Rockin’ Airwaves: Ashburn Music Lover Takes ‘Dad Rock’ Global

Are you a middle-aged suburban dad (or mom) who’s not afraid to bust out that Pixies T-shirt at your kid’s soccer game? A couple of rock ‘n’ roll-loving suburban dads have got a podcast for you.

Jim Lenahan, a USA Today editor and Ashburn father of two, and his colleague Patrick Foster are in their 40s but still have a passion for music—old and new. Their weekly “Dad Rock” podcast is winning fans around the globe for the funny (and slightly nerdy) give and take between its music fanatic hosts and its eclectic range of tunes.

Jim Lenahan, center, and Patrick Foster, right, stop at a Nashville record store on their musical road trip last spring. [USA Today]
Jim Lenahan, center, and Patrick Foster, right, stop at a Nashville record store on their musical road trip last spring.
[USA Today]
         Despite his international following, Lenahan has (so far) kept a low profile on his home turf. That may change next month: Local friends and neighbors can get a glimpse of the action when the “Dad Rock” guys host a live recording—with a special quiz show format—at Ashburn’s Lost Rhino Brewing Company on Sept. 8.

“Dad rock is a term that a lot of people use as a put down,” Lenahan said. “We thought, ‘Let’s take that and own it and turn it around and make it something more positive.’ The way we look at it is the show is not about any one particular kind of music. We look at the term dad rock as just being a reflection of us. We’re dads in our 40s. We still like rock music. … Sometimes it’s a hard thing for some listeners to get, but I think once they listen to it they give it a chance, then they understand the perspective that it comes from.”

Lenahan, a news editor, and Foster, who runs the USA Today College website, bonded over their mutual passion for music a few years ago while working in the same office at the newspaper’s headquarters in Tysons Corner. Last year, the company was looking to expand its podcast offerings, and the colleagues jumped at the chance to put their passion onto the internet.

The first episode aired in March 2015, and the show has since developed a devoted following, offering nostalgia trips for aging Gen Xers while introducing them to new emerging artists they may not have caught during carpool runs. The show is also making inroads with younger listeners—including many who aren’t parents—who like the context and background the hosts have to offer on great music from decades past.

“What I like to say is we introduce new music to older listeners, and we introduce old music to younger listeners,” Lenahan said. “We found that a lot of listeners who are our peers really love the nostalgia stuff but they also appreciate that we can provide that guidance to what they might like to listen to among current music because it’s so overwhelming…”

Dad Rock Logo         “Dad Rock” features weekly hour-long episodes posted on Soundcloud and iTunes every Friday (they’re currently on episode 78), with shorter bonus episodes sprinkled in—often featuring colleagues or fellow music lovers with a special take on an artist or genre. Most episodes are recorded in USA Today’s audio studios, but the hosts have recorded a number of episodes offsite (including a road trip to the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, TX, with stops in great music cities along the way).

The dad rockers also host musicians passing through the DC area—from old school icons like Dave Wakeling of the English Beat and John Doe of X (whose interview went up last week) to up-and-comers like 25-year-old contemporary folk musician Sarah Jarosz.

While USA Today doesn’t release figures on listenership, Lenahan said “Dad Rock” has made its way onto iTunes’ top 20 music podcasts in the past, and one of the keys to its success is storytelling—both from hosts and guests.

“Certainly we talk about what we love about the song,” he said. “But key to that often is the story about how we discovered that song or what was going on in our lives at that time or why it’s important to us. The personal storytelling element is something that really helps the show.”

Lenahan, who grew up in Ohio and spent most of his career in the Midwest, was hired by USA Today in 2007. When he and his wife, Katy, were looking for a place in the DC area to raise their children, now 15 and 12, they wanted a community that echoed their own suburban childhoods and fairly quickly settled on Ashburn where they’ve lived for the past nine years.

“It’s a great environment,” Lenahan said. “One of the things I really like about Loudoun County and Ashburn is the diversity of the area. For a suburban area that is 30 miles outside of the core city, it’s a really interesting and diverse place, and you don’t find that in a lot of metro areas. … I think that’s great for our kids to grow up in.”

But while Lenahan has mentioned it to a dad or two on the baseball field, he’s pretty sure most of his neighbors aren’t aware of the podcast.

“I’m certainly not any kind of local celebrity,” he said with a laugh.

But Lenahan may get a chance to see some familiar faces at the Lost Rhino event, set up in a music quiz show format with an open preliminary round, followed by a knockout round spotlighting the top eight contestants. That second round will be recorded and podcast, making the local global for Lenahan.

Meanwhile, he and Foster have developed a virtual community made up of online listeners, who are into the hosts’ warm repartee and hard-core music knowledge, along with the fact that they come off as regular guys rather than music critics.

“What we’ve found is that there’s an audience of people who like that they’re getting music commentary from two normal suburban dads. We’re not trying to be music critics per se. We’re coming at it from a fan perspective,” Lenahan said. “One of the best pieces of feedback we get and we get this all the time is, ‘I feel like I’m just hanging out with a couple of friends.’”

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