Sportscaster to podcaster: ‘Word Balloon’ rises to the top

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Longtime listeners to Chicago sports/talk radio know John Siuntres as “Shaky,” the former producer, weekend host and production director at WSCR-AM (670), and erstwhile sidekick to Mike North and the duo of Doug Buffone and Norm Van Lier.

After almost a decade at the Score, he worked as a producer/reporter for Sporting News Radio. Today he's employed as production director at WILV-FM (100.3), the adults hits station known as Rewind 100.3 FM.

But to fans all over the world, Siuntres has another claim to fame: Thanks to his Word Balloon podcast and blog, he’s become the go-to guy for one-on-one interviews with some of the greatest minds in science fiction and popular culture. His conversations with writers of comic books, TV shows and genre fiction films have garnered an impressive following.

With more than 2.5 million downloads since he started podcasting in 2005, Siuntres has been called the best in the business.

“He asks great questions, and he gets the answers,” USA Today’s Whitney Matheson said of Siuntres, naming Word Balloon the No. 1 podcast of its kind. “It's hard to find another podcast or print publication like it.”

Siuntres said he began the podcast as a way to keep his hosting and interviewing skills sharp in an area that wouldn’t conflict with his work for Sporting News Radio. When the network moved to Los Angeles and his radio job here ended, Siuntres spent the next year and a half building his podcast audience.

“It's been beyond gratifying,” he says of the recognition he’s received from both industry people and listeners. “I see the online media landscape as a genuine opportunity for any content creator to make something that people want to consume, without the usual gatekeepers and barriers that used to exist in the pre-Internet world. It doesn't matter if a radio or TV program director doesn't hire me to do a talk show. I've built my own global audience, and connect with them directly.”

In addition to moderating panels and conducting interviews each year at San Diego’s Comic-Con, Siuntres has been tapped as a talking-head expert on The Science Channel’s Prophets of Science Fiction series, hosted by famed director Ridley Scott. The show, airing at 9pm Wednesdays, profiles sci-fi authors and filmmakers, and showcases scientific advances inspired by their work. Siuntres will appear in upcoming episodes on Isaac Asimov (February 15), Jules Verne (February 22) and George Lucas (March 7).

So how does he balance it with the demands of his day job?

“I'm happy to say my Rewind bosses have been very supportive of my podcast, and see it as a fun, quirky sideline that I have been able to keep separate from my voice-over commercial production duties here,” he said. “Our clients seem to enjoy my commercial work, and I get to satisfy my hosting desires on my own time and terms.”


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