The talk-show team was gathered in a studio in Georgetown, and it sounded like Bernie Sanders was on the line.
The caller was opining on what’s missing in America. But the subject was not access to health care, the lack of well-paying jobs or anything else that the nation has come to expect from the U.S. senator from Vermont.
It was the difficulty of finding prune juice at hotel restaurants.
The conversation wasn’t serious. And it wasn’t actually Sanders speaking on Skype. It was Mike O’Meara, the former Manassas resident and business owner, doing an impression of Sanders.
“The top 1 percent of hotels in the United States only serve two kinds of juices: orange and tomato,” O’Meara, as Sanders, said. “I challenge you: Try to get prune. Try to get prune. And in most hospitality operations, they laugh you right out of the building.”
Best known in the Washington area from his time as half of the “Don and Mike” radio duo, the 57-year-old O’Meara mostly splits his time between Florida and Maine these days. But he’s still the namesake of the officially Georgetown-based “Mike O’Meara Show, “which is run now as a podcast. His operation also includes five other podcasts, and he plans to launch a 24-hour streaming channel in September.
And although the format of the show has changed, O’Meara and his cohorts said last week that they’re finding success online and putting together a less-scripted program that creates the “most intimate” connection they’ve ever had with listeners.
“I did not think it was possible,” said O’Meara, who used to own O’Meara’s Restaurant & Pub on Center Street in Manassas.
The podcast was born in December 2009, just months after O’Meara and fellow hosts Robb Spewak, 45, and Oscar “Santana” Zeballos, 38, lost their gigs at WJFK-FM (106.7) when the station changed its focus from guy talk to sports talk.
O’Meara describes the show as “three guys busting each other’s chops,” and, initially, it was recorded in his living room in Manassas. But since then, it has moved to its current spot in a studio the guys created in an office building on Wisconsin Avenue NW in the District.
“The Mike O’Meara Show” has logged almost 33 million downloads, Zeballos said, and the operation has expanded to include 14 workers. One of the other podcasts produced by the organization is a weekly comedy show featuring Fox 5 news anchor Tony Perkins.
The operation also sells the show to traditional radio stations, the nearest being WAVD-FM (97.1) in Milford, Del. It is ironic, Zeballos said: He and his compatriots were forced off of radio and onto the Internet, where they are creating a show that can be sold back to brick-and-mortar stations.
Their greatest challenge, O’Meara said, is differentiating their work from the many kinds of audio programs in the podcast universe. One way they try to do this is by ensuring the quality of their product. Some podcasts can have issues as basic as being difficult for listeners to hear, but Spewak said the O’Meara bunch has invested in the technology necessary to properly reach eager ears.
The trio of hosts, along with producer Matt “Ponyboy” Bluhm and interns such as Matt Dotson, a George Mason University junior, also said they don’t have difficulty creating material because they enjoy one another’s company.
“We have a great time,” O’Meara said.
Their real lives provide fodder for show segments and create “underlying plot arcs” to which listeners can relate, said Spewak, who lives in Leesburg and was a fan of O’Meara’s before he worked with him.
Last week, for example, O’Meara joked about his recent hip surgery, and the group congratulated Zeballos on obtaining a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maryland.
Dave Hughes, who operates the Washington-area broadcasting blog Dcrtv.com, said it’s hard to judge how podcasts fare in the marketplace because there are no ratings systems for online shows equivalent to those used in evaluating radio and television stations.
But he noted that podcasts continue to be a trend in radio, pointing out the recent decision of former Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser to move from terrestrial airwaves to the Web.
And Hughes said he missed hearing O’Meara on the air locally.
“I’ve always liked Mike a lot,” he said.