He’s been a soldier with a couple of tours in Iraq, a defense contractor and, more recently, a new father. Each in its own way has helped steer Crozet resident Brad Rykal into a creative venture, “Brad Rykal Brief,” a podcast presenting in-depth conversations on a number of topics. Lately, he’s embarked on a series interviewing people in Crozet who have something to say about its past and its present challenges.
“I knew I loved it here, but I didn’t know much about it,” Rykal said. The Crozet series has helped him understand the area’s history, and some of the issues facing us now, he said. “Plus, it gave me an excuse to get to know people.”
His podcast was literally born at the same time as his son, Bode. “I was just finishing up recording my first interview when my wife told me it was time to go to the hospital,” he said. Bode was one of the reasons he stayed with the new enterprise, and has just released his 75th episode, an interview with long-time Crozet resident Leonard Sandridge. Rykal’s work as a contractor at the Rivanna Station was winding down in 2020, and he threw himself into the life of a stay-at-home dad, a decision he hasn’t regretted. Rykal has another son, Brett, who’s 13, and who appears on the podcast from time to time.
“It’s been a fantastic experience,” Rykal said about his time with his sons. At the same time, he understood himself well enough to know he’d need to have a tangible product and measurable progress, accomplishments that aren’t immediately obvious in parenting an infant and a teenager. He had co-authored a book aimed at intelligence professionals and was casting about for other projects. “At some point I knew it would be satisfying to look back and say, ‘I did it! I produced 75 episodes.’”
Rykal had always been interested in communications—he studied mass communications in college—and he especially liked the idea of exploring topics in depth. He remembers listening to Paul Harvey, a long-time newscaster for ABC radio news, who also developed a show, “The Rest of the Story,” which delved into the circumstances behind the headlines. “I liked that idea,” Rykal said. With careful listening and intelligent prompts, he encourages his guests to dig deeper, to examine the context behind their experience and present opinions.
As with any new enterprise requiring both technological know-how and a great deal of specialized equipment, the set-up itself was daunting. He started small, just using his iPhone to record, until it was clear that he wanted to do this long-term and it was worth investing in more professional gear. Once he had the process nailed down, he could turn his attention to the content.
He interviewed family members, friends, anyone who had something to say, and there are also some solo podcasts. He learned to become an attentive and responsive interviewer. “Of course, you want to avoid questions that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but some people will still try to do that,” he said. “I think a lot of it comes down to making people feel comfortable, in helping them trust you.”
Rykal learned that some of the best conversations come about when the interviewer departs from his script. “You’ve got to be able to respond when someone goes down a path you didn’t anticipate,” he said. “Often, it becomes more interesting than the subject you’d planned.” He’s also careful not to ask two-part questions, finding that often the conversation focuses on one of the questions and never goes back to answer the second one.
In his introduction to the podcast, Rykal said he’d be exploring a variety of subjects of interest to him, and he has podcasts on fitness, fatherhood, books he’s read, wine, personal finance and even cookbooks (he’s become an enthusiastic cook, he said, since staying home). His goal was to produce a podcast every other week, and in the back of his mind he thought he might run out of topics.
That didn’t happen. “In fact, things picked up after I started on the Crozet series,” he said. “Lately it’s been closer to a podcast every week or so.” As he started interviewing people who play a role in local life, he realized that each one of them knew several others who would be worth interviewing.
Rykal doesn’t avoid politics, and podcasts in the Crozet series include conversations about controversial topics, but his low-key approach allows for different points of view to be aired without hostility. In a media world filled with shrill and divisive sniping, his work has found a grateful audience.
One review said his podcasts were reminiscent of Joe Rogan and Tim Ferris, a compliment Rykal laughs off as hyperbolic, but he’s accumulated enough positive, even enthusiastic, reviews that it’s hard to dismiss them. Another review: “This podcast deserves everyone’s attention. It will expand the way you see the world and hopefully impress upon you that no matter our lot in life, that life is great.”
In fact, Rykal said in his introductory podcast that being happy with his own life is part of the reason he wants to share a few things he’s learned. One of them is his openness to people with a range of beliefs, he said in that episode. “We all bring something different to the table.”
Find “Brad Rykal Brief” on any podcast platform. Rykal invites ideas for future podcasts, whether about Crozet or other topics: [email protected].