Greg Holdsman thought he had his entire future planned out while playing Division III basketball at Denison University.
But the senior sociology major suffered four concussions in two seasons, rendering him unable to do any physical activity — especially basketball. For months, Holdsman couldn’t even watch television.
But he could listen to podcasts.
“I still had time on my hands and was still going through the intense periods of recovery, but what I could do is sit in front of a microphone and record,” Holdsman said. “Because I was into podcasts, I figured, why not start my own?”
Holdsman started “Philly Famous Podcast” in October 2017. He interviews “dynamic creators and leaders” in Philadelphia and records about once a week. Previous guests include Mural Arts Philadelphia founder and executive director Jane Golden, former NBA referee Joey Crawford and Pete Ciarrocchi, the chairman and CEO of Chickie’s and Pete’s.
Holdsman’s first episode featured his former high school basketball coach and he posted the interview on SoundCloud.
“It wasn’t one of my bigger guests per se, [but] I actually liked the episode,” Holdsman said. “It went pretty well, but if I listened to it now, it would probably be cringe-worthy. I think I’ve come a long way.”
But making a podcast wasn’t always easy for Holdsman. He initially struggled with interviewing skills until he attended Podcast Movement, the world’s largest podcast conference.
“[Afterward], I started focusing on listening to what my guests had to say and…I would try to ask intelligent and interesting follow-up questions and add my own personal remarks, not just go to the next question,” Holdsman said.
Holdsman said he also struggled with depression and anxiety resulting from his injuries, but he found interviewing others to be therapeutic.
“After losing basketball, I lost a lot of who I thought I was and it’s taken me a while to find who I am,” Holdsman said. “That new version of me comes through the podcast. Realizing what I want to be as this high-level interviewer has been a way to reinvent myself.”
The podcast gained a following, and in September 2018, TUTV picked up a television adaptation of the podcast that focuses on alumni and can be found on iTunes and Spotify.
Amy Cohen, a West Mount Airy resident, frequently listens to the podcast and has known Holdsman since he was young.
Cohen said she enjoys Holdsman’s podcast because he’s a skilled interviewer, despite his relative lack of experience. Her favorite episode features Daralyse Lyons, an author, life coach, speaker and actress, because of how natural the conversation sounds, she said.
“I could just tell as a listener that they sort of forgot that they were recording their conversations for a podcast,” Cohen said. “It just became very personal and intimate. It was more like eavesdropping on a profound conversation rather than listening to something produced.”
Cohen also enjoys that Holdsman asks the “Philly questions” about cheesesteaks and other famous Philadelphians at the end of each episode.
Christopher Plants, the owner and founder of Kismet Cowork, a shared office space solution for small businesses and entrepreneurs, reached out to Holdsman to be featured on the podcast.
Holdsman traveled to Kismet’s Chestnut Hill location for the episode, and Plants said he was impressed by Holdsman’s challenging questions.
“Greg is so open and generous with his interactions, and I think that people can really connect with how genuine he is,” Plants added. “Greg is in a fantastic position to use this podcast as a way of growing into the world of arts and culture.”
Holdsman said he tries to emphasize diversity on his podcast, and hopes to expand it into a podcast network that highlights prominent people in other cities.
“It’s been a way for me to understand the world a little better and find my entrepreneurial spirit, and for me, I’ve realized things about my life that I didn’t before,” Holdsman said.