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Downloads, Not Dollars, Measure Success For Many Radio Podcasters.

Podcasting remains more of a passion project than a personal money-maker for many radio hosts, especially in the current business climate where local broadcasters are focused on rebuilding core revenue rather than focusing on what is still a small part of their billings. That is not discouraging several personalities who told Thursday’s Morning Show Boot Camp that podcasts are allowing them to go beyond the confines of what they’re allowed to do on-air. And listeners are taking notice.

“We just hit a million listens,” said CHR “Hot 99.5” WIHT Washington morning host Intern John, who hosts The Thought Shower podcast with CHR “Z-104.3” WZFT Baltimore host Shelby Sos. With an episode catalog of more than 400 shows, he said they have seen listeners consume older shows once they discover the podcast.

The biggest advantage for local radio hosts is their location, according to Elizabeth Kay, morning host on hot AC “99.1 The Mix” WMYX-FM Milwaukee and host of the female-targeted 50 Shades of Kay podcast. “I did alright when I started, but it wasn’t until I focused on what my audience cares about and really focus on Milwaukee that downloads went up by the thousands,” she said. 

Podcasting has been embraced more by programming than in radio sales offices. The hosts said podcasts aren’t a top priority for local sales teams, especially as broadcasters deal with the impact of the pandemic. 

“There was talk about selling all this but it was flipped on its head with COVID,” said Kay. She said her podcast is monetized from national spots that run on In some cases the podcast is also helping open the door to the radio sales opportunity. Kay said she has had several guests on her podcast that fit with the “Mix” brand that she was able to introduce to a sales rep that was ultimately able to sell them airtime on the station. “I didn’t directly pocket that, but it brought advertising to the radio station,” she said. “But me pocketing directly, we’re still waiting for that to happen.”

Intern John said podcasting is still a new medium for radio and just like hosts, sales teams are still on a learning curve. “Nobody has quite figured it out perfectly yet,” he said. Intern John and Shelby Sos had been scheduled to host their first live-taping event to help monetize their podcast earlier this year, but that was scrapped because of COVID-19. More than just revenue, Intern John said, such events can help sell advertisers on a show. ”When you can show people coming to an event who listen to the podcast – that’s how we were going to try to get more eyeballs on it from the sales standpoint,” he said.

But before the virus changed the world, CHR KDWB-FM Minneapolis (101.3) morning co-host Falen Bonsett said a live event for her break-up focused Heartbroken sold out and made money. “I donated a large portion of it to a domestic abuse charity because it made sense for the podcast to help out,” she said. “But I could see where you could make pretty good money doing that regularly and if you didn’t take a large majority and give it to charity.”

Bonsett said turning a profit from her podcast is less of a focus than connecting with listeners. That has meant downloads, not dollar signs, have counted more. “I didn’t start it to make money, but I started it to help people in some way and so if I saw zero results of that then I think I would have been discouraged,” she said. 

New Rules For New Shows

The number of podcasts now tops 1.6 million and that vast sea of choice is changing the equation as producers devise new shows. “Just doing a podcast will not work any longer,” said Amplifi Media CEO Steve Goldstein. More than ever he said it is critical that a podcast is memorable, not generic. “Indistinguishable is the enemy,” he said. 

One rule that remains is for a host to talk about what they know – or act as a “convener” where they bring together people to talk about a specific issue or topic. Goldstein said determining what the benefit of a podcast is has also become an issue more than in the past. “If you’re going to start a sports podcast today, you better be good because there are just a gazillion of them,” he said. Goldstein also said timing can make a difference. He pointed to True Crime shows, which saw downloads tick lower during the lockdowns earlier this year. But today, that genre has seen a comeback.

For radio groups, Goldstein said the reason many are doing well with the podcasts they have launched is they are willing to use their on-air and social media megaphones to promote shows. “If you launch a podcast without that, you’re not going to be found,” he said.

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