10 Questions with ... Perry Michael Simon
January 5, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Started at UA-Columbia Cablevision and USA Network while in school; later, joined the corporate office at Press Broadcasting (WJLK/Asbury Park, NJ; WSJT-TV/Philadelphia; WMOD-TV/Melbourne, FL; WKCF-TV and WTKS (Real Radio 104.1)/Orlando; WKXW-WBUD/Trenton), then became PD at WKXW (New Jersey 101.5). A few jobs later, I was PD at KLSX/Los Angeles and OM/weekend host at KLYY (Y107)/Los Angeles, and did some time at Comedy World Radio Network. Since the Jurassic Era of the Internet, I've been at All Access, heading up the News-Talk-Sports and Podcasting sections and handling a chunk of news coverage (including covering every convention, ever). Concurrently, since 2010, I've been with Nerdist Industries, the multimedia operation founded by Chris Hardwick and now owned by Legendary Pictures; I've served in various capacities there, including Editor-in-Chief of Nerdist.com and, more recently, advising the company's podcast network. I live and work near Los Angeles and enjoy long walks by the beach, sports, and being a curmudgeonly smartass on social media.
1. Wait, you're intervewing yourself again? WTF?
Yeah. It's been several years. Seven years, to be exact. A lot has happened since then. Also, I was away for a month and I haven't had time to do any interviews of anyone else. (Speaking of which, anyone who wants to be ia 10 Questions subject, let me know: Email me.
2. Okay, then. But the first question doesn't count. Nor does this one, which isn't a question.
Fine. This is gonna be a different kind of 10 Questions anyway, more of a State of the Industry report. Hey, everyone else claims to be an expert; why not me?
1. So, in the seven years since you last spoke to yourself in public, what's happened to talk radio? Have things gotten better or worse?
You know the answer. Things have gotten worse if you define talk radio as the stuff aired on traditional stations: worse on a business level, worse on a content level. But if you include digital -- podcasting and streaming -- and if you include the social media element, we've never had a more robust spoken-word entertainment environment. It's pretty amazing.
1a. Is this where you stick in your disclaimer?
Yes. As the header indicates, besides my All Access duties, I work with the Nerdist Podcast Network, part of Legendary Digital Entertainment, in turn part of Legendary Pictures. So you could say I have a horse in the race, but it's not really that simple. First, at heart, I'll always be a radio guy -- I still love the medium, whatever happens. And I don't see the podcast network as competing with traditional radio; I see it as both complimentary and as the natural evolution of the program-based traditional radio industry.
2. How is that the case? Aren't podcasters and traditional broadcasters chasing the same audience and advertisers?
In some ways, yes, but first, it's not a zero-sum game; you're going to share audience, but you've been sharing with other media all along. It's not exactly like podcasts are taking money directly from radio budgets -- it's more like clients and agencies are moving dollars from traditional media (radio, TV, print, outdoor) to digital (audio, video, web) and the allocation is a separate issue. And there's a huge overlap: traditional radio broadcasters are increasingly heavily involved in the podcast and streaming content business. Look, public radio entities dominate the podcast charts. Some of the other major podcast/streaming folks are familiar names from broadcast radio, like Adam Carolla, Leo Laporte, Tom Leykis, Marc Maron (you haven't forgotten his Air America show, have you?), and, yeah, my Nerdist boss, Chris Hardwick. On a content level, the lines are blurry-to-obliterated. On a business level, it's still developing, and whether it's Norm Pattiz getting Ginny Morris to invest, or Midroll getting bought by Scripps, or even, on some level, with caveats, iHeartRadio, we're seeing the "two sides," if they ever really were separate, merging.
3. Go back to what you said about talk radio. What's changed for the worse, content-wise, on traditional radio?
It's the same old content, only older. There are significant exceptions, and if you're reading this far, you're probably among them -- the old guard doesn't pay much attention to my blathering. But if I, solidly in middle age and in the heart of the talk radio demographic, have a hard time listening to most political talk radio (it's not about the politics, it's about the entertainment value and the relevance to my life), imagine those a little younger trying to put up with the same "Old Man Yells At Cloud" talk radio. I'd rather hear someone talk about "Star Wars" and "Making a Murderer" or Meek Mill vs. Drake or major LOCAL issues -- what, for example, the state of California and Los Angeles County are doing with my tax money -- than the election horserace. Trump has been a godsend for the old guard of talk, because he's Trump, but if he falters, and Bernie Sanders goes away, too, what's left? Now, it's not like you can't talk about both, but too many of the talkers, especially the syndicated giants, are very, very out-of-touch with anyone under the age of, say, 80. That kind of talk radio is just getting comfortable with Facebook while the demographic they need to reach is on Instagram and Snapchat.
4. Are Millennials out of reach fot talk radio?
No. But they have their own version, podcasts, which talk about the things about which they're interested. The good news is that there's no limit on how many podcasts there can be. If radio companies produce good content to be delivered on demand, they have a tremendous opportunity, compounded by the fact that radio companies know how to sell advertising. The only things holding them back are being hidebound by convention and crippling debt that requires them to account for every dollar and do nothing that can't immediately generate positive cash flow. Wait, that's not good.
5. How about sports radio? What's the outlook there?
I think it's better than for "regular" talk in that it's something that is less vulnerable to on-demand programming. Podcasts are perfect for interviews, deep-dive analyses, team-centric and sport-centric conversation that wouldn't fly with the larger audience (like, say, a hockey podcast for a team in a market where the audience for it is too limited for broadcast. Sports radio is for immediate reaction to what's happening right now -- Chip Kelly or Jim Tomsula gets fired, you want to hear about it immediately, not in a few days or next week -- but Twitter and Facebook offer immediate reaction, too. Still, sports lends itself to the literal exchange of voices. Speaking as an Eagles fan, I know the first thing I thought when I heard Kelly was fired was that I HAD to tune right to WIP ot The Fanatic to hear the immediate reaction of hosts and followers. 140 characters wasn't enough.
6. You're writing this at CES. What should radio know about changes in technology?
My column this Friday will address that in detail. I'll just give you a quick snapshot: Radios, as separate devices, are past tense. You know smartphones are the audio entertainment devices of choice. FM tuners in those are irrelevant -- people stream and don't particularly care about data costs. HD Radio is viable only to feed analog translators and maybe deliver data; otherwise, there is zero interest in it. Honestly, the CE industry has way bigger problems than it lets on -- other than autonomous and fully electric cars, the market for which is still in question, they haven't had a hit technology for a while now. Virtual reality is being trotted out again as this year's thing, but it hasn't caught on and it's been here for a few years now. Mobile sales are slowing, tablet sales are off, and the connected car.... well, wait for my Friday column. But radio needs to know that it's not on anyone's radar here. Not sure how to get back on their radar, but it's a streaming, downloading, customizable, on-demand world now.
7. AM revitalization...
Stop it. Just stop it. You are not going to get people back to AM once they're gone, and even live sports may not do it anymore. The AM revitalization plan is mostly a plan to get AM stations onto FM, but translators are rarely a viable answer, unless your entire market is concentrated into a very, very small area. They're not powerful enough, they don't penetrate building walls, and even in the car, they tend to sound thinner and break up more frequently than do full-power outlets. (You'd think a market like Vegas, which is concentrated in a valley, would be ideal for translator coverage, but they all sound awful.) How to revitalize AM? Brokered, ethnic, religion. There's nothing wrong with those formats. Want to revitalize TALK radio? Put it on FM and program it for the FM audience, which is to say younger, which is also to say do what we did in Jersey 26 years ago this March, or what Orlando did not too long thereafter. Unless you have a 50,000 watt, full-market, low-dial-position heritage station on the AM dial, it's not looking promising, and a translator will not solve that problem.
8. When do you expect the podcast business to be a "real," revenue-generating business?
Trick question: For some, it already IS a revenue-generating business. Some of the "big names" are generating enough in ad revenue to be profitable, maybe not to the level of talk radio at its peak but not too shabby. But the real answer is that we'll get there when measurement gets there. When we have a standard way to measure not just downloads and engagement but actual ears hearing spots, brand advertising will be more plentiful. Right now, we're still at the nascent stage of that, even a decade into the "podcasting revolution.' To be clear, a good podcast with a healthy following is a great advertising investment and highly effective, but the case has to be made to agencies that want numbers to show clients that prove what they want to prove. In the meantime, the business is still reliant on direct response native advertising and early-adopter brand advertisers. They're getting strong results, so I'm confident that once the ultimate metrics are worked out, podcasting and streaming will be shown to be a good buy for all advertisers.
9. What do you see as the main opportunity in spoken-word radio/podcasting/streaming?
I'm still looking at curation and simplicity of access as critical. iTunes is important, but podcasting is still a relatively small slice of what should be a massive pie, and a lot of that comes down to the difficulty the average person perceives is involved in downloading content. I have no prescription for this, but when someone comes up with a way to make selecting, subscribing, and listening to on-demand and live programming as easy as pressing one button and hearing something good, it'll make a huge difference.
10. Wait. Traditional radio gives you content with one button push, doesn't it?
Why, yes, that's broadcast radio's ultimate killer app/strategic advantage. And there's your happy ending.