From NBC Page to Media Maven: Successfully Fulfilling a Pop Culture Dream with Louise Palanker
Louise Palanker co-hosts “The Media Path Podcast” with legendary Los Angeles weatherman Fritz Coleman. Together, they explore your creative obsessions, from books to movies and everything in between. Louise has a prolific career in the entertainment world herself. She's a co-founder of “Premiere Radio Networks,” which is now a division of iHeartRadio. Her documentary “Family Banned the Cowsills Story” appeared on Showtime for two years and is now available on Amazon Prime. Plus, she writes a weekly advice column for NewsHawk.com and founded the Advice app for teens, “Ask Weezy.” Louise has been podcasting since 2005 and hosted the “Things I Found Online” podcast before setting out to co-host “Media Path” with Fritz.
Listen to our entire interview with Louise here.
NOTE: .This interview was recorded prior to the Writer's Guild and Screen Actor's Guild strikes.
IN THIS EPISODE:
[01:17] Louise Palanker on what she is most passionate about [02:12] Louise Palanker on her childhood [05:12] Louise Palanker on how her love of pop culture led to her career [08:18] Louise Palanker on the Rick Dees Show [11:44] Louise Palanker on how she learned to interview [13:29] Louise Palanker on getting used to interviewing celebrities [16:22] Louise Palanker on making Jerry Lewis laugh [18:22] Louise Palanker on Premiere Radio Network [24:00] Louise Palanker on her career after Premiere Radio Network [26:06] Louise Palanker on the Cowsills documentary [34:27] Louise Palanker on the Cowsills [36:26] Louise Palanker on her first filmmaking experience [47:22] Louise Palanker on starting her first podcast [50:27] Louise Palanker on Podcast Media Path [57:01] Louise Palanker on advice for starting a podcast [59:51] Louise Palanker on which female icon she would be for a day
Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project Podcast, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success, and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.
Today we're talking with Louise Palanker, who co-hosts “The Media Path Podcast” with legendary Los Angeles weatherman Fritz Coleman. Together, they explore your creative obsessions, from books to movies and everything in between. Louise has a prolific career in the entertainment world herself. She's a co-founder of “Premiere Radio Networks,” which is now a division of iHeartRadio. Her documentary “Family Banned the Cowsills Story” appeared on Showtime for two years and is now available on Amazon Prime. Plus, she writes a weekly advice column for NewsHawk.com and founded the Advice app for teens, “Ask Weezy.” Louise has been podcasting since 2005 and hosted the “Things I Found Online” podcast before setting out to co-host “Media Path” with Fritz.
So please welcome Louise Palanker.
So, Louise, what are you most passionate about?
Louise: Wow. I don't know that I can just, like, kind of roll that down to, like, even a paragraph. I've just always been a creative. I am not good at cooking. I don't care about fashion, but everything else is kind of right up, right up my alley. You know, pretty much hunting. Let's leave out hunting. Yeah. No, I love everything creative. I love music. I love film. I love photography. I love radio. So most of my career was in radio, so I love writing. I love creative, creating content and being able to share it, which is what the digital age allows us all to do.
Passionistas: You seem like a kindred spirit to us in the fact that you have this love of pop culture, it seems. So where does that love come from? Tell us about your childhood. Was that always something in your family, in your home?
Louise: I mean, kind of. Like, me and my siblings — I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother — so we were, we just thought every kid was obsessed with radio and music and Motown and The Osmonds, you know. We just thought that went on, and that every household was choreographing, you know, something or putting on a version of, you know, “My Fair Lady.”
Like, who wasn't doing that? That's just what you do. You know, if I have to play Captain von Trapp to make it happen, let's go. You know, so that's what we were always up to. And I was, like, making little radio shows with my cassette recorder. We would get comic books, and we would play the different roles and — in the comic book — and do the sound effects. We just thought everyone did that. So I, you know, we'd also ride our bikes around and have normal kid adventures, but we were always obsessed with pop culture. If I wasn't home in time for “Flipper,” you know, I would fall asleep sobbing. So you know, that was just who I was. My money, my allowance money, my babysitting money went to, went for books and records. That's all I was interested in. I didn't care about makeup or clothes. I mean, I wanted to have clothes on. You know, that mattered. To be clothed was important. But my money, I was right, right in the record shop, right in the record department of any, you know, any department store. Get some malted milk balls and go look at the records. That was my dream day.
Passionistas: Love that. Yeah, I mean, we were actually just talking the other day, when Burt Bacharach died — which was such a sad day — that we used to do variety shows in our neighbor’s backyard with all the neighborhood kids.
Passionistas: And we one time performed “Raindrops Falling on their Heads,” complete with umbrellas and a little choreographed dance number that our sister did. So we're right there with you, acting out everything.
Louise: You know, and you think those Bacharach songs are going to be easier to sing than they are.
Passionistas: Oh, no, no, they're very difficult.
Louise: They're tricky.
Passionistas: Especially when you're five and dressed like a monkey.
Louise: Of course. See, there's an impediment.
Passionistas: So, which is actually the story, Nancy, I thought you were going to tell, is we used to — to your Captain von Trapp story — we used to do “Lost in Space,” and I'll let Nancy decide if she wants to tell you which character she always had to play.
Oh, yes, I always had to play Bloop Bloop the Monkey.
Louise: Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's a challenging role.
Passionistas: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we had a dining room that was all windows, so we would put a blanket over the dining room table, and that was our spaceship, and it would look out the window to reenact “Lost in Space” episodes.
Louise: Oh, I want to play with you guys. Yeah, no, I want to come over.
Passionistas: Yeah, yeah. We would have had a lot of fun together as children. So how does this love of pop culture translate into what you ultimately did for a living?
Louise: So I grew up in suburban Buffalo. I grew up in a town called Williamsville, New York. And although we were always putting on shows, it wasn't a thing that was spoken out loud, that you were going to go into show business. That just wasn't mentioned. It just didn't come up conversationally. And so I'm very good with kids, and I went and got my teaching degree. But I always knew that I wanted to get into the entertainment industry, that that would be my dream. I didn't know how to go about it or how to say it out loud. So after I graduated college, I moved out to California to get my masters in teaching, but I had my cousins go into the UCLA job board, because they were students there, and write down all the internships, and then I went about calling and trying to find internships, and that was my, that was my pathway in. This is way before the Internet, so you had to make phone calls and speak to people. Just terrifying. It's much easier to just, you know, sing “Edelweiss” in the backyard. But yeah, I finally got internships on a show called “Our Magazine,” which was hosted by Gary Collins. Very handsome. And then I got an internship. Then I finally landed a job as a page, because that's a paid position and you get to drive your car on a lot, and you work there, and you have a uniform and a name tag, and you know, and you get to meet Van Johnson, and you know, it's crazy. It's like your childhood people are coming off the TV and into your, into the driveway, and you're showing them where to park. And here's Bob Hope and Lucille Ball and Donald O'Connor. I mean, it's just nuts.
But, you know, if you can compose yourself and carry it off, then you get offered a job on the lot, which is what happened. I got offered a job on a show called “PM Magazine,” which was a kind of, like, a locally franchised show. So it seemed like a local show, but it was actually a national franchise. So you had local host and hostesses, but you got your little stories from all over their network, and because it was local, I got promoted to writing and producing stories with it within a year. And then that led to me meeting Rick Dees, who was a local disc jockey, and him offering me a job writing his nationally syndicated countdown show called “The Weekly Top Forty.” So then I moved over to radio. I got to know a bunch of radio people at Kiss FM, and then a couple of the disc jockeys at Kiss FM, and I decided to form a company called “Premiere Radio Networks.” And that's the trajectory, right there.
Passionistas: That's incredible. So, there's a lot in there. Tell us about the work on the Rick Dees Show, because that's obviously a really well-known piece of radio history. So what did you do there, and what was it like putting out a show like that?
Louise: Well, if you, if you think about kind of, like, the big picture, look at radio. That, right before the internet, we had no idea, but everyone was focused in a way that we would soon no longer be. So, in other words, that was like the final era of concentrated focus, where people were listening to Kiss FM. And I wrote the weekly Top Forty Countdown, because everyone kind of was looking at Rick Dees. He had a ten share in Los Angeles, which was you know, 10% of people were listening to Rick Dees. So they thought that, you know, he should take on Casey Kasem. So that's what he went ahead and did. He kind of launched a countdown show. And I guess he had gone through a number of writers before. He came on “PM Magazine” as a as a guest host one week, and someone — I didn't have an FM radio in my car, so I didn't know, but — my friend Alex told me, “Oh, he's funny. You can write funny for him.” And Alex and I wanted to be comedy writers, so I was like, “I could write funny for him?” Because our local “PM Magazine” host and hostess were, you know, just your kind of garden variety, very attractive folks, you know. David and Sandy, who I adored, but I wouldn't have written them any comedy to do. Rick really enjoyed the comedy. And then he called me while he was on the air and offered me the job of writing the weekly Top Forty Countdown, and it was for, like, fifty more dollars a week than I was making at “PM Magazine.” It was like, I was making two hundred dollars a week at “PM Magazine,” and Rick was going to offer me two hundred fifty dollars a week. So I would just be swimming in cash, right? So the concept of leaving TV to go to radio, but it was more, you know, I'd get to do comedy and kind of — I don't know, the idea of radio and how live it is, that you walk into a radio station, and people are on the air, like, right now. And music was involved. And you guys know, you know how I feel about music. So I just, I just went for it, even if it meant leaving TV. And I had to crank out a four hour countdown show a week and write little funny comedy bits for Rick's wife, Julie Dees, who could do all kinds of wonderful voices. So I was really working my ass off. It was, it was a ton of output, and Rick was very demanding. So it could get pretty tense for, you know, a twenty-four year old. But I kind of, I held my head above water, you know, as best as I could. And there were — I mean, everybody came in there to be interviewed on the morning show, and then I would take them — if it was Huey Lewis or Bruce Hornsby or Stevie Wonder or whoever — then I would take them into a studio next door and record another interview that we would use later for the weekly Top Forty Countdown. So I was getting to meet everybody, and it was Dionne Warwick, it, you know, it was super exciting. And yeah, I just kind of swung for it, and it was a blast. It was a great era to be in radio, the late eighties. And the nineties.
Passionistas: Oh, that's incredible. So you were in your twenties. How did you learn how to do an interview? How did you know what you were doing?
Louise: I did not, and I still don't. I'm, like, working on it. I'm going to get there. But I think you just kind of make sure you've listened to their album. I never wrote down questions. I just had a conversation. And I think I always just had the instinct to do it that way. And I, probably because I didn't know what I was doing, and I hadn't been instructed in this art, because I would have been taught to prepare questions. That's what, that's what anyone would have said. But because I did it conversationally, I think folks enjoyed it. Sometimes we’d get fifteen minutes in, and they'd say, “When are you going to start recording?” And then if they had said something disparaging about someone, they'd ask me to roll it back.
But, you know, I always felt like, you know, okay, you bad-mouthed Peter Cetera, and you don't want me, you know, to use it. I won't use it. And I was never into, if someone didn't want me to use something, I just wouldn't, I wouldn't use it. If they would, if they didn't understand that I was recording, and they don't want it out there, I'm not, I'm not going to use it. So I never had, I never had any pressure to do, kind of, some kind of journalism that was shocking or, you know, salacious or anything. But yeah, it was, it was just super conversational. That's the way I approached it.
Passionistas: Peter Cetera was probably used to that, anyway.
Louise: I don't even know if Peter Cetera — like, it's so, it's so interesting, because I love him, and the guys in Chicago do not. And so, there's a lot that's going on that we don't know about him, waiting for the documentary. I think that'll be good.
Passionistas: It'll be really good. So you met so many amazing people during that time. Do you have kind of a shining moment of glory where you thought, like, “Oh, this is clicking, I'm getting the hang of this?”
Louise: I don't know if I ever got the hang of it, but I had moments where, like, I'm in a room with the Bee Gees, where it's just like, “This is my life, honestly? God, thank you.” Yeah, there's definitely moments where, you know, you can't really give it a ton of thought to stop and go, “Holy crap,” because you might, you might look like an idiot. You've got to really just row, you know, just got to get in there and row. And then you come out, and your head is kind of spinning, because you can't believe what just happened.
But I had, I had kind of a really interesting interview with Norman Lear where I thought I was just bombing. And then all of a sudden, he started interviewing me. That's the genius of Norman Lear. This guy, right? He starts interviewing me, and the next thing, and he's like, “Are you an actress? Do you want to be an actress?” Like finding out what my dreams and goals are. Like, “No, I'm a writer.” And he let me submit scripts to him. And I got to go and pitch to his — the show was called “The Powers That Be,” and it got cancelled. So that it didn't go anywhere. But just the idea that Norman Lear was taking an interest in me. I would say that is, you know, that's a moment. A peak, a peak experience.
Passionistas: I just got goosebumps on my scalp when said that.
That's pretty incredible. Norman Lear and the Bee Gees. I don't think we can top that. I thought Laverne and Shirley was cool, but Norman Lear and the Bee Gees tops that.
Louise: There's just, there's so many moments like that. I mean, it just kind of puts you — that kind of work in your, in your twenties and thirties kind of puts you in the heart of whatever mattered to you as a child. I can swim in these waters. And I was a really dorky, nerdy, fat, pimply kid. You know, I was not cool. And you know, if I would see someone like Burt Reynolds kind of like, you know, just shooting the shit with Johnny Carson, I would think, “I will never be cool enough to have a grown-up conversation with people like this.” That is literally what I thought. And it turns out, I am.
So that was, for me, the big revelation, to find that out. Because I didn't find it out in high school, and I didn't find it out in college, you know, where you're forming self, and a lot of people start to get their footing right around in there. For me, it happened in my twenties, where, like, “Oh, I can hang out with Jerry Lewis and make him laugh.” Like, okay, now, that's crazy. So then you, that builds up your confidence, and you just keep going.
Passionistas: Can I jump in? Can we hear the Jerry Lewis story?
Louise: I mean, I didn't know at that time that he didn't think that women were funny, but he was doing a pilot on which — Frank Sinatra was guest starring. It was just a nutty day where I — why was I there? Oh, I was a page. That's right. I was still a studio page, and I, he was just kind of, had a gaggle of people backstage, and I was kind of telling him how all the pages were doing impressions of him, and then I did an impression of pages doing an impression of him. Like, what the hell? Like, I was just too clueless to know not to do that.
He actually liked people doing impressions. It was always wacky Jerry, you know? “Hey, lady!” It was always, people did wacky Jerry. He liked that. I mean, Martin Short has the, you know, he has the, the whole, you know, three-sixty scope of, like, serious Jerry, lozenge-sucking Jerry, and, you know, crazy Jerry. Martin Short, you know, he's the, he's got, like, the full range, you know? I just went for crazy "Hey, lady,” Jerry. But you know, he didn't look at me and say, “Shut up, kid.” So I'll take it.
Passionistas: That's amazing. There's nothing better than making someone funny laugh.
Louise: I have no idea what made me.
Passionistas: We interviewed Ricky Gervais once and got him to laugh, and that was pretty fun. That felt like a real coup.
Louise: You did?
Louise: Wow. That's amazing.
Passionistas: That was fun. That was fun. Yeah, we'll have to, we'll have to take this offline, go have coffee, and swap war stories, ‘cause it sounds like we have so much in common. It’s amazing.
Louise: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I would love that.
Passionistas: So tell us, you mentioned when you were talking earlier, you mentioned the “Premiere Radio Network.” So tell us what that was, why you started, it and what it was all about.
Louise: So I would say that the brainchild of Tim Kelly — who was a late night disc jockey at Kiss FM — and it turned out, and so, I usually didn't see him, he — his shift was ten PM to two. And I think someone told him that this girl that's writing for Rick Dees is from Buffalo — Tim Kelly's from Buffalo. So one day when he came in to pick up his paycheck, he came into the studio where I was with Rick, and he introduced himself, and he said, “I think our dads know each other. Turns out they did. His dad — my dad was a businessman in Buffalo — and his dad was a disc jockey. So his name was Warren Michael Kelly. And we started talking and kind of became friendly, and I think he was always kind of looking for a way to, you know, move beyond disc jockey. You know, take care of his family better. I didn't have a family, so I could do whatever. You know, I could just swing for the bleachers, you know?
So he said, one day, he said that he had this idea for a syndicated show, and the idea was that Rick Dees, you know, had this syndicated show that was recorded and went out to all these radio station affiliates. But every afternoon, every Friday afternoon at Kiss FM, a disc jockey named Big Ron O'Brien would do his own local countdown, where he would count down the Top Forty in Los Angeles and mix into it all these interviews with the artists that have come up to interview with Rick Dees, and then he had taken them into the studio next door and recorded a little interview.
So he would either say a little fun thing about the artist or roll a little tape of the artist talking and then hit that vocal, and that's, you know, hit number twenty-three would play. So Big Ron was doing all the work to put that together, and that's a lot of work. But he was doing a great job of it, was very popular in Los Angeles. And Tim was really good friends with Big Ron, and he had the idea that we could make these materials available to disc jockeys all over the country, so that they could host their own countdown show and make it sound like they had, at some point, interviewed, you know, Johnny Hates Jazz or the Culture Club or, you know, Gladys Knight or what have you, and send them a script and then send them these interview sound bites so that they could count down the Top Forty.
Which might be in a different order in their city. They could take the pages and rearrange them and write in notes and do local shout outs and whatever, make it, make them the star of the show rather than Rick Dees. And he, and Tim's idea was to call it “The Plane Wrap Countdown,” and he wanted me to write it. And I just went for it. And my dad invested in the company, and we went for it, and it took about a year and a half, really, to get it off the ground. And then there was another disc jockey at Kiss named Steve Lehman, who had his own little syndicated project called “National Lampoon's True Facts,” and he wanted to merge with us and create a company together, which we did, and we named it “Premier.”
So we started with those two shows. And from there, the next big thing was to create what we called comedy networks. And that's where you create comedy content that you send out to morning DJs, so they can have funny characters, funny scripts, jokes, different people calling up, and they would have the script where they could talk to the funny person that had called up, and we called those the comedy networks. And we tailored them for every format, so if it was a country station, they would get a country parody song, for example. A pop rock, you know, and R&B, or what have you. And we started cranking out the comedy material, which I really enjoyed, and I was just in the trenches doing that for about fifteen years at “Premiere,” and then — Steve Lehman was the real businessman behind everything. So his thing was just, grow the company and then sell it. And that's what happened.
Passionistas: So that was a full-time gig for you for all those years, you were, you were just solely focused on that.
Louise: Beyond full time. I would work fifteen-, eighteen-hour days.
Passionistas: And were you writing the — you mentioned to us before we started that you wrote songs. Were you writing those comedy songs and everything too, or some of them?
Louise: No, no. We had actual musicians doing that. I wasn't even singing. I was, I was doing a lot of funny voices on different bits and what have you, but, like, yeah. No, we had Rob Eisenberg and Mark Davis, and we had, you know, Mark Davis is now Richard Cheese. I don't know if you've heard of Richard Cheese, but that — you know, we had some really talented musicians. And we called in singers that were, that lived nearby, you know, that were, actually had hit records, you know, in the fifties and sixties. And, you know, they'd roll in and sing for, you know, get a couple hundred bucks to sing a vocal. And then we had people that could sound like different artists. You know, we had some really talented people. But we were cranking out a ton of content every week with no hiatus, just kept going. And it got to a point where I was really just overseeing and punching up, editing and punching up, and, you know, making sure I had eyes and ears on all content that went out the door.
Passionistas: Wow, that's incredible. What a massive amount of work. Sounds like when they sold, you were probably ready to take a break anyway. What did you do next?
Louise: I mean, everything kind of happened organically. And I stayed after we sold for a while, and I had started doing stand-up comedy. And I had started working on a project at NBC with Fritz Coleman, who's now my podcast partner. And what else had I started doing? I don't think I started doing the Cowsills documentary until 2004, and I may have left “Premiere” at 2002, but for a while, I worked at the Laugh Factory. I worked with Jamie Massad at the Laugh Factory, and I hosted on Tuesday nights. And yeah, there were — there was a transition period where I was kind of, like, moving into the stand-up world and spending a lot of time in the stand-up world. Which I think kind of was good training for hosting podcasts, because the idea that you could host a podcast sort of came around 2004, 2005, and I was early in that door.
And that's the, I see that as a defining year, because that's the year when you could get a lot of software on your computer, that it will allow you to make a film, make music, make your own radio show. And I was all about that. Like, from the moment you could — I was like, the second or third person on Tumblr, you know what I mean? Like, I wanted to know what you could do. I wanted to know, what is this Internet? How do you get there? I was always really interested in how we can share with one another. And so I really loved that. And so podcasting — I did my first podcast with a fellow comedian named Laura Swisher, and we called it “Weezy and the Swish.”
Passionistas: That's great. We definitely want to talk about that. But before we do, you mentioned the Cowsills documentary, which we are massive fans of, not surprisingly, because it combines music and documentaries and also television. So why did the Cowsills’ story appeal to you enough that you wanted to invest time in making a documentary about them?
Louise: Well, they were my favorite group when I was ten, eleven, twelve, and then they just disappeared. So we fans had no idea where they had gone, if they were okay. I mean, I think that's the that's the main thing when it comes to child stars. And we've had a lot of child stars on our podcast, “Media Path with Fritz,” and I think we find them so fascinating because we want to know if they're okay. Because we feel like they're kind of our sibling. Like, “Are you okay? I just, I want to check in. Like if, you know, you sound great, you look great. Like, okay, deep breath.” You know? And so for the Cowsills, they were — it wasn't like you could see them on Oprah, you know, with Todd Bridges and, you know, everybody that showed up. Like, “Oh, he's okay now, it's — stop worrying about Todd. He's fine.” You know, those were important moments. Right? Where are the Cowsills, you know?
So as soon as you could Google, that was my first search. I don't know if you guys have your first search story, but my, I think for most people it's a boyfriend or something, but for me it's, like, the Cowsills. So I find this website — this fan generated website — and they were doing a great job of letting folks know, you know, what everybody was up to. And I wrote in the guest book, you know, “Thanks for helping me grow up.” This woman that lived also in Southern California wrote back to me. Her name is Karen, Karen Oldfield. And she said, you know, “It says here you live in Los Angeles. You should really come and see Bob play at this at this pub.” And I was like, “No, thank you.” In my head, like, thought bubble: “That sounds sad.”
But it turns out, it wasn't. It was joyful. It was, I said — I put it off for three weeks, like you do the dentist. Like, “Yeah, I'll do that,” you know? “But not this week.” So the weird thing was, like, the universe was speaking to all of us. Because the night that I went was the night that John Cowsill had married Vicki Peterson from The Bangles. And all the Cowsills were in town. They all were streaming into the pub. And I was watching my childhood idols jump off the wall of my bedroom and grow up and start walking and talking and moving with their own kids.
And, I mean, you think the Bee Gees are nervous, like this? This really made me — I mean, I was eating a baked potato stuffed with chili, and Bob Cowsill sat down next to me, and I was like, “I am no longer going to be consuming any food. My stomach is busy.” Yeah, I mean, that's your childhood idol. Like, that's crazy. And then the fans were telling me some stuff about their history that didn't sound, you know, super healthy. And then they get up on the stage, and they're all performing on a little stage under a dart board. And it's the same phenomenal sound from my childhood. These guys are great. They're fantastic. All this talent, and I'm this close in a pub. Like, why?
So I left that pub with the big question of “Why?” And I'm in radio. I'm not in film. You know, I'm not a filmmaker, but, you know, could I tell, could I somehow share their story with the world? Because I think it's an important story to tell so that folks understand where they went and what happened to them. And it was kind of like my own journey, that I wanted to know. And so I got to go on it and then share what I learned. And you know, the first thing was convincing them, because I think they've been approached before. But a few weeks later, it was my birthday, and I told my mom and my sisters that I wanted to go back to the pub and introduce them to Bob, ‘cause now we can sit and talk with him, you know, over chili fries, and you'd have no access to your teen idols when you're a little kid, but now we do.
So we went back, and I asked him. And my sisters were saying things like, “Where did you live? Because we tried to find your house,” and, you know, all this fun stuff. But he said, you know, “Our story is too complicated, and each one of us have our own documentary, and it's too complicated. It can't be done.” And I said, “Bob, look around this pub. Every person here has a hundred documentaries. It doesn't matter how complicated the whole picture is. You figure out what your story is, and you tell that story. You can't tell every story, but you pick a story, and you tell that story.” Now, and that's quite a challenge when you've got seven family members and a band. But I know enough about storytelling to know that it can be done. It took eight years, but we did it.
Passionistas: That's incredible. So saying that to him convinced them to do it? Or is there more to that convincing story?
Louise: There was a lot more. He had to talk to his siblings, and I'm sure they all had different opinions, as they're all individual people, and they all, they've all had different experiences, and they all have different opinions, and they all have different, kind of, like, relationships with their past and with each other. It's life. You know, life is messy. So it was a process, you know, getting them to actually sign a contract. I mean, I think they had to come to trust me, and they had to have conversations with each other and decide. You know, I knew they wanted to make more music, and I — and they were, like, in their fifties and sixties at that time, or forties and fifties, whatever it was.
And I said, you know, “The music will follow the story, because where you are at this chapter in your lives, you've got to tell your story. Because there's an outlet for that. And then when people know where you've been and why, they'll, that will open the door to wanting to hear more music. But the story has got to pull the music.” That's how I felt, and that turned out, I think, to be pretty accurate, because now they're — every summer, they go out on the road with the “Happy Together” tour. They're doing a lot of concerts as the Cowsills. And I think a lot of folks have seen the documentary and were fans, were like you guys, were in the in the fan club or had the records, and we’re all here. We all want to know, “Are you guys okay?” And we want to hear that music that made our hearts beat fast when we were twelve. You know, you're always in love with what you loved at twelve. We all are. That doesn't go anywhere. You may tell your teenage friends that you're over Bobby Sherman, but you're never over Bobby Sherman. Who could get over Bobby Sherman? Come on. Yeah. That's a love — that's a forever love.
Passionistas: Have you ever seen Bobby Sherman's miniature town? Do you know about that?
Louise: Not in person. Of course, I know, I have the Tiger Beats with that depicted. But I have interviewed Bobby Sherman many times, and every time I brought my two sisters with, he — you know, I'm sure he thinks I'm a nut, because I would show up with these — you can't go see Bobby Sherman without Amy and Joanne. Like, that's just — so yeah, we did. We did get to meet him, and he is just a charming, delightful, gentle man.
Passionistas: That's cool. I was friends with his neighbor, so we could peek through the fence, and we could see his —
Louise: Stop it.
Passionistas: Yeah, this is when he was an adult. We could peek through the fence, and we could see his little villages that he built.
Louise: Yeah, he built miniature Disneyland Main Street. That guy is talented.
Passionistas: Really talented.
We’re Amy and Nancy Harrington, and you're listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Louise Palanker. To learn more about Louise and check out the “Media Path Podcast,” visit LouisePalanker.com.
Now, here’s more of our interview with Louise.
I shudder to think that anybody who is a fan of ours or listens to our podcast wouldn't know this, but can you describe who the Cowsills are a little bit, and what their legacy is beyond their music and in television?
Louise: Yeah, sure. The Cowsills were a real-life family band, and they were the inspiration for “The Partridge family.” And they are the real deal. I mean, they are just naturally gifted musicians who could sing and play like grown-ups when they were ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fifteen, sixteen. The sound that came out of them was unbelievable. It was just hard to believe they were, they were children. And so they were it, and “The Partridge Family” was supposed to be them and Shirley Jones playing their mom. But of course, their dad messed up that deal, and they hired actors who — the only one who could sing, of course, was David Cassidy, who was brilliant. But the sound is similar. The look is similar. Even the kids and the instruments — except for Paul, you know being a girl. You know, they wanted, you know, more girls, so they made Paul a girl — but, you know, you had the oldest kid on guitar, and then you had the old — you know, the next — on keyboards, which was Lori. And then you had the middle child, Danny, who was Barry on the bass, and then you had the little boy, John, on the drums. And then you had the little girl. Susan Cowsill could actually play her tambourine in time to the music. So yeah, it's a direct copy. It's a, it's a duplicate, but “The Patridge Family” was a great show. It had a lot of humor, and we enjoyed it as kids. But yeah, it's based, it's based directly on the Cowsills, who had, like probably four to five hit records, you know, which you can easily find on YouTube or Spotify.
Passionistas: So once again, you are in a position where you're taking on a project and not really knowing what to do.
Because you weren't in film.
Louise: No. No idea.
Passionistas: So tell us, tell us a little bit about that process of becoming a filmmaker while you were making a film.
Louise: Well, it was also during that time where you could get Final Cut software on your own computer. But it was right before then, and I wound up aligning myself with people who told me that they knew how to make a film but did not actually know how to make a film. So there's a lot of dead ends that you have to back out of and try to do it diplomatically, and that's not always possible. People get upset. And you have to honor the film. The film has to come first. And you know, when I, when you become aware that this person isn't going to be able to — I did not want to learn how to make a film on the Cowsills. I wanted someone, I wanted to learn at the feet of a real documentary filmmaker. I wasn't able to find that person. So the journey — a lot, the journey was a lot of me coming to terms with, “This person doesn't really know how to make a film, and I've got to figure out what to do about that.”
And then one day, and I had a great — what's the correct term? Not videographer, but a filmmaker? The guy holding the—see, I don't even know the terms in filmmaking. The cinematographer, the guy holding our camera, Ian Broyles, was just brilliant. But you know, he didn't know how to finish a film either, you know, put the story line together and figure out what should go where. But he and I had, like, a ton of, like, amazing adventures together, ‘cause we were going around and conducting all of these interviews. We, you know, went to Fenway and spent, you know, we actually took two different trips to Rhode Island and Boston and — with the Cowsills — going to all their houses and having them show us around and having all these just phenomenal adventures, meeting all the people in their story.
But he did not know how to put it all together and make it into a film. And I had aligned myself with two guys that claimed they did, but actually didn't. And one day I said to Ian, I said, “You know, we could really get a lot done if X and Y don't come over today.” And then I, the thought bubble was, “Listen to yourself. Like, why are you paying them?” And Ian said, “Let's go get a Mac.” We had all PCs at the time, but he had — Ian was, Ian's still on the cutting edge of technology. Like, he's the best. So he's like, “Let's go.” And they had those surplus electronics stores. I don't think they have many more, but he's like, “Let's go get a Mac, and we'll get, like, the software for Final Cut Pro.” I'm like, “You can do that?” Because all I knew was that, you know, you had to be in an edit bay with someone that was in a union, you know, and it was all, it was just unavailable, right?
So we go, and we get the computer, and we get Final Cut, and he shows me and shows me the basics of, like, you know, how to pull things into a storyline and how to start editing, cutting out what you don't want and pulling in what, you know, more content and cutting and crafting and fine tuning. And I really liked that process. I thought, “You know, this is, this is satisfying.” Like, I used to cut tape, you know, at “Premiere” and with Rick Dees, where — I don't know if you guys ever did this at a radio station, but like, you'd have a piece of tape hanging around your neck that had to go in somewhere. And like, I like that process of putting, building something. Like, it, it feels like — like, I guess how folks feel when they cook or when they sew, and you know, creating, or when they build. You know, when they when they craft in woodworking. You know, it's just, it's very satisfying.
So for me, that was an art form that made sense. And I, we just kind of took off doing it ourselves, and then we had to extricate ourselves from those relationships that didn't, hadn't worked out. And then I had to find, like, a really wonderful editor. Because I wasn't gonna — I did make a version of it, which, at some point, I'm going to put up on YouTube, because I have to get the Cowsills’ permission. But it's, my version of the film was a rough cut, and it was, and Barry — is it okay if I do a spoiler? Or should I not? With Barry.
Passionistas: Yeah, go for it. Go for it.
Louise: Barry had passed in Hurricane Katrina, and I showed the film — my version of the film — I showed it to Susan and her sister-in-law, Vicki Peterson. And I think they knew, coming over, that they were going to just say, “No.” And because I couldn't get Bob or John the other ones that lived in LA to even come over to the screening, but they were like, “You know what, we're just not — we don't want anything coming out. We just lost our brother. We lost two brothers.” And I was like, like oddly peaceful about that. I was like, "Okay.” So that version just kind of sits there on an external hard drive, but I should probably put it on YouTube at this point.
But anyway, a couple years go by, and I got a call from Bob that I knew would come, weirdly. Because I was very comfortable putting all those tapes on a shelf. At that time, you had, like, digital tapes. You didn't have just a memory card. You actually had digital tapes. So two entire years go by, and Bob calls, and he's like, “Hey, you want to meet at Cable’s?” Which is this deli near where he lives. And I knew exactly what he was going to say, like it was almost like the universe had told me, “Don't worry. You know, it'll happen when it's supposed to.”
And he was like, “I don't know if you guys are busy or, like, whatever, if you could like — “because I'm sure Paul is, like, the driving force. Like, Susan has a lot at stake here in this story. It's very personal. And Paul's just like, “You know, we could have had a movie, and you guys, you know, and we need to — “I'm sure Paul was like, “Let's finish this movie.” And so that's what, that's what he asked. And I was like, "Okay, let me talk to Ian. Let me figure out, you know, what we can do.”
But you know, clearly, like, a lot of it had to be reshot. The interviews were shot, were out of focus. You know, I had been working with people that didn't really know what they were doing. And we had to reshoot — a lot of, like, the main, like, anchor interviews of everybody had to be all reshot. And then I need to find an editor that was, like, an artist, not me piecing things together. And, like, I had done a lot of the storyline of what part of the story to reveal and when, but it needed to be a lot more beautiful than what I was capable of doing. And then one day my friend Bill Filipiak, who lives in Nashville, called and said, “Hey, I'm wondering if you want to, if you'd want to go in with me on this project that I'm going to be doing where we give cameras to bands on the road, and then they send the footage home, and we make, you know, you know, online content.”
And I was like, “That sounds really cool, but I can't do anything until I finish this Cowsills movie.” And he said, “Maybe I can help.” And I was like, “Oh, I'm an idiot. Like, you know, Bill’s been in Nashville as a filmmaker for the last ten years, and I didn't, I didn't think of him. But I'm like, “Yeah, I think you can help.” And so that's how we finished the movie. The last six months, Bill Filipiak pulled this movie into something that's just extraordinary. And I went down to Nashville to, you know, finish it with him. We just kind of put his big Mac on the kitchen table with his kids around us and, you know, we just got this thing — we, by that point, we were at — the Paley Center was asking for it. Like, word had gotten out that we were working on it. You know, I had to send it, a rough cut to the Cowsills.
I had a, I had a woman named Allison Anders call me and say, “My daughter and I run a Film Festival, and we'd really like to have it in.” And I, like, I had gotten these just, like, angry screams from the Cowsills about how much they hated it, and I didn't know what to say to her. ‘Cause obviously, I'd want to do it, but like, the Cowsills have to be okay with this film, you know? So, but that that's what happens. I mean, if I made a documentary about you guys, you would hate it. Like, you know, it's like it's your own family, you know? So it's, it takes time. They have to have conversations with each other. They have to hash it out when I'm not there and say, "Okay, look. You know, it may not have this, and it may have too much of that or what have you, but...”
And that process had to, like, play itself out. And I just remember Allison feeling like I had, like, kind of, like, big-timed to her or something. Like, when I finally got back to her, I was like, “I just didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to say to you that the Cowsills don't like the movie. I didn't — I just didn't know how to answer your question. Obviously, we want to be in your festival,” which we wound up doing and it was great. And she has, like, a rock — she had a rock 'n roll film fest — I don't know if she still does it, but she's, like, a pioneer female. You should have her on Alice.
Passionistas: We produce — we produced that Film Festival one year. Not the year you were in it, but a few years before that.
Louise: Oh, OK.
Passionistas: And our sister’s — the film we produced with our sister called “The Winding Stream” was in it as well, so.
Louise: Oh, OK, so we're sisters in that.
Passionistas: Oh, yeah, we have so much in common.
Louise: Yeah. So that happened. And then, you know, the Cowsills just had to. It's just a — it's a process, you know? It just has to — it has to play itself out. And we did Paley Center. We did, you know, “Don't Knock the Rock,” and then we did Santa Barbara Film Festival, and then it, you know, with the help of Linda Brown, my publicist, and Howard Lupitas—R.I.P. — we got it on Showtime. And then from there, it's just — we got it on Amazon Prime, and that's its home right now.
Passionistas: Well, if — for everybody listening, if you haven't seen it — truly one of the great rock ‘n roll and TV documentaries out there. So definitely check it out.
Louise: And it's a family story. It's about a family, and it's about, you know, as Fritz describes it, it's the era between the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina. It's, like, this generation of people. And everything happens to them. All of it.
Passionistas: Yeah, and it's surprising. I think if you do have the image in your head of the Cowsills as “The Partridge Family,” it's a very surprising story of a very complicated childhood and really, really one of the most compelling documentaries I've seen. It's really, stays with you, so highly, highly recommend it. Highly recommend it.
Louise: Thank you so much.
Passionistas: Oh, our pleasure. So we obviously wanna make sure we talk about your journey as a podcaster, because you've had a number of successful podcasts, including the one you're working on now. So tell us about how you first got involved in podcasting and about your shows leading up to what you're doing now.
Louise: I had, my partner at “Premiere,” Craig Kitchen, I was speaking — you know, at “Premiere,” we had, the people that had shows were people like Rush Limbaugh and Doctor Laura. And talk radio tends to be extremes. And so that, we had a lot of those, we had Jim Rome — sports guy—and, like, a lot of, a lot of folks that were, you know, popular — not with me, necessarily, but popular. And one day, I was talking to Craig Kitchen, my partner, and I said, “Hey. Do you think, one day, I could ever have a radio show?” Because I'd been doing stand up, and I'd been thinking that, like, you know, “Why are you doing stand-up? Like, I don't want to be an actor. Like, what are my goals?” I thought, “I would like to host a show,” like you guys do, right? So one day, I said that to Craig. I said, and he — ”What's the likelihood of me ever, ever hosting a show?”
And he just looked at me and said, “None.” And then he goes, “I have two words for you: podcast.” Because at that point, we didn't even know that it was one word. And I said, “What's that?” And, you know, he kind of told me what it was. And that night, I was doing stand up, and I was standing, you know, you sign up, and you wait, you know, like all these open mics and stuff. And I said to Laura Swisher, who is my friend, and said — and she's literally the first person that I spoke to — I said, “Have you? Heard of a podcast?” She said, “I just heard about it today.” I said, “Do you want to do one?” You know, it's the whole Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland thing, you know, like, “Let's put on a show.”
She knew a guy that knew more than we did, and he got involved, and we just were off and running. You know, it was just audio only at that time. And I had a studio in my house. It's still the studio that we do our show out of. But yeah, we just went at it, and we had a lot of comedian friends, and there's a lot of — I don't know if the shows kind of still live online, because they were mostly fans that were helping us upload the files, and I don't know if they're still playable — but there's a lot of YouTube content on my YouTube channel where I would just film these little movies and make little five to seven minute.
So we'd have people like Tig, you know, people that are not, like, super famous, you know, came over and just had fun with us. And those were — I loved my chemistry with Laura, because she's just super great and fun and funny, and we kind of made the show whatever we wanted. Just, you know, two comedian women talking to our friends, and we just, I really loved that podcast. I wish that it had continued, but for different reasons — like, Laura moved to San Francisco — she now still works in the podcasting world, and she works at “Maximum Fun.” And so she's just been she's been with me in podcasting since jump, and she's fantastic.
Passionistas: So tell us about your current “Podcast Media Path” and working with Fritz, and how that came about.
Louise: Oh, Fritz. And I've been friends for over thirty years. He's a comedian and a weathercaster in Los Angeles for forty years at the NBC or NBC Weather Guy on Channel Four here in LA. And I always wanted — I went from doing a podcast with Laura to doing, like, sort of an advice podcast with teenagers where I had a panel of teenagers. And those people are unreliable. Do you know any? Teenagers?
Passionistas: I avoid them. I avoid them.
Louise: Unreliable folks. Okay. You know, sometimes they have homework or, you know, sports. Uh, you're on a show. So one day, I was, I was walking with my husband, and I—and, you know, once again, you know, he'd always — it was the same thing. Same conversation. “Who's going to be on your show this week?” “Ronnie, I can tell you who was on my show. I cannot tell you who is going to be on my show, because just because they say they're going to be there does not mean they're going to be there.” So one day, he said, “Well, all right. I've been listening to you complain about this for a while. If you could have the podcast of your dreams, you know, what would it be?”
And I, you know, since I'm so good at mentoring and giving advice to young people, it was like, “You mean I get to?” Like, I don't have to do this?” For some reason — I don't know, maybe it's because I got my teaching degree, and I thought, “This is full circle. Now I'm helping kids,” I thought — I just thought, like, “I have to do this, because I'm good at it.” But it was, it was hard. You know, I can't promote a show that's for teenagers. They're finding their own content that — it's not like the Mickey Mouse Club where Roy and Jimmy come on and, like, “Hey!” You know, “Here's the kid.” It's like, no one wants Roy or Jimmy. I don't care how well you can draw cartoons. We don't want Roy. We just want the kids.
So it was just kind of, like, that problem that wasn't going to solve itself, you know, sort of thing. And I thought, when Ronnie asked me that question, I said, “Well, I would just do a show with my radio friends or with Fritz.” And so Fritz and I went out to lunch, and I said, “Do you want to do a podcast together?” And he really wanted to, but, like, he went back to work, and his NBC contract — if you notice, you never see your weather guy, like, selling doughnuts or, you know, coffee makers. You know, they just, they're not allowed. Like you can't have that. So that's part of their contract, is you're just not allowed to have an opinion outside of weather system opinions. You know, your opinions are limited to cloud formations and, like, you know, afternoon fog, hazy, early, you know, morning sun, or whatever. That's it. That's all you're allowed to pontificate upon.
And Fritz and I, we have a lot of similar opinions about politics, and we love documentaries and books, and we love pop culture and music. But he just, he couldn't do it. So I had this other podcast with two of my buddies called “Things I Found Online” with Jamie Alcroft and Danny Mann — two comedians. And as soon as, when Fritz became available, it was like, I thought that — and I would tell Jamie and Danny, “Okay, we're, I'm going to do these two podcasts back-to-back. I'll have the same crew, and I'll be able to pull this off.” But it happened that Fritz retired in the middle of the pandemic, and I thought, “I can't, I just can't pull this off on my own over Zoom, two back-to-back.”
So I kind of broke up with them over e-mail, which I know is tacky. And I still feel badly about it. But like, I just couldn't figure out how I would be able to devote myself to creating a great podcast, launching a great podcast with Fritz, and do two podcasts. As, you guys know how hard it is to do one, right? So that happened. And I think they understood, and Fritz and I started over Zoom, pandemic baby.
Passionistas: And so, what is the show? What can listeners expect?
Louise: So, we call it “Media Path,” because what I wanted to kind of convey was that idea that you can go as deep as you want into whatever interests you and create your own media path. And we're all kind of doing that. So we'll watch a documentary about something, and then we'll realize, “Oh, there's a, there's a book about this.” And then we'll go, you know, “Oh, this kind of overlaps with that,” or, “They mentioned this person and that documentary, and they have their own, you know, there's this, like, miniseries about this.” You know, whatever it, whatever it is, like, right now.
Like, I read the book by Jeffrey Berman, who was, like, a southern district — I always forget these titles — but, like, he was the guy that tried cases for the federal government in the southern district of New York. And in his book, he mentions this weird cult that this girl's father started at Sarah Lawrence, and now they've turned it into a Hulu series with actors. No, it's a documentary. Sorry. Hulu documentary series.
So it's like, I already read about that, which is this weirdo case. I can't remember — I should be able to say the title of the show — but it's on Hulu. And this father moves into this dorm, and he just, like, has his way with all these kids, like mind controlling them into like, weird sex and financial crimes. It’s really creepy. But yeah, anything — like, I'm obsessed with Watergate. So there's, like, just millions of things that you can read and watch. You know, like the Martha Mitchell thing. Or, you know, there's, “Loud Mouth,” is the documentary. And then what's the one with, where Julia Roberts plays her?
Louise: “Gaslight.” Thank you. So, yeah. So whatever it is, you can just keep going. And then it, suddenly there's an intersection, and like, “Oh, let's go.” Oh, like, we interviewed this woman named Laurie Jacobson, who wrote a book about the Beatles at Shea. It’s a very specific book about the performance of the Beatles at Shea Stadium. And then, you know, you can go and watch, you know, “Get Back” on the Disney Channel, and they're talking about some of the people that she's talking about in the book. And it's just really fun when your, when your areas of exploration overlap, right? And so that's what I kind of wanted to explore.
Passionistas: That's so great. So, what advice would you give to someone who wants to start a podcast?
Louise: I think you should start by — if you want to do it by yourself, just open voice memo on your phone and start talking. Or prepare and start talking. If you wanna do it with a friend, open up a zoom call, hit record, and start talking, and then you'll realize, “Oh, I think we need to be a little bit more prepared.” And do, like, five or ten of them. And make sure that you still want to do it five or ten later, and they still, or you and them want to do it five or ten later. Don't just start a podcast and put — I think you have to have three to, for Apple Podcasts, you have to have three — don't just slap three up there and then take it from there. I would say, start offline, you know, just recording conversations and putting together outlines and figuring out what you'd like to say or what you'd like to discuss or who you'd like to interview. I mean, there's nothing saying that you couldn't eventually post those trial episodes, so don't, don't feel like you're doing nothing. But I would say, set out to discover whether or not this is something you're going to be able to keep up. ‘Cause the thing with podcasting is the consistency, and is the, you know, the awareness along the way that this is a lot of work. So start with that before you go buying a bunch of podcasting equipment. Watch some YouTube tutorials. Use, just use voice recording. Just hit the recording button and talk.
And see whether or not this is something you'd like to pursue. And if that was really interesting and fun and gratifying, then go ahead and, you know, you can buy a Blue Yeti — it's a USB mic that you plug in the back — you'll get better sound. You can get a mixing board. I'm not sure how you guys do it. We have a whole studio devoted to it, and we're at a radio table. Because we do a video podcast, we've got cameras so — but it can be just as simple as you talking to the voice recorder and deciding, “This is — I just told a really interesting story, or a lot about myself that I think other people will be able to learn from. And I'm going to go ahead and post it.” So you'll need at least three. So that's a, that's a good bar, I think, right? To get people past. But just know that it's a lot more work than, “Oh, my conversations with my friend are so funny.” Wonderful. I love that. And now, you've got to dig in and do some work.
Passionistas: I think that's excellent advice and very true. So one last question — and I'm dying to hear your answer to this — if you could pick one woman, one woman from history, or a female pop culture icon, and walk in their shoes for one day, who would you choose, and why?
Louise: I choose Carole King. I just wish that I could play the piano the way she does, just so fluidly and just — and I love her, her arc. I love what she discovered about herself and how she just went for it, and how gifted she is. And she seems like a joyful, loving person.
Passionistas: Perfect. Well, you are a joyful, loving person. We can tell that. And I think we were separated at birth.
Louise: Oh, definitely.
Passionistas: So I look forward to many conversations to come. And I, and Nancy and I thank you for being here today.
Louise: Thank you so much. I love this conversation with you guys. You're wonderful.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Louise Palanker. To learn more about Louise and check out the “Media Path Podcast,” visit LouisePalanker.com.
And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list, find all the ways you can follow us on social media, and join our worldwide community of women working together to level the playing field for us all.
We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the barriers for herself and women everywhere.
Until then, stay well and stay passionate.