DIY? Why Not?
June 15, 2012
The other day, a newspaper reporter called me to talk about radio personalities launching online shows, and I don't remember much of what I said -- the last couple of weeks have been a blur -- but I do recall that the conversation was mostly about "is this a good move?" or "is this gonna work?" or any number of other variants on the theme. If I was going to be perfectly honest, my answer to any of these questions would be "How the hell should I know? Do I LOOK psychic?" But as a Professional Expert Guy, I can't say that. So I bloviated for a while, and I hope some of it made sense.
The answer is indeed that we don't know, but we can see some trends emerging, so let's go with that. A quick glance at industry news tells us that streaming and podcasts are heading to the car dashboard and the rate of adoption is speeding up. Throw in the introduction of voice recognition like Siri to the car entertainment/information/navigation system, which we learned this week is coming soon, and we know that, in the near future, you will be able to get whatever audio you want when you want it. Just say "I want to hear Rush Limbaugh" and you'll hear Rush Limbaugh. Say you want to hear a show about wine and a list of on-demand choices will pop up. Say you want to hear your Pandora Nickelback channel and the airbags will deploy for your own good. (Sorry, cheap joke. I couldn't resist) Forget the radio dial; you won't NEED a dial. And that capability will probably be on all of your devices, from your cell phone and tablet to your computer, your clock radio, your television. It's increasingly an on-demand world.
We aren't, however, at the point when streaming or podcasts are generating the kind of radio terrestrial stations can generate. The gaudy percentage increases being shown for Internet stations and shows still place the overall take well behind traditional media, even if the gap continues to narrow. You won't make the big bucks in the near future.
But you don't have to, and that takes us back to the questions I was being asked in the interview. If you're a talk show host and you're, shall we say, newly at liberty, should you look for employment or roll the dice on online streaming or podcasting, when you know that your net revenue won't be equal to what you were making at radio's peak? The answer: Why NOT try online? Why NOT be entrepreneurial? And why does it have to preclude future employment in traditional radio? If technology is opening the audio entertainment category up to make terrestrial, satellite, and online options essentially the same as far as the consumer is concerned, AND since you can, if you choose, create content with little or no investment -- you COULD, as Adam Carolla and Tom Leykis have done, build out your own broadcasting studio, but if you didn't get that CBS money and can't afford a "real" studio, most of what you need is free. The more pricey options can be added later. Anyone -- you, your mother, your kid, anyone -- can do it. And with "name brands" increasingly trying it out, and others starting to break through as well, the stigma of "it's not real radio, it's only an Internet show" is starting to fade; It won't brand you as "amateur" to PDs when that plum, not-as-lucrative-as-before-but-still-pretty-desirable slot opens up at some big market terrestrial station. And if things work out online, you might not even WANT that job anymore. Besides, to consumers, especially younger ones, radio and podcasts and streaming are all pretty much the same. In fact, for many, "radio," as a term, is a turn-off. (Ask Clear Channel Radio... er, Clear Channel Media + Entertainment)
(Oh, and there's one other caveat I've mentioned before: Selling traditional ads might not be your biggest revenue producer. Subscriptions might not do it, either. Think of your streaming and podcasting as a way to sell other stuff -- merchandising, or live shows)
(And one other thing: If you're thinking about doing this, there's one thing that you absolutely should do first, which is to make sure you've gotten your social media act together, by which I mean that you should have Facebook and Twitter followers who are engaged and will follow you wherever you go. If you don't not only keep up your tweets and status updates but interact with your followers -- in other words, follow them back and respond to their comments -- you should. Now)
Again, will it work? Maybe. Maybe not. But there are a lot of reasons to do it -- it's cheap or free, it keeps you in practice, it keeps you available to your fans, it could be equal to "regular radio" in the future -- and very few reasons NOT to do it (mostly, lack of time). I hope I said that to the reporter. I don't remember. It's been a blur.
The blur was because I spent last week traveling and this week trying to get back on track. Talk Topics took a week off with me, but now the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports is back and at full strength with plenty of material for your show -- you'll find it by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. There's also a really good "10 Questions With..." Zak Burns, co-host and producer of the Beck and Burns show at KXL in Portland, and, of course, the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook with my personal accounts at @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon, read the pop culture stuff I write and edit over at Nerdist.com, and watch the videos on the Nerdist Channel at YouTube. And, occasionally, I drop by my own blog at pmsimon.com, not as much as I used to, but still.
It was nice to see a lot of you on my trip back east last week; If you missed that, I'll be moderating a pretty high-powered panel at The Conclave Learning Conference July 18-20 in Minneapolis, and I'll probably be hovering around San Diego Comic-Con International July 12-15, so you'll have more opportunities to avoid me... er, say hello. See you there!