It is nearly a year since Charlamagne Tha God, also known as Lenard McKelvey, became one of the biggest champions of African American voices in podcasting with the creation of the Black Effect Podcast Network. Launched with a mission to showcase Black-created content ranging from sports to social justice, Charlamagne says he wanted to create a “one stop shop” for things you may not hear on a hip-hop radio station or on a comedy network. Now he is looking to take some of those voices and give them an even larger outlet – broadcast radio.
“What I’m hoping is that we can take some of these podcast personalities and start sprinkling them on radio stations in various markets,” said Charlamagne during the recent Podcast Movement conference. He said his syndicated show “The Breakfast Club” is a rarity since it is allowed to have long-form conversations and interviews, and what led him to that next step is a growing frustration he has with radio.
“Personality is something that has been taken out of radio. That happened years ago. Radio became a jukebox. And what happened with podcasts is it took the greatest attribute that radio produced, which is personalities, and magnified it times one hundred,” Charlamagne said. “I do not understand why radio does not put more resources into building up the personalities on the radio.”
Charlamagne launched Black Effect last September as a joint venture with iHeartMedia. It was a piece of a wider new five-year deal the host inked with iHeart.
“When it came time to do a new contract I didn’t want to come back as a talent, especially in that I have built so many other things outside of radio,” he said. “Wherever I was going to go, I needed some ownerships and some equity.” Rather than producing a slate of shows, it meant the Black Effect would be a standalone unit.
Black Effect President Dollie Bishop thinks creating a separate business has been an important signal to Black creators that the people in charge understand their voice and culture and can tell their story. “It was very important for us to be a standalone company so our partners know that they understand us, and we understand them,” she said.
As they have moved forward to build a network of about 30 shows, Charlamagne said his pitch to creators has been that by working with the advertising “machine” that iHeartMedia has built it will allow them to “maximize” their business.
“A lot of those podcasts were doing great numbers, but I don’t know if they were bringing in the revenue. That’s where iHeart could play a big part,” he said. “I want them to get paid for what they are doing.”
Navigating Brand Safety
Since the Black Effect Podcast Network debuted last year, the focus of advertisers on issues of brand safety has only intensified. One buyer, Ad Results Media, is developing a new metric to present clients trying to steer away from content they are uncomfortable with. But Conal Byrne, CEO of iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, thinks it is not really as cut-and-dry as what words or topics are off-limits.
“You’re really not talking about brand safety, you are talking about what are you culturally comfortable with and that line is really moving a lot these days,” said Byrne. He said PepsiCo and AT&T jumped quickly in to support Black Effect but other advertisers have required more persuasion.
“We’ve been on a journey of trying to get brands to understand the Black voice. That’s what it all boils down to,” explained Bishop. They’ve stuck with that goal, regardless of whether shows are talking about sex, sports, news, law, or comedy. She said that has meant some “very honest and transparent discussions” with brands.
“Everyone is very receptive, but it’s a process,” said Bishop. “We’re on a mission to show the value of the Black voice, no matter what that voice is speaking about.”
Yet Charlamagne said he can’t help but wonder how much a factor race plays in the discussion. “Corporate America has always been comfortable with safe Black people and that’s not what a lot of us are,” he said.
When it comes to advertising, Scott said she and her J.ill the Podcast co-hosts have also embraced the reality they are able to reject some marketers.
“No is a powerful word, we use it quite a bit,” said Scott. “Money is good and we like having the support, but at the same time, not all money is good money.”