We’re very fond of lists. Of course, those of us in radio know how effective they can be, thanks in no small part to Casey Kasem's ultimate list show, “American Top 40.” Whether it’s music channels like MTV and Vh1 or radio countdowns over 3-day weekends, we just cannot get enough of numbered lists.
Time is well aware of penchant for ordered countdowns, which is why debuted their 100 greatest places to visit during the current year. They divide them up into three categories – “To Visit, “To Stay,” “To Eat & Drink.”
You’d think that with all my traveling these past 3+ decades as a radio consultant, I would have dined at, stayed at, or toured at a number of these places. But alas, there were no Marriott Courtyards and California Pizza Kitchens on the list.
But it turns out, there is actually ONE of these “greatest places” that I've managed to visit. And the reason is that it's right square in downtown Detroit.
The Detroit Foundation Hotel is on Time's list, and that should make everyone living in the 313 very happy. It's a new hotel, and as Time's Samantha Cooney writes, it's “proof that Detroit is bouncing back.”
So, what makes the Detroit Foundation Hotel so cool? While the city fathers have torn down way too many beautiful and historic buildings over the last few decades, this hotel is an exception to that rule. Once the home of the Detroit Fire Department, this place has become symbolic of the city's comeback. It is striking, urban, and makes a statement. You can see what the editors of Time were thinking when they added it to their prestigious list.
What Cooney doesn't talk about is an amazing restaurant in the hotel that's become a destination eatery among the scores of other restaurants that have opened downtown in recent years – the Apparatus Room.
And while there are many other unique features of the Detroit Foundation Hotel that are memorable, the one that grabbed my attention has nothing to do with beds, bars, or bathrooms.
It's the street-facing podcast studio available to anyone staying at the hotel who cares to lay down some tracks.
That's right – the “Foundation Studio” calls itself “A Voice For Detroit” – a space that “is all about bringing people together.”
It's equipped with a Shinola Runwell turntable, as well as a Wallace Detroit Guitar (made with wood from the old Detroit Fire Department building).
And of course, the hotel has partnered to produce its own podcast, “A Drink With,” featuring interesting and inspiring people talking about their pathways to success.
This concept isn't a new one. We showcased PRX's “Podcast Garage” in our “Radio's Most Innovative Series” a couple years back. It's located in the Boston area, and it's a space where anyone with an idea can create their own self-styled audio on-demand content.
But this is a hotel we're talking about. And one that understands its role in an up-and-coming, vibrant city with an attitude.
In an odd way, it reminded me of WGN's famous “Showcase Studio” in the Tribune Tower, right in the heart of the Miracle Mile on Michigan Avenue. Every time, I visited the Windy City, I made it a point to stop by to see if I could get a glimpse of local radio being made right before your very eyes.
In recent years, some of those visits grew frustrating because the studio was empty during periods of syndicated or pre-recorded programming. An empty air studio is a desolate place to see.
I was in Chicago a few weeks ago, and walked by the iconic building, but WGN has moved out, and the “Showcase Studio” that millions strolled by every year in all seasons is dark and dusty. While most of Chicago's top stations have moved across the river into spacious, beautiful office buildings fit for major market clusters, none (that I'm aware of) is broadcasting from a high-traffic location like Tribune Tower….or the Detroit Foundation Hotel.
It's interesting how the hotel's owners grasp the importance of community and providing that sense of place we talked about in yesterday's post. Interestingly, most of the people who make reservations at the Foundation Hotel aren't from Detroit. So, it's especially important to give visitors the flavor of the city and its people.
It seems more than a little ironic that at about the same time WGN shut down its iconic street-facing broadcast studio, the Foundation Hotel unveiled their street-facing podcast studio. It does feel a bit like the passing of the baton.
But there's another key difference.
WGN's “Showcase Studio” was never about audience participation. You peered inside the glass at announcers in much the same way you visited the Lincoln Park Zoo – as an outside observer at a safe distance. Chicago pedestrians weren't allowed to walk into that studio and make radio – they could only observe the professionals doing it.
On the other hand, Detroit ‘s “Foundation Studio” is all about participation and integration with the community. You can stare at it from Washington Boulevard – or you can book some time and make a little audio magic of your own.
And that highlights one of the many differences between broadcasting and podcasting. The former continues to be controlled by “gatekeepers” – companies that have been granted a license to operate their radio stations on assigned frequencies. The latter is more egalitarian – a medium in which virtually anyone can participate. And it's concepts like PRX's “Garage” and the Detroit Foundation Hotel's cool new studio that showcase the unique accessibility of the podcasting medium.
It is also about creating experiences. For too many years, radio has failed to deal the audience into what it's like to walk into the studio and see, feel, and touch the electricity that is radio.
In podcasting, that electricity is available to anyone who wants to experience that energy and magic.
And in an interesting side-note, the CEO of the Aparium Group, the company that owns the Detroit Foundation Hotel is Mario Tricoci. Where are they based? Downtown Chicago, less than two miles away from the Tribune Tower.
There's still plenty of time in 2018 to visit a number of Time's “greatest places,” including a stop at the Detroit Foundation Hotel.
You'll have a great stay, a wonderful meal, and you may just record a winning podcast.
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.