’s were still a thing (remember them??), I would spend every bus ride listening to The Ricky Gervais Show, by the creators of arguably the greatest TV show ever, The Office, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, egging on their ‘round headed buffoon’ friend, Karl Pilkington. This was the real birth of the modern phenomenon of podcasting, and at the time the most downloaded podcast ever.
The Rise, Fall & Rise of Podcasts
Google Trends shows podcasts popularity peaked in January 2006 in the U.S, and worldwide in 2007. Unfortunately, after five years, the podcast trend seemed to be dwindling, but a global phenomenon in 2014 skyrocketed listeners and the platform hasn’t stopped since. According to Edison Research, the interest and the number of monthly podcast listeners in America alone almost doubled in the five years after 2014. So what was responsible for this change?
One podcast had international listeners hooked every week. The Serial Podcast and investigation into the murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of Adnan Sayed was released. Adnan Sayed went from an unknown prisoner to an almost household name. Audiences internationally were addicted to the story of this young boy and his self-proclaimed innocence, who was convicted of killing his high school sweetheart in 1999.
Listening to a podcast is usually a personal thing. You don’t need to “fight over the remote”, and you pop on your headphones and listen to whatever subject, topic or person you want to. This was the first and only time my wife and I listened to a podcast together, week by week. Lying on the couch hearing the familiar voice of host Sarah Koenig talk about the shady Jay, incongruent timelines, cellphone tower records and, the infamously overlooked Asia McLean call. Sarah Koenig became such a celebrity that in December 2014 Cecily Strong hilariously and accurately parodied her on SNL.
By the end of the show, Sarah Koenig had developed a personal relationship with Adnan; she was still unsure of his guilt or innocence. The show slightly leaned towards his innocence rather than guilt, maybe for ratings or personal bias, but whatever the reason, it built a base of public support that Adnan was wrongly convicted and should be freed.
In July 2015 Judge Martin P. Welch granted Adnan a new trial. Unfortunately, in March 2019 Maryland’s Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. To this day Adnan still protests his innocence vehemently.
If you don’t remember this cultural phenomenon I absolutely recommend you go back and listen to Season 1 of Serial. The show was well researched, produced and presented. Discussing the latest revelations was a common topic of discussion amongst friends and fans. Even Producer Dana Chivvis and the theme song became household sounds and names.
Spotify v Apple
It is well known in podcast circles that Spotify aims to be number 1 in podcasting. Spotify has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in podcasting since 2019, including $100 million USD alone on signing Joe Rogan to an exclusive deal. In addition to several other high-profile names to exclusive deals, including former President Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, Ava DuVernay, and the Russo brothers.
As recent as April 2021, Apple added Podcasts Subscriptions, allowing users to access Premium as well as free content.
Even though the Android operating system dominates the market, you need to download a specific app to listen to podcasts whether it’s Spotify, Google Podcasts, or one of the many, many other podcasts Apps. As Apple Podcasts is automatically built into all iPhones, up until 2019 it was the most popular way to access podcasts.
For Seven Million Bikes; A Vietnam Podcast, Apple Podcasts is by far the most popularly used App.
In 2020 for the first time Spotify overtook Apple Podcasts, taking in 25% of the market share, up from 19% in 2019, compared to Apple’s 20% (down from 21%).
By now you can tell I was already a fan of podcasts and the medium. Whether it was listening to the Guardian Football Weekly, Stage Left or Revisionist History. It was something I did driving my motorcycle, working out in the gym or doing the dishes. So, Why did I start a podcast in 2019? The answer is simple, boredom.
The birth of Seven Million Bikes; A Vietnam Podcast
Due to a change in working schedules I found myself with nothing to do on a Sunday. With most of my friends and wife working, I would take my Honda Wave and traverse the quiet Sunday roads of Saigon just for something to do. The idea started formulating in my head, “I should make a podcast.” In its simplest form you just need a microphone, something that is built into every smartphone, and time.
Doing the dishes that evening I mulled over in my head what to call it. I’d recently read that there were over seven million motorbikes in Saigon and without a doubt I knew I had a name; Seven Million Bikes; A Saigon Podcast. I was intrigued by the number of people that I’d met in Saigon with interesting backgrounds. Whether it was food, music or beer, everyone has a story.
I invested in a Blue Ice Yeti microphone from Lazada, researched how to record and publish a show, sought advice on sound from my friend Lewis Wright, lined up my first guest, and was ready to go.
Lewis, who now produces every episode of the show, came over to show me how to use GarageBand on my 2009 Mac. I learned how to set the levels, position the microphone and some other tips to get the sounds at their best. From the beginning, sound quality was always my number one focus.
Personally, if I turn on a podcast with poor sound quality I will turn it off immediately regardless of content. We tested the sound in my small apartment by interviewing Lewis’s fiancee Kim in the living room, and then Lewis in the bedroom. Both conversations were so interesting they became full episodes, and Seven Million Bikes was born!
I began to line up my next guests. JK Hobson, a new comedian in Saigon, who I had recently met had great stories about his time in the heavy metal band Crisis. My friend Mischa Smith was the Director of Sales of the first craft beer I tried in Vietnam, Pasteur Street Brewing Company. I realized I had a thousand stories to tell and dived into interviews and setting up future episodes.
From then Seven Million Bikes has gone from strength to strength, recently surpassing 16,000 downloads, with guests and listeners sharing their stories with me. With one thing in common; a connection to and love for Vietnam. I found it fascinating to interview people and share their story, and the number of listeners was ten times what I had expected.
Cool podcasts about Saigon with great theme tune and awesome content.
Listen to these podcasts if you would like to visit Saigon or even if you’re already here to see how people see Saigon through their eyes and feel Saigon through their hearts.
From a hobby out of boredom, A Vietnam Podcast is now into its 6th season, with guests already lined up for Season 7. The podcast has evolved and now Seven Million Bikes hosts comedy shows from Saigon to Da Nang, regular quiz nights and music shows. Our newest adventure is helping fellow podcast hosts with education and tips on production.
From Rick Gervais, to true crime, it’s been a journey. We’re excited for what’s next!