Beyond the CB
The Web helps drivers create communities
By Katie Dodd
When Tom Wiles launched his trucking podcast in late 2004, he was just “clowning around,” he says. Three years later, his almost daily dispatches are downloaded as many as 90,000 times a month, and the driver’s three-week runs for Shaffer Trucking typically include at least one meet-up with a devoted listener.
“I’ll be 53 in April,” Wiles says. “And I’ve made more friends in the three years I’ve been podcasting than I have in my whole life.”
“Trucker Tom,” as he’s known to fans, was the first trucker podcaster, but now iTunes offers more than 20 trucking-related shows. A search for “trucking” on video site YouTube delivers pages of results. (See sidebars.) Whether it’s the inherent romanticism or loneliness — or both — of life on the road, truckers seem to have increasingly embraced these growing Internet technologies as a way to connect.
Take “Trucker Twotimes,” a.k.a. Jeff Forester, an OTR driver for Indian River Transport and another popular personality in the world of trucking on the Web. A few years ago, Forester was an avid Trucker Tom listener who emailed Wiles on a whim to express how much he liked the podcast. Wiles sent him a complete archive of his shows, and the two became fast friends.
“I probably know him about as good as or better than anyone else just from his podcasts,” Forester says.
They eventually met in person, and when Forester decided to launch his own podcast in September 2006, Wiles helped him get started. Now he offers audio podcasts and YouTube videos that document life on the road and has a devoted following of his own.
“Tom talks about philosophy and politics a lot,” Forester says. “But I mostly talk about what’s going on out the windshield. I wanted people to see what the life of an OTR driver was like.”
Time on the Road
One aspect of the OTR life that all drivers know well is the hours spent alone with precious few options for entertainment. It’s what led truck drivers to be among the first to embrace satellite radio, so it’s not surprising that podcasting wasn’t far behind.
“Years ago, I remember driving a truck and thinking what a waste it was to spend hours changing radio stations every five minutes,” Wiles says. “As soon as I found out about podcasting, I jumped right in.”
“I tell everybody, we need a whole lot more trucking podcasts,” Forester agrees. “I’ve got plenty of time to listen, and I like to hear what people are doing.”
The time required to record, edit and post frequent podcasts and videos — not to mention respond to feedback from an audience — might scare off some 9-to-5 desk jockeys, but it’s a constructive way to fill the hours of downtime that drivers are accustomed to. Forester says he averages about six hours of waiting time per load, which is more than enough time to maintain his podcasts and videos.
And though Wiles has a background as a network administrator and Forester prides himself on his techno-tricked-out cab (“One of my dispatchers said that it looked like NASA command center,” he chuckles), these days podcasting and video blogs don’t require much high-tech knowledge or pricey equipment. “I’m not a computer geek or an electronics whiz,” says Roger Escuain, who posts numerous trucking videos on YouTube under the name Rogertrucker. “It’s not as much effort as people might imagine. Once I have the video footage and the song it’s very easy to edit using a basic Windows program.”
And as more and more drivers bring laptops on the road — whether to take care of business like routing and banking, or simply to keep in contact with friends and family — they’re finding they already have all the tools they need to plug in to newer forms of communication.
Out With the Old
Time was, drivers connected with one another on the road via CB. But the Web has offered up an intriguing alternative. Flip on the CB and you’re limited to chatting with whoever else happens to be tuned in — and you know nothing about them except their handle and whatever information they choose to share. With blogs, podcasts and videos, drivers can get to know personalities first, and then decide whether to forge a connection.
“There’s a whole lot of great guys out here trucking, but you couldn’t tell that by listening to the CB,” Forester says, laughing. “With podcasting, you can connect to people more like yourself.”
Wiles and Forester have also found that their audience encompasses more than just current drivers who tune in while they’re on the road. Frequently, they’re contacted by aspiring truck drivers — people currently enrolled in trucking schools or just everyday guys who dream of the open road. Both podcasters enjoy fielding questions and offering advice and experiences, and meeting a variety of people. Through the Web, they’ve expanded their circle of friends beyond their colleagues, beyond their city, state or even country.
And though Wiles’ podcast provides a decent supplemental income these days, he says it’s those friendships, not money, that alone keep him motivated to sign on as Trucker Tom day after day.
“The appeal for me is that I’m able to make friends and stay connected to them,” he says. “As a truck driver, I’m alone most of the time. So to be able to connect in that way is an amazing thing.”
Write of Way
Drivers post journals of their life on the road and off in these trucking blogs
Lots of Chatter
Press play and settle in for the long haul with these trucking podcasts
TruckerCurtis offers thoughts on news of the day, goes over his time on the road and mixes in some music.
Albuquerque local driver Joe D. talks about the job, sports and the news.
Driver Susan relays the events of her day and comments on pop culture. Until his recent passing, her dog Rowan was a big part of her narrative.
Generally considered the first trucker podcaster, Tom Wiles tackles politics and current events, as well as trucking topics.
Driver Jeff Forester describes the scenery outside his windshield, and the joys and frustrations of the job.