OGDEN — Everything you need to know is in the description of John Kelly’s YouTube channel.
“This is not the Disney Channel,” it says. “If you are looking to be entertained, this is not the channel for you.”
Kelly, a longtime Weber State University automotive professor, has been making educational videos about how cars work since about 2004. When YouTube became more widely known, Kelly realized he could store and broadcast his videos there for free instead of carrying around a bulky hard drive. So, he started the WeberAuto channel in 2009.
“I’m trying to produce videos for my students, I don’t really care about the subscribers,” he said. “That’s just a nice benefit.”
Despite that, Kelly recently received the Silver Creator’s Award from YouTube for hitting 100,000 subscribers. His videos have garnered more than 20 million views with the most popular one on manual transmissions seeing 5.8 million views alone.
“I teach the correct way to do things and if you don’t do it the correct way, I want you to think of me shaking my finger at you,” Kelly said. “That’s how I’ve taught my classes and it’s what my videos are like.”
This flies in the face of what many say will get you more YouTube subscribers. A 2018 Forbes article recommends removing old content, shooting a great trailer video, making sure your thumbnails look good and holding contests.
Kelly’s videos date back eight years ago and most of his videos are roughly 30 minutes long. Many have limited camera work or video editing and there isn’t one mention of a giveaway or contest.
Kelly said YouTube analytics keeps telling him to shorten his videos, but he has no plans to do so.
“Most of the videos are about the theory of operation or how something works or diagnostics,” he said. “It’s fairly easy if you already have some automotive background.”
YouTube gives out awards when channels reach a certain number of subscribers. There are two levels above Kelly: the gold award for channels with 1 million subscribers and the diamond award for channels with 10 million subscribers.
Kelly, who records his videos in a wheelchair, posted a video Nov. 24 announcing his new award and thanking his subscribers, family, mentors, colleagues and “automotive nuts.”
“I look at this award in amazement because most of my videos are very long and very boring and unless you’re an automotive nut like yourself you won’t enjoy my videos,” he said. “They’re not entertaining.”
Scott Hadzik, the Automotive Technology department chairman, has worked with Kelly for eight years. He said Kelly’s videos on hybrid vehicle components stand out because information on that kind of technology can be hard to come by.
“It’s one thing to show a diagram or a picture, but this is a video of the disassembled component,” Hadzik said. “I find that really interesting and obviously all the people who subscribe to his channel do too.
Kelly’s videos on low voltage hybrid and electric vehicle systems along with another on the brake systems for those cars each has about 32,000 views.
Kelly grew up in Brigham City where his father worked on cars as a hobby and taught him the tricks of the trade. Kelly worked as a technician at repair garages for about 12 years before he decided to go back to school at Weber State. Around the time he was finishing up his schooling, a position opened up in the college’s automotive department. He applied and got the job.
“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” he said. “As a technician I thought I knew a lot but when it came time to teach other people I found out how much I didn’t know. It was a steep learning curve to catch up on how to do things.”
Sophomore Tate Bunderson started taking classes from Kelly in fall 2017, but he had actually seen the YouTube videos prior to that while working as a mechanic. He needed help trying to set up an axle gear contact pattern and ultimately found Kelly’s YouTube video on the subject.
“It’s definitely not your backyard mechanic YouTube video,” he said. “They’re very well done.”
Kelly started filming more than a decade ago with a digital camera but has since upgraded. Still, his setup is relatively simple and he has no plans to change the way he films his videos. He also doesn’t accept any of the product endorsement offers. He is only paid minimally by YouTube through ad revenue.
Hadzik said the department supports Kelly’s videos but doesn’t have any plans to get involved.
“We want to keep out of his way,” Hadzik said.
Through it all, Kelly has developed a sense of humor when it comes to his videos and the people who comment on them. That video about manual transmissions with 5.8 million views? Kelly said it’s because he coughs throughout.
“I think I cough 29 times and a lot of people, it drives them nuts,” he said. “So I get all these comments to go see a doctor. I just have to laugh.”
Weber State has plans to move the automotive department to a new building and in his thank-you video, Kelly said he’s looking forward to the move.
“Hopefully I’ll still be able to shoot videos during this transition and continue shooting videos for many more years until I retire,” he said.