It started with a casual breakfast conversation. It has progressed into a whole load of homework.
Fishers resident Ryan Ahlwardt and Blaine Zimmerman, who lives in Lawrence Township in Indianapolis, are reading biographies on every U.S. president and then presenting a podcast discussion. The “Presiquential Podcast” examines each of the 45 U.S. presidents’ lives.
“Blaine and I have breakfast usually once a month and are always asking each other, ‘What are you reading? What are you learning?’” Ahlwardt said. “We both love history.”
Zimmerman had found a list compiled by a history buff named Stephen Floyd on the best presidential biographies, bestpresidentialbios.com.
“(Floyd) read the majority of presidential biographies over a six-year period, and we go through his reviews and pick the highest-rated book that he makes it clear is non-biased,” Zimmerman said. “There are a lot of biographies that are slated positively or negatively toward someone. There’s varying degrees of the books being good or not. Some of them are absolute drags. Some there aren’t just a lot of sources.”
Zimmerman suggested reading one biography for each president.
“We wanted to cover cradle to grave,” Ahlwardt said. “I said, ‘Let’s give us time to do it, and if we are going to do it, let’s make it a podcast.’”
In addition to being a U.S. Army lieutenant in the Indiana National Guard who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Zimmerman is a marathon runner.
“When Blaine sets his mind on something, he’s going to achieve it,” Ahlwardt said.
Fishers resident Russ Slivka, a friend of Zimmerman, joined as a producer and gives a short report on the vice president.
The podcast is recorded every other week. Ahlwardt and Zimmerman take notes on what they read and then discuss it for the first time on the podcast, which is 90 minutes or less.
“The tagline is, we go from 1 to 45 in under 90 minutes as we explore each president’s life, legacy and little-known facts about them,” said Ahlwardt, who serves as host. “The biggest question is, how is our country different based on what all of these presidents did, not just some in office but even some after office? It’s easy to look at Mount Rushmore and see how our country is different because of the guys on Mount Rushmore. It’s those lesser-known presidents that still made an impact. Hopefully, we’re educating people but we’re also trying to educate ourselves, too. Part of the fun is finding those trivia bits that we never knew from high school government class.”
The hosts drink an alcoholic beverage during each podcast, which coincides with each president’s history. Zimmerman is in charge of selecting the booze. He said James Madison liked champagne.
“We didn’t want to drink champagne, so we drank Miller High Life, because it’s the champagne of beers,” Zimmerman said.
The podcast, available on Apple Podcast and Spotify, has been recorded through 13 episodes, and four have aired. The fifth on James Monroe airs March 17. The podcast’s information can be found on social media on @presiquential. Those interested in sponsors through their businesses should email [email protected].
“Blaine is way in front of me as far as the reading goes,” Ahlwardt said. “It’s a lot of research, a lot of reading and a lot of time, but we’re loving it.”
Ahlwardt, a singer/songwriter and voice actor, wrote the theme song for the podcast. Ahlwardt and Mike Luginbill, both 1999 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates, have a musical duo called Small Town City. Both are former members of Straight No Chaser, an a cappella group at Indiana University. Ahlwardt joined the touring version of Straight No Chaser from 2008 to 2012. Luginbill is still a member.
Vice presidential report
Russ Slivka serves a dual role on the podcast. Along with being the producer, Slivka gives a short report on the vice presidents.
“I do enjoy discovering and learning about the lesser-known stories of our history, but not near the fanatical level of Blaine (Zimmerman) and Ryan (Ahlwardt),” Slivka said. “You have to be a fanatic to read a biography about every U.S. president. Luckily, as the vice presidential expert, my reading list is much, much smaller.”
Slivka read one book about all the vice presidents.
“I enjoy the work behind the scenes editing the shows and the nuances involved with that process,” he said. “I also very much look forward to the nights when we record the episodes, being able to sit down with friends, have a drink and talk and laugh about some really fascinating stories. With all we’ve been through the past year, it is a respite for me. I honestly hope it is the same for the listener as well. It is a small segment, but for those vice presidents that never become president, it’s nice to shed a little light on them.
“It is a running thought-line about how insignificant the role of vice president has been through most of U.S. history, and most of the time these are very influential people whose contributions to our country have been lost to time.”