Toronto Mike’s home business has made some of media’s biggest names feel at home — literally and figuratively.
As a pioneer of podcasting in Canada, Mike Boon’s popular podcast, “Toronto Mike’d” airs from his at-home, basement studio. Surprisingly, while his studio hasn’t changed much over the years, the guest’s seat has been a revolving door of the who’s who in Toronto — and even Canadian — media and entertainment.
From George Stroumboulopoulos to Maureen Holloway to Elliotte Friedman to Ann Rohmer to Maestro Fresh Wes and beyond, for about six years Mike has been inviting many big radio and TV personalities to his at-home studio for raw and real conversations that you won’t find anywhere else.
So I decided to pay him a visit to see what he’s done to make guests feel so at home … So much so, that they’ve even been known to invite themselves over sometimes.
(Yes, I invited myself over too.)
“You’re lucky you’re not a tall woman, because people bump their heads on this ductwork all the time,” says Mike, as I make my way through his basement.
(I’m five-foot-zero, but since you can’t see me, for the purpose of this article, let’s say I’m my dream height, five-foot-two — which in this basement, would be tall.)
— Toronto Mike (@torontomike) August 3, 2018
Toronto Mike’s basement — or office, as it were — looks unassuming. In fact, it doesn’t look like a place you’d expect to find some of the most talked about names in our media and entertainment landscape.
“Ron James wished he would have bumped his head,” he says of the five-foot-three Canadian comedian icon, who has of course been a guest on “Toronto Mike’d.”
The podcast host is also a father to four kids, aged two, four, 14, and 16.
His son is sleeping (or trying to sleep through our conversation) in a bed around the corner from Mike’s studio, which is tightly packed into another corner of the low-ceiling Etobicoke basement.
How did all of this start?
It all began with the blog. I started TorontoMike.com in 2002 and it’s still going.
We covered things I was passionate about. That would include the media. I’ve always enjoyed radio and local TV like old City TV and MuchMusic. So I would write about what I knew and loved.
In 2006, my friends Humble and Fred took me out to lunch. They wanted to keep broadcasting but they no longer had their terrestrial radio gig at then Mix 99.9. I told them they should podcast. We struck a deal where they would create the content and I would make that a podcast.
We would periodically record podcasts throughout the next several years.
Fast forward to 2011 when Humble and Fred realized they weren’t going to get another terrestrial radio gig. So they decided to make a living from podcasting. So, again, we went out to lunch and they told me they wanted to record daily to monetize. I designed a digital backend infrastructure that was scalable.
In October 2011 they started podcasting daily.
For the first two weeks, I would witness this all and watch how they do it. Because I never had experience with the content side of the broadcast.
Finally, I decided to leave my comfort zone and see if I could handle the A-to-Z of a podcast: producing the content, speaking into the microphone — which I had never done — and making a professional sounding MP3 into a podcast.
I recorded the first 19 episodes of my podcast at their studio before I invested in a professional studio of my own for Episode 20.
And this week I will hit Episode 360, and counting …
How did you get people on your show?
In the beginning, when I didn’t really know what this was, a friend and I would shoot the shit and discuss current events and interesting things that happened to us.
Then I started inviting people I know. The obvious two were Humble and Fred.
Then I started contacting a couple of people I knew through their show. Then I reached out to people like Alan Cross and Jonathan Torrens and Todd Shapiro. And by Episode 70, I realized people would come on if you ask them.
— Toronto Mike (@torontomike) July 7, 2018
I’m looking at my 12-inch single of Maestro Fresh Wes’ “Let Your Backbone Slide.”
Who am I to ask Maestro Fresh Wes to come to my basement and chat with me for two hours? But like a snowball gathering momentum, you find out maybe Maestro will come to my basement and chat with me.
And next thing I heard, Maestro loved it so much he wants to come back to my basement and kick out the jams with me.
Turning a home into your office is one thing. But turning your home into a studio where guests need to feel comfortable is another. How did you accomplish that?
I think at this point I have a reputation that everyone has a good time. There’s no PR BS. It’s very authentic and organic.
It’s a deep-dive conversation with someone who is passionate about the subject matter. I call it #realtalk.
Brian Williams was coming on — the legendary host of the Olympics. He’s also close friends with legendary sportscaster Dave Hodge. So he asked Dave Hodge about it. And Dave says, “Yes, do it. You’ll love it.”
<He motions to stacks of beer on the floor behind us.>
And, yes, everyone leaves with free beer. But that’s not why they come here. They get a six-pack of Great Lakes beer. Every guest gets a fresh six-pack. There’s another sponsor who gives out pint glasses, from PropertyInTheSix.com.
There’s a lot of local Toronto involvement on the show.
I’ve also had a local rapper iLLvibe create the original “Toronto Mike’d” theme song at the beginning of each episode.
iLLvibe’s theme song for Toronto Mike’d
How often do people invite themselves now?
Well, for instance, John Donabie is a radio legend in this city, he’s the original Q107 guy. He was forever on CHUM FM and CFRB mornings. Recently, I invited him on. And on the show, he said he’s been listening for years and wondered when he’d get an invitation.
I just wish if there are people who want to come on the show they would just send me a note and save me a hassle. Because booking guests is the least fun part of the gig.
Also, I have a guest who’s been wanting to come on for three years. And it’s supposed to be next month. But it’s always a tough thing.
As — perhaps — Canada’s longest-running media personality podcast, your home has hosted a lot of guests and their stories … Who’s your greatest get so far?
That’s a great question. I just had Dan Shulman on. And I don’t think there’s a better baseball play-by-play guy working today.
My brother listens to every show. And we’ve often ask each other, Who’s been the most famous person on my show?
But how do you define Canada famous?
So maybe Strombo is the most famous guy. Because he’s covered all national points that would make him English-Canada famous, whether it’s sports, news, music …
And I like sports. So there is no one bigger than Bob McKenzie in this country when it comes to hockey talk. And of course, he’s been on too.
Who’s been your favourite guest?
I can’t pick a favourite.
But Steve Anthony was so forthcoming and honest and fun. And I wasn’t expecting that. And he’s been here twice. I like those surprises. You can talk to him about snorting coke in the ‘80s and he’ll talk to you about it.
Ann Rohmer is interesting to me. She retired a million times. She’s been like a white whale to me. A lot of public retirements. Each retirement announcement saw more cake. But each time she came back again. And no one would acknowledge this!
I like Ann. I find this to be a fascinating Toronto story.
Forever I tried to get her on the show.
One time she lost her voice. Recently, she came in and was as amazing as you’d hope. Totally awesome and honest and even dropped that she’s mulling a run for city council. And she just answered all my retirement questions. And she took several cute playful pictures with me. She was amazing.
But then I feel like I caught my white whale. And then I’m like, what’s next?
And so many other interesting people were here too …
Another favourite episode is with Stephen Brunt and Dave Hodge. Two legendary sports guys who came in and we just played music and talked about their 10 favourite songs. These two guys have such a passion for music that I believe it dwarfs their passion for sports.
Elliotte Friedman, you know “the” Canadian sports journalist from Hockey Night In Canada, well he is sick of talking about hockey. But get him to talk about music and suddenly things change.
It’s amazing what you learn about a person when they tell you about the music they love.
And the tears I see here.
People who just start crying in that seat you’re sitting in …
People get comfortable. They feel at home. Next thing you know David Shoalts, who writes for the Globe and Mail is talking about the death of his son. It’s just the most emotional, raw real moment.
How has your home studio changed since you began?
Well, I added swing boom arms to mics. I used to have mic stands but guests looked uncomfortable. And that’s probably the only difference from when I built the studio until now.
The other big difference is I record other people’s podcasts now.
You talk about all things Toronto … What have you learned about the city from your guests?
That Toronto extends east of Yonge. There’s this whole place called Scarborough. Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods.
We’re all from Toronto. But really we identify by our neighbourhood. And everyone is very proud of their ‘hood.
How much do you enjoy your commute from your bedroom to your basement?
It’s been great. I kinda wish I had a commute so I could bike it. I just like to bike the city. Year round. Even in -15 C when it’s snowy out.
I just love biking the city. It’s really good for mental health and family work-life balance.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your podcast and home business?
I cringe when I listen to older episodes. But I’ve learned so much. The only way I got better is I kept doing it.
There’s no magic formula get-rich-quick scheme.
First, create compelling content. Then you can monetize it.
When I started podcasting it wasn’t like it is now. A lot of podcasts are out there and a lot are good. Getting someone to commit to your podcast … You have to produce compelling content.
It has to sound good.