How Nick Quah Became the Podcast Whisperer

His newsletter vaulted him from obscurity to industry expert — a formula everyone is now trying to crack

Rob Walker
Published in
16 min readOct 21, 2020


Illustration: Michael Kennedy

It was early November 2014, and Nicholas Quah was irritated. Serial had become a pop culture phenomenon, introducing millions to the idea of “the podcast” — which was perhaps a niche form, but hardly the oddball novelty it was being treated as. “I was really frustrated,” Quah recalls, “because people were writing about [podcasting] as if it came out of nowhere.” In fact, podcasting had been around for more than a decade, and according to Statista, in the U.S. an estimated 40 million people were already monthly podcast listeners.

At the time, one fledgling podcast network, Gimlet, was raising $1.5 million in seed funding from private investors, and another, Radiotopia, was on its way to raising $600,000 on Kickstarter. To Quah this seemed like a true breakthrough moment — “a new frontier,” he later wrote. “But if that was the case, why didn’t anything that was written about this moment feel emotionally true?” And so, over two proceeding lunch breaks on November 4 and 5, he banged out the first issue of Hot Pod, an email newsletter devoted to his own idiosyncratic musings on podcasting as both a creative form and a media business category.

By his own account, Quah’s actual qualifications for taking on the role of public thinker on podcasting were nil. He’d never made a podcast, had no background in radio or audio media of any kind. In fact, he was not long out of college and a few months into his first media job, an entry-level gig at Business Insider that he describes as closer to market research than journalism. He was basically some random guy with a new off-hours hobby.

And it turns out that Quah, who recently turned 31, had made a shrewd call. Podcasting has mushroomed into a booming business. The podcast audience has more than doubled since 2014 — to an estimated 88 million listeners last year — and is projected to nearly double again by