Lou Mongello From The WDW Radio Show Shares His Passion For Podcasting And The Disney Community
Lou Mongello is the host and producer of the WDW Radio Disney podcast, which has been named Best Travel Podcast by the Podcast Awards for nine consecutive years. Lou started podcast way back in the early days of the medium, and he's built a passionate fan base over the past 17 years. Now he and his community are giving back through the Dream Team Foundation, which we talked about on the show. Lou also provides mentoring, consulting, and workshops to those looking to build their business and brand through his website LouMongello.com. He is a keynote speaker who shares the magic of Disney and the importance of exceptional customer service as well as the power of new and social media, podcasting, live video, community, entrepreneurship, and how to follow your dreams and passions.
Below is an edited transcript from our conversation with Lou.
Andrew Matranga: Hey everybody, welcome back to Stickers on the Mic. Andrew with you, as always very excited to be dialing in Lou Mongello today from Florida, and Lou is the host of one of the most popular podcasts of its kind of its niche, the WDW Radio Podcast. Lou, welcome to the show.
Lou Mongello: Thank you so much for having me, really appreciate it.
Andrew: I rarely get to interview another podcaster, so this is fun to share the mic with a luminary, and you've been doing your podcast, your show, Walt Disney World Radio since like podcast got started, right?
Lou: Yes, I literally started podcasting a few weeks after the technology debuted back in 2005.
Andrew: Yes, the early aughts was a barren landscape in a way for podcasting as far as big names. Right now it's all big names, celebrities drive the notoriety of it, but then there's people like you who've been plugging away. You're at 650 episodes according to your last episode at the time of this show which we'll dig into a little bit. Folks who listen all the time, it's about Star Wars, so I will share my geeky passion about that, but 650 episodes, that's so much work to put in.
Lou: If you know, look, I was a lawyer in my past life and now I get to talk about Disney and Marvel and Star Wars, so I put work in air quotes, but it is. It's been a lot of work but it's also been a lot of fun.
Andrew: You mentioned that's a big part of your story, you were a lawyer, what made you decide to hang up your spurs and then move to Florida with your family and pursue this dream?
Lou: The super-condensed version is, so rewind back to 2003, I'm a lawyer in New Jersey, I have an IT consulting company on the side which means I don't sleep very much. The only TV I really watch are infomercials and I this idea that because I've always been in the service business, I want to make something once and resell it. I have this idea that I want to write a book just to see if I can write a book and see if I can get it published. I really wasn't smart enough to write about the law or computers, and all I really knew about was Disney World. I've been going since November of '71, just a couple of weeks after the parks opened. The personal challenge was can I write a book and can I get it published?
I have 47 rejection letters, take away less than you only need one yes, I found my one yes, I found one publisher. Wrote a book, thought that was the end of it, started a little two-page website that turned into articles, turned into a community, and then started podcasting in 2005, and took a leap just a couple of years later and moved to Florida to do it full time.
Andrew: That's amazing. I love that persistence story, right. Because I interview a lot of entrepreneurs in their very early stage, and they're trying to figure out what their product look like and how they how do they market themselves. The Disney fan space, we've covered a few of those creators on the show in the last few years because they actually make up a decent amount of our business. When it comes to the constellation of fan work around Disney, it's hard to stand out because there's so much [chuckles] it seems to me.
Lou: Yes. Look, it's the beauty of the fact that anybody can be a creator, the gatekeepers are gone because back-- I mean, look, my story is perfect evidence. If you wanted to write a book, you needed to have a publisher, if you want it to be heard, you had to get on the radio, if you want to be seen you have to get on TV, and now anybody can do it. I think that I don't even look at it as competition. I think having a lot of different podcasts to choose from, and now there are hundreds, when I started, there was maybe two, three of us, is a good thing. Because you find your people, you find the ones that resonate with you.
Andrew: Yes, I don't think competition is a bad thing. I think I guess more what I mean is there's so much great fan art and it appeals to everybody and everyone has their audience. That's what I've enjoyed hearing from a lot of these people because they just want to be creative and draw things and manifest their own ideas into this beautiful canon that is that Disney Parks, and that experience, of course. Wow, so you've been going to Disney for a very long time.
Lou: Yes, Disney is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary and I was there about three weeks after they first opened. We lived in New Jersey and like the Griswold's, we hopped into the family truckster every year and drove down and fell in love with the places at a very early age.
Andrew: Yes, you've seen it change quite a bit then too. I mean, they've just added so much and in the last few years, there's been a lot of really fun projects obviously. Star Wars land is the one that's near and dear to my heart and my family's heart. Outside of the Disney thing, you're talking about writing books, you have your own brand of your own naming, and talk a little bit about what that looks like for you to be out on the road doing your thing.
Lou: Yes, it's interesting, over time, this thing that was a little side project personal challenge accidentally turned into a business. There's really two sides of what I do now. There's everything on the Disney side, which is not just the podcast, I've been doing live videos since 2007. I do events, I've written a number of books and audio tours, and have a lot of things sort of on the Disney side.
It also evolved to wanting to help other people do the same thing. I've been speaking "professionally" for probably 15 years, working with people one on one and mastermind groups, and I host a small event in Walt Disney World because I want, look, man, I want people to feel the same way that I do when they get up in the morning. That thing that they love gets to be the thing that they do, and I want to help them along on that journey.
Andrew: Nice. Yes, you got your speaking, you got your mentoring and coaching. One thing that I was really excited to see was how you have done a mission-driven thing too within these brands, and that's the giving back. Talk a little bit about how you're getting people to give back via what you do.
Lou: Yes, so when I started writing my first book in 2003, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and I went with him five days a week to Sloan Kettering in New York. It really is where I spent a lot of my time writing my first book, and every day getting to his floor, we'd have to pass the pediatric cancer ward, and my heart just went out to those kids, I said, look, I want to do something, help in some way, tying it to this book.
I didn't want to give money to research because it would be money that those kids would never see. I wanted to work with a wish-granting organization like Make A Wish who for such a long time we've had this great relationship, and look, the heart of what I do, man, is not me at all, it's about community. I know that that's become a buzzword, but it really is the most important thing. The proof of that is in the fact that we've raised almost half a million dollars for Make A Wish to send kids with life-threatening illnesses to Walt Disney World. That's a testament to the people who are in this extended family that I call WDW Radio.
Andrew: You're talking about giving back and community. While it might seem like a buzzword, especially in the podcasting world, right, you need a community, you know what I mean? You need those people to come back to engage with your show, right? Early on, how did you get the word out?
Lou: I will tell you, and again, this is further evidence and strengthen the importance of community. It really started back in remember 2003, 2004, there was no social media, there was no Twitter, there was no Facebook. I had a V-bulletin discussion forum on my site, not even knowing if there was anybody else out there who was a somewhat adult and loved Disney. The first time I turned it on, I had 29 people show up, and I'm like, my God, there's 29 other dorks sitting in their basement that love Disney as much as I do. That number turned into 50, and then 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000, 80,000. I'm like, wait a minute, there's a lot of other people that love Disney.
I will tell you, man, when I talk about community and the fact that it's not a buzzword, I hate the word fans, I don't look at it that way. They're not friends, they're fans, and if you treat people that way, and if you respect the fact that they're giving you the most valuable commodity, which is their time, and you genuinely care at the scale, they will pay you back X times over. I only tell you this to illustrate the point not about me, but about them. I've never spent a dime on advertising.
Andrew: Oh, really.
Lou: I've never placed an ad. I mean, I've played around on Facebook to see how it works-
Andrew: Sure, yes.
Lou: -but I've never placed an ad because if you treat your fans like your friends, they will become your most loyal evangelists. It's better for you as well. Look, I can go out all day and say, oh, come listen to my podcast, I think you'll enjoy it, but when somebody else says, hey, I really enjoy this podcast, or I really love this community and the people who are there and it's drama-free, you should come, that message carries a lot more weight. That's why, knock on wood, the community has not only grown but has fortunately been able to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that a lot of other communities do.
Andrew: Right, and it's funny too because there's so much, especially on the Star Wars side, there's so much polarization in those communities and they love to just drag each other and as someone who spends a lot of time on Star Wars Twitter, in my own little--
Lou: Oh, God bless you.
Andrew: Yes, and I do that because of my professional interest but it's hard to watch people tear each other down and that's why I love the Dream Team Project and you have the whole running, you're doing the running thing with your, the runDisney events there, which obviously is a lot of fun when you're-- There's the destination vacation side and then there's the local traffic, whether it's Orange County or where you are near Orlando, right, those people are there all the time. That's what they go and do, right? That's just a neat way to capture that audience too, right?
Lou: Yes, I mean, like Star Wars, the Disney community is-- Look, I think no other company, maybe Apple is a distant second, has the brand loyalty that Disney does, and the people that love Disney, love Disney. I'm not the only lunatic that moved down here. I promise you there's a lot of other people in the area but it's a very passionate, very dedicated community which is what I love.
Andrew: With that said though, it's kind of hard to be creative. Well, actually, it's easy to be creative when you're inspired but like, how do you come up with new content to serve people when it comes to something like a very visited place where people know by and large-- Now, there's a lot of people planning their first trip or their one trip, some people can only afford to do it once in their whole life and it's a big deal. How do you address that huge range of people's interest around it, to serve something fresh that means something to them?
Lou: You mentioned at 650 episodes, I actually had started another show with somebody else about a year so I've probably done of just pure podcast alone, 800, 900 plus episodes and weekly newscasts, weekly live video, and the secret to-- and I've never, ever repeated a topic ever, not once because one, it's a dynamic place. It's always changing and there's many different ways to approach it. To your point, there are people who are coming for the first time that want to just find out how do I do A, B, C, and D, and then there's the hardcore fan that wants to know, hear from somebody that is an imagineer or really get down to the minutiae and the details and the history.
There's a wide spectrum and my formula is really very simple. I just do a show that I, as a fan, would want to listen to and hope, pray sometimes that there's somebody else that wants to as well and I think that goes to the point of finding your people in terms of the content you're putting out.
Andrew: Yes, that's always a challenge for any creator is staying fresh and doing things you enjoy, and keeping it interesting for the people that are listening. What's the next phase for you with this?
Lou: It's interesting because I'm always looking to see what's next. Because I think if you get complacent, you die, and I've always endeavored to, going back, just interacting online through the podcast wasn't enough. That's why I started the forums. That's why I started doing live video because I love the energy in that dynamic of having that real-time interaction and I said, I want to sort of take it from the online space to offline and I started, like, I've been doing monthly meetups in Walt Disney World for coming up on 14 years now or so.
Andrew: Oh, wow. Okay. [chuckles]
Lou: Yes, and then when you do that, because again, that, and that's not so people can come and meet me, let's be clear. [crosstalk]
Andrew: No. Go wait in line together.
Lou: No, it's you could do things together, right, and I love watching the dynamic of people coming together and look, I've seen relationships and friendships and babies and stuff come out of that, and then you're able to sort of ramp that up and I do probably two or three Disney cruises every year with my community, we do a lot of special events. We've gone to Shanghai, we've gone to Hong Kong, we've gone to Japan, we've gone to California and Aulani. Again, so much better than practicing law, but it's about taking the community to the next level and being able to do things like that together.
Andrew: You're talking about the live and that's like was it- there was definitely, when we started our show, live was the thing and we went live when we wanted to be part of it. It wasn't really quite what we were best at our frequency and also perhaps our content. This is different and also you're running it, it looks like seven o'clock, 7:30 Eastern Time, Wednesday night. It's like, that's actually kind of a decent time slot, people are out of work, and have you noticed, at least on the East Coast, have you noticed, home to Disney World, have you noticed any learnings from that live thing? Because I still think in a way, for me, I'm just trying to figure that out, but that's a pretty dominant format, but it's hard to be good at it. What's been your sort of secret for your live show?
Lou: I think the secret to live is the secret to podcasting is the secret to anything and it's no secret at all, and it's authenticity, and I hate to sort of simplify it like that but it is and I think sometimes people try too hard to either literally "put on a show" or be a character. Live video is the most transparent thing in the world because you can't fake it because people can see the passion in your eyes, the smile on your face, and I love that, and for me, it's a combination of doing the show from here where we'll talk about this week's podcast, Disney news, I'll do the top five, I'll do a contest to sort of interactive things, but I also love taking people with me and coming into an experience that they might not be able to get to otherwise.
Whether it's taking them to the parks, showing them fireworks, doing the ride through, going to Aulani, going to Comic-Con, going to Japan, wherever it might be. Those are some of the things that I love most because there's completely no script. It's completely authentic and whatever happens, happens and I love that non-produced complete transparency and I think the energy. [crosstalk]
Andrew: The rush. It's such a rush. Especially because it's like, you know what, if nothing breaks, [chuckles] God willing.
Lou: People get it, they understand what happens, right?
Andrew: Yes, they do. Well, especially if they're your friends and family, it's not a word, but they give you a little bit of leeway too. We connected obviously because you left us a really nice review and that prompted me to reach out. I always try to find people who are excited about our brand. What are you're using stickers for as far as your various promotions?
Lou: I want you to know that comment I left was completely unprompted. Look, as somebody who comes from the service industry and talks about Disney, who is the pinnacle of customer service, that's the business we're all in, man. It doesn't matter what you do. I don't care if you sell stickers, shoes, cars, if you do a podcast, we're in the customer service. We're in the relationship business and I really appreciate that, and even more so that you took that next step and was like, I got immediate feedback letting me know that my comment didn't just go into the void somewhere.
For me, the stickers serve a lot of different purposes, right? I like to keep them with me at all times, and if I'm in the park and I meet somebody, using it as a giveaway. I have a Patreon that I do call the WDW Nation, they get a different type of stickers, they get different rewards and advantages then other members of the community do. I use them for special events, giveaways, contests, prizes, whatever it might be. Because, one, everybody loves stickers, kids love them. You don't have to worry about poking anybody with a pen or anything like that, and adults like it too and they're just easy, and this is not, again, I'm prompted, like, the quality of the stuff that you guys put out is exceptional, which is why I'm a returning customer.
Andrew: Well, we appreciate that. Yes, it's fun to get them out. I actually have somewhere one of the janitor stickers. It was late in Epcot, we were there the one time we took our kids there years ago now and my son was in the restroom. The guy was cleaning, it was like 11:30 at night, the park closes pretty late, or whatever time it was, and he gave us each a little sticker and I just was like, and I work at a sticker company, so it's like I see stickers all the time, but it was that act of receiving unprompted from a cast member who is doing in large part, some of the most important work.
Because those touchpoints around a place like that, whether it's a garbage can or food service line or a bathroom, those are the kinds of things where you're kind of on your own as a visitor or a guest or whatever, and you can have in your own head, is this a good or a bad thing, or do I like it or am I enjoying myself? I mean, it's easy to have fun on a ride, but it's harder to be like, well that was meaningful. He's cleaning the bathroom. I don't know it's somewhere on one of my notebooks, my Disney janitor sticker. Anyway, that's really great that you have them with you too, because that's a fun way to brighten someone's day. 650 episodes, a lot of content production, but Episode 650 was-- and I have to we got a quick dig in here. I'm not going to spend too much time, but the 10 most important moments in Star Wars history. You had a group of guests on too, guest speakers or whatever? What was the conclusion you all came to there?
Lou: It was fascinating to me because I never talked to them about it ahead of time. I said, here's the prompt, we're just going to start recording and see where it goes, and you would almost expect it to be the moments that we all expect, right? Things that we could pull out from the movies, but for some, they were going back to decisions that George Lucas made, conversations that he had, whether it was the beginnings of the early days of Journal of the Whills, or the conversation to sell the company to Bob Iger later on.
For me, a lot of it came from nostalgia. It was less about seeing that star destroyer in the blockade runner for the first time, than nine-year-old me looking at my dad for the first time smile and we're like, what is this? What are we watching? I mean, it literally changed moviemaking and fandom and sci-fi forever. I mean, you can't sort of underestimate it. We talked about the importance of, look, towards maintaining the merchandising rights. It's crazy. Again, same thing, that changed toys and toy collecting.
I say this every time now, oh, this will be a short episode, 30, 40 minutes we'll be in-- two hours later, I go, we need to wrap this up because we were nerding out but it was fun sort of digging down into both some of the subjective and objective ways that we were able to go through the evaluation process and then decide what really belongs on this list and then going back and asking listeners, hey, what do you think? Do you agree? Do you disagree? What are some of the things that we missed from episode four to-- Before I forget, Mandalorian, even Star Wars visions coming out this week.
Andrew: Yes, it's on my list. I'm waiting for my son to be done with his school week to reward him. I'm geeking out on that for sure.
Lou: Episode one is awesome.
Andrew: I know. I'm sure they're all awesome and I know they're all out there and I'm going to binge them. Normally, I was really bad when the Mandalorian was coming out because I would I'd stay up and I watch and then he'd be like, he think I was watching for the first time. I felt really bad and so I've tried to be more of an adult about it but it just the one child I've got, your kid my got my back when I have a whole cat covered a Star Wars toys over there. [crosstalk]
Lou: We all do it. It's funny because my son now is 16 and he's doing it to me. He's staying up and watching it at three o'clock in the morning and then pretending the next day that he hasn't seen it.
Andrew: Here's my Han Solo in carbonite right here. In any event, it's nice that you were able to get those two guests, one of them, Coffee with Kenobi is very popular, and then there's the ForceCast which is a nice group of guys to get on there and talk a little bit about Star Wars. I'm sure you'll have another Back to Frontierland or something for the next episode. There's so much ground to cover in the Disney Parks. The shiny stuff is the new stuff, the Marvel campus, which people are very excited about, and of course Galaxy's Edge is, in my mind, my home away from home. In any event, it was interesting to me to hear you say that you didn't really spend a lot of money on advertising, right, and you grew that community, I mean, to get to 24,000 followers on Instagram, that can be kind of organic, but you also kind of have to keep producing that content and giving people the visuals, especially on Instagram, that they want to see, right? What kind of tips and tricks Have you picked up from Instagram? Obviously, it's a good platform for you, right?
Lou: One, consistency is key, we have to be consistent. I think for Instagram, we're all sort of playing against, fighting against call it whatever you want, algorithms of which we don't know the rules, right? We're sort of guessing and trying to figure it out all along, but I think for Instagram especially, they want you to use the tools that are available to you on that platform. I think in a perfect world, to be able to post multiple times a day on a post, do stories. When you post stories use things like stickers, you've got to give people a reason to not just continue to either swipe or tap by, but to stop for a second, move a slider, click yes or no, type in an answer. They want to see that kind of engagement.
You have to do stories, you have to do reels, you have to do IGtv. Just like on Facebook, what Facebook is looking for is they're looking meaningful engagement in your posts. Likes are great, but what they want to see are comments that aren't just yes, no, cool. That's why all of my posts will always usually lead with a question and sometimes it can be the simplest thing in the world, man.
Look, you want to get engagement, ask people if you could be in Walt Disney World and have breakfast right now, where would you go? Everybody has an answer. Everybody has some that they want to share or a story. You're always going to get more than yes or no, like, oh, I wish I was at Cinderella's royal table because my daughter really likes it. That's what I think the "algorithm" is looking for and again, that's the way to build communities by having real conversations and responding to those kinds of comments.
Andrew: That's sort of the thing we're all trying to figure out too, right? It's how to get people to be nice to each other in the threads and bring something of value to our audience, right? Doesn't matter what you do, I could sell mattresses, right? There's a lot to cover when it comes to these places because people have so much attachment you mentioned the kids and being a kid, it's obviously been a part of your life for a really long time. You're kind of the epitome of wishing upon a star, the dream came true. You're glad you're not practicing law, no regrets in that regard, a long time at it, right? You're just going to keep growing the show and having fun doing that sounds like.
Lou: Yes. I was talking to somebody earlier today and I said, look, the day that this stops being fun for me, the day that I'm not excited to get up in the morning and hate going to sleep at night and enjoying working on Saturdays and Sundays, the day that that happens is the day that I move on to something else because, all of a sudden, it becomes work, it becomes a job again. I am fortunate and I am blessed and grateful every day to get to do what I do and love it as much as I do.
Andrew: That's awesome. Well, thank you for joining us. Thank you for reaching out to our customer success team, that meant a lot to them. Everyone in customer service is always trying to please people and some things are out of our control these days, right? Sometimes business is tough these days. It means cutting through a lot of the noise of the day, right? What we say on the show, every time every sticker has a story today, it's Lou's story and Lou's stickers from the Walt Disney World Radio show that it's great to hear that you bring that experience into real life, handing out the stickers in the parks and trying to bring a little smile to somebody's day, that means a lot.
Lou: Absolutely. Look, even have one right here, see? [laughter]
Andrew: I love it. Thanks for joining us, Lou. Everybody out there in pod land, check out his various sponsors, loumongello.com, but then there's of course, wdwradio.com which is where all the action is happening and there's a lot, especially if you're in the area, you're trying to get people into the parks, getting them together, doing things that give back a little bit, which I think is really admirable, Lou, so thank you for that.
Lou: Thank you. Thank you very much for reaching out, Andrew. I really do appreciate it and I do appreciate your entire team, from the quality of the product you put out to the exceptional customer service.
Andrew: That's awesome. We'll see you next time, folks. It's always my pleasure to be Andrew and to be talking to the amazing stories of business growth and marketing here at Stickers on the Mic.
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