About B.J. Harrison

“In the world of audiobooks the reader is essential for a good listening experience, and BJ Harrison is one of the best… if not the best. I’m a fan of his and have spent many hours listening to and enjoying his work.” – Academy-Award-winning film composer Joe Renzetti

 

I’m often asked “where did you come up with this idea?” Here’s how it all started:

I have this friend, Dave, with whom I used to do all sorts of crazy things in High School. We wrote a musical for Homecoming, for example, called Oklahomecoming. I was Okla. We did our own radio version of “The War of the Worlds” which we entitled “The War of the Eggplants”. We had a lot of fun, and still do. Today Dave holds a very respectable job and hosts a triathlon podcast that is very successful.

Well, a couple of years ago, he suggested that I should do a podcast as well. Now, you have to understand that I didn’t own a computer, didn’t know what an RSS feed or anything like that was, or how podcasting worked at all. What I did know was Classic Audiobooks. For the past 14 years or so, I’ve been humbly employed as a sculptor/painter/artist, working for whatever movies, tradeshows, or scenery shops would hire me.

While I worked, I found that I could listen to audiobooks. I actually discovered them when I was hired on as my first job as a sculptor. We worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for 6 months sculpting Mayan steles. I found that the time absolutely flew by when I was engaged in a good audiobook. I also was able to “read” all of those books that I had always wanted to read, like Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, Ivanhoe, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. For one reason or another, my public schooling kind of let me down, and I never had a chance to read the “readable” classics. Instead, I was force fed the classics that give classics a bad name. I won’t mention them here.

I also knew I had a gift for accents and character voices. I attended Brigham Young University with a Drama Scholarship, though it only lasted one semester until I dropped out. My folks broke up, and it was tough to cope. (clears throat) Anyway, since I was a kid, I did impressions, and always admired voice talent. Rich Little was my hero, while my friends all idolized Michael Jackson (not that there is anything wrong with that). I discovered that one person did all the voices of the “Walrus and the Carpenter” vignette in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, and I was enchanted. As I grew up, I continued to teach myself different accents, and mimic my favorite animated characters. In High School I competed with a monologue that had 12 different character voices. It was from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. I went to state.

So, now it felt like all the stars were aligned. I borrowed a computer from my stepbrother Dane. My good friend Dave loaned me his old recording equipment, and showed me how to make a podcast using free software. I started with 3 stories: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, The Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Barbara of the House of Grebe, Part 1, by Thomas Hardy. It cost $10 to host the podcast and submit it to iTunes.

Those first few days were so much fun. It was absolutely incredible that people across the globe were listening to me read them stories. They liked me in Iceland, I remember. Around 300 people downloaded my program. I figured that after all of my family and friends had at it, that was about what I could expect. Then, after about 3 days, things began to change. Without warning, my download count jumped into the thousands. Once my feet got back on the ground, I checked the iTunes Music Store. They had featured me on their front page in the “New and Notable” category. It was incredible. Apparently, iTunes listens to every podcast that is submitted to them. Someone apparently chose my podcast and deemed it noteworthy, bless them.

After that, things kind of took on a life of their own. The website offer came up, Audible wanted to sell my audiobooks, and I was written up in the Wall Street Journal. At the height of my popularity, I had 100,000 downloads for Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and my podcast was rated the #3 overall podcast, just behind This American Life. Now, I consistently average 20,000 downloads every week.

For all the success of the podcast, my life didn’t really smooth out. For a while, it seemed like every possible obstacle was thrown in my way. I don’t want to get too personal, but let me just say that there was a time when I had to go to sleep, wake up at 2am, record/edit, go back to sleep at 4am for a couple more hours of sleep before I got up to go to work. My family has some special needs, and they always come first.

Now, life has kind of slowed down. Since I started doing fundraisers, the podcast is actually generating revenue we can kind of count on, and that really helps. Life can be challenging, to be sure. But hey, if it was easy, everybody would do it, right?

When all is said and done, I consider the Classic Tales an absolute miracle. I still marvel that people love listening to my readings. I get fan mail – can you believe it? People blog about me on the internet. It is quite literally my dream come true, and I have been preparing myself for this ever since I was a little kid doing Muppet impressions. Thank you all for letting me become a part of your life. You have certainly made a dramatic impact on mine.

B.J. Harrison