The line between podcasting and radio became ever so blurrier last month when iHeart Media's Conal Byrne announced a new on-air initiative:
“Sunday Night Podcasts”
According to Ashley Carmen of The Verge, this new venture is designed to use the massive megaphone of iHeart's radio portfolio to promote some of the company's best podcasts.
As of the launch of “Sunday Night Podcasts,” an impressive 270 iHeart stations are on-board, ready to air a podcast episode sandwiched in between standard Sunday night music or talk programming. Byrne has bigger ideas for this new collaboration between iHeart's podcasters and its broadcasters:
“Look, let not just stop there. Let's actually try to get this up to 3, 4, 500 stations every Sunday night that are playing this.”
To make the decision to air podcasts even more palatable to skeptical programmers, Byrne's group is providing a pu pu platter of podcasts stations can choose from. From “Stuff You Should Know” to “Disgraceland” (yes, one of my faves), PDs ought to be able to find a spoken word podcast that fits their audience and brand profiles.
For iHeart's podcasters, this is the realization of broadcast radio's big advantage – its massive megaphone. And in iHeart's case, it doesn't get any bigger. Our most recent Techsurvey, conducted among commercial radio fans, showed that half the audience is comprised of what we call “podcast nevers” – consumers who have managed to avoid podcasts altogether.
“Sunday Night Podcasts” could mitigate some of the speed bumps that have kept podcasting from becoming truly mass appeal.
But there might be an even bigger win. Have you listened to most music stations on Sunday night lately? Probably not. In fact, not a whole lot of people do.
Nielsen suggests there are so few meters in play that most radio companies devote as few resources as possible to their “Seventh Day” programming. Even most syndicated shows have been retired in place of voicetracked music, often unhosted.
Perhaps that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because when you don't offer up much in the way of good content, the result will be inevitably be abysmally low listening levels. (At least, that's the way I was taught.) “Podcast Sunday Nights” could change all that, providing a viable option to consumers tired of watching Netflix or Sunday Night Football.
In The Verge article, Byrne points to skyrocketing downloads for “Disgraceland” (a show that's part of the iHeart menu) as proof that airplay on broadcast radio is making a contribution to both awareness, trial, and consumption.
Up until now, broadcasters and podcasters have not exactly been on the same page. I've heard radio execs complain that local programmers are loathe to promote – much less air – company produced podcasts.
Byrne's grand experiment (and where on earth did they come up with that “Podcast, Meet Broadcast” slogan emblazoned on the graphic at the top of this post 🙂 ) could signal the beginning of a new movement on both platforms to collaborate, cooperate, and in the process, create scale.
It will be interesting to see if other broadcast companies follow suit, experiment with their own partnerships, leveraging produced podcasts embedded in broadcast schedules.
But perhaps bigger than all that is the notion that risk-taking on the air and thinking beyond the next Nielsen monthly is a mindset more companies should be adopting. iHeart has historically played the meter and diary games with precision. “Sunday Night Podcasts” isn't exactly the most out-of-the-box programming innovation, but it's a sign there's more upside to airing podcasts on Sunday night than a safe list “jocked” by an automation system.
Ironically, Bob Pittman and Jarl Mohn (then known as Lee Masters) back in the early MTV days made a fascinating discovery about TSV – Time Spent Viewing. When you're playing one music video after another, it's easy for viewers to change stations with the push of a button every three minutes.
That's when they started developing long-form programming, more likely to keep people tuned in longer. Like podcasts on the radio, consumers are more apt to tune in and to even look forward to a scheduled program. That's why MTV created shows like “Remote Control,” “The Osbournes,” and “Beavis andButt-head” – all of which had great runs on the network.
In today's world of music radio, sticky, compelling long-form programming – like podcasts – could be just the type of content stations need to revitalize their brands and to create occasions and even destinations.
It also is a sign that broadcast radio's long-term future may have more to do with outside content and digital assets than the difference between a 4th or 5th ranking in 25-54 adults or yet another auditorium music test.
Last I checked, there were no “upfronts” scheduled for radio this fall. That's because there's not a lot to anticipate on the air this quarter except more of the same. Podcasts – and shows like this new iHeart venture – suggest new things are in the offing; that new podcasts, new celebrity signings, and next seasons are all part of the medium's renewed sense of looking forward.
I've been with Lee Abrams when the topic of “2Fer Tuesday” has come up. Lee is credited with this once-innovative concept that was spawned early in 1970s AOR radio. The fact that it's still on the air across the country – some 40+ years later – is something Lee's not especially proud of, not to mention what it says about the state of rock radio in 2019.
“Podcast Sundays?” That, in and of itself, is a breath of fresh air.
Thanks for the heads-up, James Cridland.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
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