Podcaster Will Padilla gets nostalgiac talking about the ’80s
Growing up a latchkey in the 1980s, in the heart of Jersey City, NJ, Podcaster Will Padilla was raised by pop culture. He-Man made Will believe he had the power. And Spielberg encouraged him to seek adventure. So, in his youth Will’s Huffy became an X-Wing and the abandoned factory on his city block became the Death Star. And as his own 1980 coming-of-age story entered its denouement, Will’s love of media had him longing to entertain.
First pursuing acting, Will trained at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (as a company member alongside Peter Dinklage, future star of Game of Thrones), at Bill Esper Studios (New York) and with Olympia Dukakis. Will performed in productions throughout New York and New Jersey, including those at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and Paper Mill Playhouse.
Additionally, Will appeared in fledgling plays at Columbia University, The Collective (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, and Ensemble Studio Theatre. Frustrated with the audition process, Will next turned to writing.
He adapted John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost” into a dark commedia, which was produced at HERE (New York) as part of the American Living Room Festival. Will also wrote and performed with Those Lazy Bastards (New York) a sketch comedy group that he founded with (now legendary voice actor) Yuri Lowenthal.
Having consumed hours of Harold Faltermeyer, and having studied music theory at university, Will additionally composed and designed sound for theater. He scored Goodbye, My Friduchita (starring Tony Award winner Priscilla Lopez) at The Director’s Company (New York), then transferred to Off-Broadway; The Duchess of Malfi (directed by Michael Kahn), Mojo (starring Glen Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Pains of Youth, and Macbeth, all at The Juilliard School (New York); and Romeo and Juliet (directed by Erica Schmidt future screenwriter of Cyrano) at Present Company Theatorium (New York).
1980s Now Podcast
After the tragic events of September 11th, Will left New York City for the tranquility of the suburbs outside Cleveland, Ohio. There, he left the creative arts for a legal career. Will attended the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, where he graduated with honors.
Will’s artistic skills were largely abandoned. Then, nearly twenty years later, Will was compelled to return to entertainment. Observing a dearth of media that examined the pop culture of his youth, and celebrated the artists that created it, Will began a podcast to do just that.
In 2019, Will converted a spare room in his home into a recording studio and enlisted his 1980s-savant neighbor to co-host. Soon thereafter, they published their first episode (then known as The 80its), which featured a local “celebrity” and garnered a humble 36 downloads.
It’s a hit!
Then, following the breakthrough booking of original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood, the show began to flourish. Over the next several months, the notoriety of the show’s guests grew along with the number of the show’s listeners. And soon the hosts interviewed dozens of the 1980s icons they’ve long admired, as the local audience was joined by listeners throughout the country.
In the last six months, 1980s Now has experienced the most dramatic growth to date. Following a rebrand of the show, a partnership with The 80s Ruled (which has more than 485K Facebook followers), and a change in co-hosts, listenership has increased exponentially.
Once measured in the dozens, downloads now average approximately 10,000 per month. The audience, once limited to the US, includes listeners from more than 80 countries around the world. To date, Will has spoken with countless 1980s favorites like Ernie Hudson, Taylor Dayne,
Cassandra Peterson, Dee Wallace, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Will has often interviewed guests on Facebook Live while streaming to the more than 485K followers of Will’s partner-page The 80s Ruled. There, thousands view and participate in Q&A sessions with the celebrities they love from the 1980s.
Additionally, the podcast has featured contemporary experts in other fields, including authors, artists and academics. The podcast has also included 80s-kids-turned-performers like Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Kim’s Convenience) and Brian Wecht (Ninja Brian of Ninja Sex Party). The podcast has covered a wide variety of topics, including punk rock, movie stunts, and classic video games.
Plus, while the show discusses popular 1980s songs and films, it has also examined connections like those between 1980s politics and entertainment, The Karate Kid and online bullying, and how copyright law changed 1980s music. Having evolved from actor to composer to lawyer, the journey of 80s kid Will Padilla has made him the perfect podcast host to examine the continued importance of 1980s pop culture.
1980s Now Testimonials
Celebrity Guest Feedback
“Of all the interviews that I’ve done over the years…nobody has ever stated that except for myself. And you’re absolutely right!” –Nina Blackwood
“I’m so glad you brought this point up. You’re the first person that I didn’t have to tell that to.” –Sir Mix-A-Lot
This podcast is life!
The banter, the hot takes, the incredible guests, not to mention the subjects they choose to cover. They’re always the ones you find yourself talking to your friends about when you’re recounting the best decade! I’ve answered back, nodded in agreement and laughed out loud at my desk more times than I care to admit.
Why Can’t This Be Love?
Straight from the heart, this podcast’s got what it takes. BIG UPS, as the man once said, to host WILL and his totally rad hype-person KAT, who’s got Count Floyd-level skills on the horror movie tip. And as for their general 80’s aptitude, these two aren’t just switching the stickers on the Rubik’s Cube to fake it, they’re twisting that sucker FOR REAL.
1. Tell us about your history as a podcaster. How did you start your journey?
In a sense, my podcast journey started at the close of 1989. As I moved further and further from the 1980s, I realized how very special that decade was. And, sure, my appreciation was for that era was in part nostalgia for the years in which I came of age.
But that 10-year span also gave us more influential music, movies and more than any other decade. My interest in podcasting arose many years later when I couldn’t find a program that routinely examined and celebrated that pop culture.
2. You trained at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and performed in plays at several different venues. Do you feel this training helped you as a podcast host?
All the work I did in entertainment prepared me to be a podcaster. On a basic level, I was first taught proper diction. It seems obvious, but if you want to be heard as a podcaster, you must also be understood. More importantly, my training as an actor taught me to be present, stay in the moment, which is key to hosting a show and interviewing guests. And dissecting plays (especially those penned by Shakespeare) taught me the importance of story structure. The podcasts I enjoy most have some shape to them, an arc, a beginning, middle and end.
3. You stepped away from entertainment to work in the legal field for nearly two decades. Did you know then that you would eventually return to entertainment?
To be at peace with stepping away from entertainment, I made a semi-serious agreement with myself to return to it when I was in my 50s. But soon after that promise, I realized that creativity refuses to take a sabbatical. So, in my 30s I wrote a (yet unpublished) novel set in the 1980s. And in my 40s I lead my neighbors in weekly, theatrically-produced Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.
(Images were projected on a 120-inch screen. Computer-controlled, color-changing lights illuminated the gaming table from above. Music and sound effects played throughout.) And when I was ultimately compelled to pontificate about 1980s pop culture, podcasting became my creative medium. So, I knew I would return, but wasn’t certain how.
4. What initially inspired you to create the 1980s Now podcast?
Tinnitus. About five years ago, an accident left me with a permanent ringing in my ears. While I waited and hoped for my mind to adjust to the sound, I avoided the annoying high-pitch squeal by listening to podcasts. And although there was no shortage of current pop culture shows, I quickly found a near vacuum of podcasts examining the media from my generation.
And among those that did, most were poorly-produced and none regularly interviewed the artists who created the music, movies and television shows of the 1980s. I wanted to fill that void, provide that entertainment for others who also have longed for it.
5. You’ve had numerous celebrity guests on the 1980s Now. Who has been your favorite guest and why?
I’ve had the great fortune to speak to many of my favorite performers from the 1980s and none has been a disappointment. But Cassandra Peterson, the talented actor who embodies Elvira, is a standout. And that came as a pleasant surprise. To prepare for our interview, I read Cassandra’s newly-published memoir Yours Cruelly, Elvira.
And while I was already a fan of hers, sometime over the course of those 300 pages, I felt as if I knew her. Her journey, which is filled with astonishing adventures and heartbreaking challenges, was an inspiration. And when I finally spoke with her, she was incredibly charming, engaging and down-to-earth.
6. In addition to movies and video games, you’ve discussed music copyright laws and how they’ve changed over time. How much did your legal career inform your ability to discuss these often-ignored topics?
Lots. My legal experience, especially my law school studies, prepared me to discuss a number of pop culture topics I would never have anticipated. It was fascinating to uncover how the evolution of copyright jurisprudence since the 1980s has left us with inferior hip-hop. Without my legal background, it would have been more difficult to understand that history, explain it to our audience, and discuss it on the show with Public Enemy’s former counsel.
And even more broadly, the discipline of legal research and writing has helped me wrap my brain around topics that may have otherwise been difficult to comprehend, like the philosophy of time travel in 1980s films. And there’s some current legal battles we plan to cover soon, including trademarks for vintage toys and Tony Basil finally acquiring a copyright to “Mickey.”
7. Do you still have a desire to act or has podcasting become your main passion?
Long before podcasting, I had lost the desire to act. With acting, you only have control over your performance. And even then, a live production is rife with variables that can affect that. For this reason, years ago, while still working in New York theater, I began composing instead of performing. I could spend hours crafting every note to a piece of music and once the score was recorded it sounded the same at each show. I did return to
the theater during the height of the pandemic, but only virtually. I created a 3-D audio experience for a production of Macbeth that starred Derek Wilson (Future Man) and Tamara Tunie (Cowboy Bebop). It’s a lot of work, but one of the things I love about producing my own podcast is being able to labor over the details. It’s fulfilling creatively and definitely my main passion.
8. What has been your greatest professional success?
Honestly, I have a difficult time looking back and enjoying accomplishments, because it’s easy to look ahead and see what’s yet to be done. That said, I’m especially proud of 1980s Now. To grow from a handful of local listeners to thousands from around the world is a success. To interview a local “celebrity” on our first episode to chatting with
Ernie Hudson on the weekend Ghostbusters: Afterlife opened was thrilling. And successfully pitching The 80s Ruled, which has nearly half a million followers on Facebook, to be their official podcast is objectively awesome.
9. What about a professional setback? What did you learn?
Originally naming my podcast something gimmicky. The first name of the show was The 80its. At the time, I thought I was so clever. But then I had to pronounce it for publicists. And then I added a note to my emails explaining it. I finally realized that I had created a marketing problem when I had to spell the name during an ad so a potential listener could find the show. I learned two things. First, I was still vulnerable to hubris. Second—and it’s so obvious now—unless you have the marketing budget to create a brand, call your show what it is.
10. Are there any particular celebrities you’d like to have as guests on the show?
So many. I’d love to speak with Arnold Schwarzenegger about how his film Pumping Iron inspired the exercise fads and modern action hero born in the 1980s. I’m hoping to chat with Tony Basil about her role in creating hip-hop dance in that decade. I want
to interview Chuck D about the society he rapped about in the 1980s as compared to that of today. It’s thrilling to speak with artists whom I’ve long admired, but I especially enjoy chatting with those whose work has had an impact (sometimes largely unexplored).
11. What advice do you have for aspiring podcasters?
Before you record your first episode, have a goal and understand what it takes to accomplish it. There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts and hundreds of millions of podcast episodes. If you want your show to be heard, research your audience, niche and content and above all—I’m begging you—learn how to use a microphone.
12. Lastly, what is your favorite piece of 80s media?
Back to the Future. It represents so much of how I felt as I came of age in the 1980s. The older folks longed to return to the 1950s, but I dreamed of an inevitable future of flying cars. And while time travel was never invented, it seemed like another breakthrough was always possible during my youth. And we had plenty of groundbreaking innovations in the 1980s.
That decade birthed (or otherwise perfected or popularized) so much of what is still en vogue today. I cling to the sense of adventure and possibility of that film. And, perhaps more importantly, especially given the current state of the world, I often recall that it is literally the power of love (as Huey Lewis sings) that rescues Marty from the past and delivers him to a new and better future.