On-air talent in the radio space is a lot like pro sports. The truly greats are few and far between.
And everyone's trying to work up the rungs of the ladder – a better daypart, a larger market, more money. And specific career and life goals differ in some cases wildly from talent to talent.
We quantified the aspirations and goals of on-air radio pros (and producers) twice in our AQ studies in partnership with Morning Show Boot Camp. In 2018 and again in 2019, we surveyed air talent in the U.S. – and they came out in droves to let us know their thinking. Each study attracted more than 1,000 responses – robust turnouts that helped us better understand the talent mindset.
And what do air personalities in America aspire to – what's in it for them?
Many found this chart eye-opening. Environment, a great working situation, and success in their current market was the top choice. Bigger goals – syndication, larger markets, and a morning show paled by comparison.
We will be launching a third wave of these studies early this summer – in time for Boot Camp in Chicago in mid-August. And you have to wonder whether the combination of more downsizing and COVID will alter the hierarchy of aspirations.
At the highest levels, those goals appear to be more malleable, especially when talent realizes the sky's the limit in the building of their brands – and possibly their empires.
Podcasting king Joe Rogan is a good case in point. When the hordes of podcasters get melancholy about why their shows aren't doing so well, Rogan might provide some inspiration.
Exactly one year ago, he cut the biggest podcast deal ever with Spotify, reportedly for $100 million for an unknown number of years. The Joe Rogan Experience is free to all Spotify users (roughly 155 million premium subscribers). Previously, Rogan's content was available to a much larger audience on YouTube.
But $100 million is well, a lot of money.
Did Rogan give up anything else?
Statista's Martin Armstrong suggests there may have been a tradeoff – that less reach (in radio parlance, cume) translates to less influence. In a recent story aptly titled “Is Joe Rogan's Spotify's Exclusivity Damaging His Relevance,” he makes his case.
Armstrong turned to TecTalk who reports that search traffic for “Joe Rogan” (and related searches) has dropped precipitously since the Spotify deal began. Here's the way Statista tracked the Google Search data:
There are many possible reasons for this apparent drop-0ff. Among them, the removal of Rogan videos from YouTube, which has a much higher reach. Many Rogan fans were initially upset about the move, supposedly threatening to never listen again.
There's Spotify's policy of not publishing comments for their stable of podcasts – a move Rogan has actively pushed back on. Finally, there's Rogan's well-publicized stance on the COVID vaccines for young people. He questions their validity:
Spotify’s Joe Rogan encourages “healthy” young people not to get a coronavirus vaccine. His show is Spotify's most popular podcast.
“If you're like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I'll go no.” pic.twitter.com/5dX98xUaHS
— Alex Paterson (@AlexPattyy) April 27, 2021
Whether Rogan's reputation is truly getting dinged by any of these factors is unknown. And it all may be much ado about nothing.
But accepting a smaller audience for a larger paycheck is the question that many air personalities and podcasting might be weighing.
And there's precedence for Rogan's move – namely, Howard Stern's departure from his syndicated show that was being broadcast on 60 terrestrial stations, drawing an audience of 20 million fans.
But not just any listeners. The Stern show was on the air in New York, L.A., Philly, D.C. and other major markets during its two decade syndication run.
Was Stern's influence dampened when he left the broadcast airwaves for Sirius' much smaller subscriber base – especially 15 years ago? Likely so.
Anecdotally, the volume of “Did you hear what Howard said this morning?” seemed to diminish when he became a satellite-delivered show. Over the past 15 years, his presence on Sirius has been formidable, helping the platform to grow subscribers – and attention.
When Howard defected to Sirius in 2006, the circumstances appeared similar to Rogan's move to Spotify last year.
With a key exception. For years, Stern and owners Infinity and CBS were being hounded by the FCC over content issues. This may have reached a zenith during the Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake kerfuffle at the Super Bowl in 2004. Did that “wardrobe malfunction” on network television influence Stern to seek shelter – and a large contract – from Sirius?
It couldn't have hurt. Like many radio personalities of that era, Howard was often under attack by various interest groups, no-Stern advertiser lists were well-known, and the environment was tenuous. And Stern was the poster boy for these shows.
We appear to be at an inflection point in broadcast radio. That now well-known finding from our newest Techsurvey, suggesting the appeal of personalities is eclipsing music as a driver for listenership has rightfully generated a great deal of attention.
After all, any radio station can play Justin Timberlake or Janet Jackson songs.
But Howard Stern can only be heard on Sirius.
And Joe Rogan can only be found on Spotify.
Each is paid a lot of money. But how can you put a price on the value of proprietary content?
Salary vs. search.
Cash vs. cume.
Riches vs. relevance.
Perhaps, those are the questions.
Thanks to Lori Lewis for inspiring today's blog post.
Stay tuned for details on AQ3, the next chapter in our research studies of air talent in collaboration with Morning Show Boot Camp. Info here.