At Podcast Movement last week, we had three days worth of sessions to confront the biggest on-demand audio issues. We designed our “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” track to answer many of the questions we heard from so many of you during the course of the year. And we brought together some of the smartest, innovative, and most experienced pros in the space.
To that end, Dave Beasing tackled branded podcasts, Steve Goldstein moderated a great panel about the 360° of voice, and Mignon Fogarty (“Grammar Girl”) dove into what radio broadcasting companies – Federated Media, Corus, Bonneville, and Hubbard – are trying to accomplish in the space.
Seth Resler did his usually fine live aircheck session of two fledgling shows in “Podcast Makeover,” while storyteller extraordinaire, Shannon Cason, explored “What Public Radio Knows That You Don't” with an all-star panel: WFAE's Joni Deutsch, APM's Natalie Jablonski, and PRX's CEO Kerri Hoffman.
I did my best to stay in the room, stay off the phone, pay attention, and learn from our moderators, speakers, and presenters. Our keynotes were especially strong, featuring iHeart's Conal Bryne on Wednesday, followed by the always insightful Eric Nuzum on Thursday.
But the one I really wanted to see was on Friday morning. That's when Paul interviewed NBC/MSNBC's head of audio, Steve Lickteig. In our prep sessions, we got a chance to know Steve. He started in commercial radio, worked his way to public radio and news, and then had a great run at NPR. From there, Slate hired him for its podcasting initiative. And now he's in charge of the podcasts from many well-known names – the likes of Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, Chris Hayes, and Chuck Rosenberg.
And if that's not enough, Steve will be heading up a podcast devoted to the 2020 election – a great example of carpe diem – seizing the moment, and using the power of podcasting to cover an event that most of America will be paying rapt attention to – who will run the show for the next four years?
Steve's in an interesting space – let's call it celebrity podcasting. Many well-known names from motion pictures, politics, comedy, and sports are discovering podcasts – often the missing link in their media portfolios.
From a consumer popularity standpoint, there's no guarantee that a household name will grow into becoming a highly successful podcaster. But it sure doesn't hurt.
In my interview with Conal Byrne, he talked about the comedic brilliance of Will Ferrell, clearly one of iHeart's premiere podcasts. Conal walked us through the story of how this contemporary comic genius took it upon himself to make the circuit of TV talk shows to personally promote his podcast right before it dropped.
For Steve Lickteig, this is his gig – managing celebrities in his midst – in this case, NBC and MSNBC's news department – and determining whose talents and personalities best translate to podcasting.
As we know on the broadcast radio side, many of our “celebrities” – our on-air talent – are loathe to jump into podcasting for any number of reasons. But the chief among them is time – or the lack of it.
We asked about just that in AQ2, our new research study of radio air talent. And it turned out that while about one-third of commercial radio DJs and hosts are already podcasting, nearly half say they don't have the time. And one in ten tells they're clueless about podcasting, while another one in ten just doesn't understand why they would be podcasting in the first place.
That's not how it's working in TV news. When Paul asked how he cajoles talent into diving into podcasting, Steve surprisingly responded that NBC/MSNBC talent are lined up with audio on-demand concepts.
Lickteig added that the reporters and anchors involved in podcasting are gladly working overtime on these audio productions, often after hours or while they're on the road.
Perhaps these TV news stars realize that podcasting provides them the opportunity to forge new paths of expression, getting them out from behind the desk or doing standups in the field – both of which are time pressurized. With podcasts, an entirely different side of their personalities comes out, allowing them a chance to express themselves in new and different ways.
The host of MSNBC's “All In,” Chris Hayes, is a case in point. Hayes's podcast – “Why Is This Happening?” – affords him the chance to take deeper dives into topics that move him. He views this extracurricular on-demand show as a fun, challenging enterprise, exposing him to an extended audience. He's taken the podcast to theaters in front of a live audience, giving him a more personal relationship with the audience than TV provides.
Similarly, Chuck Rosenberg is an MSNBC expert who served in the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the D.E.A. His podcast – “The Oath” – is a clever idea (yes, he came up with it). It focuses on conversations with former officials from the highest levels of government service. Rosenberg explores why they got into public service, as well as “what keeps them up at night.”
And then there's Chuck Todd. He already works a 6-day week, hosting NBC's iconic “Meet the Press” on Sunday mornings, as well as an afternoon version, “MTP Daily,” that runs Monday through Friday.
Yet, he somehow has the time to produce and host the “Chuck ToddCast.”
There's no “podfading” at NBC or MSNBC. Lickteig's job is to ensure his podcasts are well-conceived and can go the distance. His talent is nothing short of enthusiastic about this outlet, to a point where they happily promote theirs and other colleague-produced podcasts, often spontaneously, during crossovers, and in other media.
And if you're thinking Lickteig has an entire floor at “Black Rock,” an army of producers, and unlimited financial resources, think again. His entire staff consists of just five people – including himself. That forces him to pick and choose wisely and judiciously, especially because the network brass is still trying to get a feel for the medium. Just like us.
But make no mistake about it – these TV celebrities at NBC/MSNBC (and you have to believe this is likely the case at other television networks) are enamored with the possibilities presented by audio.
In podcasting, we're learning as the platform matures. What works? Who are they key players who can thrive in the space? How can we use this exciting medium of audio to expand, grow, inform, and entertain?
On the radio side, our experience has been much different. While there are a number of go-getters – jocks and talent like Shannon Hernandez, GregR, BJ & Migs, Tom Barnard, and Elizabeth Kay (you have to love “50 Shades of Kay”) – many others as our AQ2 data inform us are not engaged.
It's a missed opportunity. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Steve Lickteig referred to the current state of podcasting as the “Second Wild West.” And Eric Nuzum reminded “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” attendees that podcasting is still a nascent platform, suffering from a “Wow Lag” – it's been a long time since we've heard about a totally amazing podcast.
And that's why executives from the biggest podcasting companies have become like A&R guys. Outfits like Wondery, PodcastOne, NPR, Cadence 13, Midroll, and of course, iHeartPodcasts are all trying to find the next great celebrity podcaster.
She may be hanging out in your jock lounge.
That's because podcasting is the ultimate democratized medium. Its doors are open t0 radio broadcasters of all stripes – whether you've got the support from your organization or your boss thinks podcasting is a gigundous waste of time; whether you're the morning team leader or you voicetrack nights.
In every case, on-air talent have a tremendous opportunity to step out, step up, and rise above the “PPM Rules,” where breaks longer than a minute are verboten.
The “celebrities” on your airstaff have an opportunity to take their audiences backstage, to a show a side of themselves we never get to see, and to authentically tell us who they really are.
If they have the time.
We're presenting a free webinar of our AQ2 talent-on-talent research study, Wednesday, September 4th at 2pm ET.