Podcasters have been fighting for their share of respectability in the audio marketplace for more than a decade – with mixed results. While many media pundits (myself included) believe audio on-demand programming could be “the next big thing,” growth has been slow. We discussed the large share of “podcast nevers” – those who never listen to podcasts – earlier this month in a blog post. Many people simply have not connected with podcasts for myriad reasons.
While technical issues provide part of the explanation why podcasting still hasn't taken flight, there are clearly content and style issues holding the medium back. That was very apparent on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend when they presented “The Poddy Awards,” the podcasting version of the Oscars.
Below is that new skit, a spot-on parody of many in the podcasting community that might serve as an early warning to iHeartRadio's first annual live “Podcast Award Show” in L.A. this January about what not to do.
It depicted a podcasting system that is self-indulgent, tedious, cliché, and unprofessional in a skit that was reminiscent of the “Schweddy Balls” send-up of public radio/NPR way back in 1998. The bit featured the owner of Seasons Eatings – Pete Schweddy (brilliantly played by Alec Baldwin) – whose business model is the production of spherically shaped treats, “Schweddy Balls.” Pete was interviewed on NPR's “The Delicious Dish” by hosts Margaret Jo McCullen (Ana Gastemeyer) and Teri Rialto (Molly Shannon) 22 years ago this weekend.
That bit depicted public radio in much the same way “The Poddys” sent up podcasting last weekend. To get a better idea of how perceptions can shape reality, I caught up with Pete Schweddy, who was kind enough to step away from his busy Seasons Eatings store where he makes and bakes ball-shaped treats from meat, cake, and candy to participate in our five question “Guest List” series.
Jacobs Media: Pete, since you were last seen on “SNL,” Seasons Eatings has become an e-commerce powerhouse. What stimulated you to branch out to selling your balls online?
Pete Schweddy: You have to fish where the fish are, Fred. And in this case, I followed the bouncing balls to cyberspace. Just like NPR has embraced technology – from podcasting to mobile to Alexa – in the past two decades, we've had to roll with the changes here at the home of the iconic Schwedddy Balls.
JM: Tell us about your new podcast, “Balls R Us.”
PS: To be honest with you, I didn't know much about podcasting because of my singular focus on making tasty treats. But by hiring a couple of former radio guys to write and produce the podcast, I think we've got a product that is very different from the typical droning, rambling, and poorly sounding podcast. And that's one of the secrets to successfully producing a podcast. No double-entendres, hidden meaning, inside humor – just straight talk about my balls and other holiday goodies.
JM: NPR has made incredible progress since the controversial cancellation of “The Delicious Dish.” How do you think they've been able to transform themselves?
PS: Well, they obviously watched our “SNL” skit carefully, making note of our spot-on public radio parody. By not taking themselves too seriously and becoming more relevant to younger generations, they've modernized their product without losing any credibility. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I miss Margaret Jo and Teri, but their careers took an upturn when they left public radio to work in the vibrant human resources industry.
Since then, NPR and many public radio stations have upgraded with exceptional talent who are not only smart, but are entertaining storytellers. Kai Ryssdal, Joshua Johnson, Ari Shapiro, Noel King, Ophira Eisesnberg, and many others are part of the “new guard” of public radio. I'm a P1.
JM: Some say “The Poddy Awards” could set the podcasting industry back a decade. What's your take?
PS: That could be the case, but only if podcasters don't pick up the message in the skit. The sheer number of podcasts – isn't it something like 3 billion? – makes it tough for consumers to find the good stuff. Podcasters need to step it up – the pace, the energy, and the relevance. That's been our spherical secret here at Seasons Eatings.
JM: Any other advice to podcasters who may be a bit depressed today since “The Poddy Awards” has gone viral?
PS: You've got to go balls out, our favorite phrase here at Seasons Eatings. Whether you're making dessert delectables or bite-size audio content, your mission at all times should be to enchant, entertain, and respect the consumer's time. That's what we call the Schweddy Secret.
So, as I was writing this blog post yesterday morning, Steve Goldstein's “Blogstein” covered the same topic, but in a different and smart way. His post is linked here.
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.