Ravi Jain may not be able to get a call back from B-list celebrity Howie Mandel, but in his Jamaica Plain neighborhood in Boston, he is a star.
Jain is the creator, director, writer, producer and driver of DriveTime (drivetime.ravijain.org), a talk show video blog that he conducts weekly from his car as he and his wife, Sonia Targontsidis, commute to work.
Jain, 35, says he’s been recognized on the street, as “you know, the one in the car.” On a rainy afternoon, I find myself in the car, a 1986 Audi lovingly dubbed as Studio A, to be the guest on Episode 27 of DriveTime. I’m right in front of the camera Jain has mounted on the dashboard and Jain asks me questions while he tries to look out the fogged-up window, narrowly missing an accident.
When I mention that I write poetry, Jain invents the DriveTime Poem Room and asks me to read my poem, “Baker’s Story,” on the spot. He responds with a limerick he wrote when he was 13:
There once was a man from the West
Who told all his friends I’m the best
He got shot by a nun
And then kicked Mondale’s butt
And now he’s as hard as the rest.
This spontaneity and quirkiness has won Jain and DriveTime a growing audience. DriveTime’s popularity has steadily increased since it was featured as a free download on iTunes.com last fall.
Jain created DriveTime in the fall of 2005 as a way to do something creative as part of his regular day and as a way to get feedback on his work, something he’s missed since getting a master of fine arts degree from the Massachusetts College of Art in 2001. Doing something during his commute seemed perfect because he drives through an eclectic cross section of Boston—his commute takes him from Jamaica Plain, where many other vloggers reside, to Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Allston, Harvard Square in Cambridge and the Fenway area.
Targontsidis didn’t think she’d be involved at the beginning and says she was always nervous in front of cameras.
“I was involved in theater, but I was always behind the scenes. I was a photographer instead of performance artist,” Targontsidis says. “I don’t know how I became the co-host other than that I wanted a ride to work.”
First came blogs, then podcasts, and now video blogs are taking off as technology makes it easier for people to create and distribute content. One of the exciting things about video blogging is the immediate feedback and participation from the audience, Jain says.
The episode prior to my appearance on DriveTime was the most popular up to that point. Jain asked viewers whether he should keep or shave his beard. Anybody can respond with ideas (and votes), which can be folded into the show. (Jain ended up trimming his beard.) Others have posted their own video comments in Jain’s blog. One reader from Atlanta sent in a demo recorded by a camera in his car with his wife, a copycat of DriveTime.
“It’s the opposite of traditional broadcasting, where you’re in a position of talking and everybody else listening,” says Tony Kahn, a veteran radio producer behind public radio’s first podcast and a guest on DriveTime Episode Five. “People really contribute ideas to you and tell you about how your show matters to them. It keeps you fresh and honest.”
In Studio A, Jain spouts ideas while we talk. A DriveTime meet and greet with DriveTime bouncers and cordoned ropes! Having Targontsidis drive instead! Having a guest pick them up to get into another guests’ car! A RideTime episode on a bike! (See Episode 28.) A DriveTime tour across America where they go to different cities and pick people up!
We start to talk big, but Jain doesn’t want to break away from the core concept of DriveTime, which is that he can fold it into his life and his commute. Jain brings up Dilbert, created by Scott Adams while working in a conglomerate and hating his office cubicle.
“He left his job to do comics but he lost something because Dilbert was fueled by the inanity of corporate America,” says Jain, who insists there’s something about pushing the limits of whatever constraints he can set up for himself. “It’s almost a paradox to do this as a full-time gig because you need to have constraints to push and pull against. You can’t have complete freedom.”
Although Jain doesn’t want DriveTime to become a full-time gig, he wouldn’t mind figuring out how to support it financially. Jain often jokes about sponsorship on his show, telling guests not to mention any product names until he gets advertising deal. He says one patron sent him a $50 check and a box of gourmet cookies.
DriveTime has had a fair amount of coverage from local media such as the Boston Globe and New England Chronicle. The Australian science and technology show Beyond Tomorrow taped a segment and Wired magazine listed DriveTime as one of its favorite vlogs. But Jain says he still can’t get calls back from potential guests, citing recent unsuccessful attempts to interview someone from the zoo, the “beer advocate” from The Weekly Dig newspaper and, of course, Howie Mandel.
“I’d love to crack the circuit of someone coming to Boston and getting in the loop of interviewing people to promote their book,” Jain says. —Ching-In Chen