Nearly a year ago morning radio host Charlamagne Tha God reached out to iHeartMedia with a big idea. He wanted to form a joint venture podcast network that would showcase Black creators and voices and help address what he saw as a medium that did not reflect America’s diversity. That led to the launch of the Black Effect Podcast Network last fall with a replay of his morning radio show, “The Breakfast Club,” as the network’s flagship podcast.
“I started seeing all these other networks popping up and then I started to see these companies come in and try to get podcasts to go behind a paywall, that’s when I really started to pay attention,” said Charlamagne. “I wasn’t keen to get behind a paywall and I started thinking that you have to have a network. And I wanted a network that was full of diverse Black voices – a network that is for us, by us – that’s just the vision that I had.”
It was his contract renewal last year with iHeartMedia that made it happen. When he inked a new five-year agreement with the broadcaster, Black Effect was part of the package.
The network has launched about 20 podcasts to date, with its roster expected to double by the end of the year. Despite targeting African Americans during a time when social justice issues are at the forefront, Black Effect’s lineup includes a roster of talent whose focus covers a broad spectrum of topics, like comedy, sports, self-help, business and finance, and travel.
“We always say Black people are not monolithic, and we have got to show that. And the way we show that is by this diversity of stuff from Black thought leaders,” said Charlamagne. “I’m into social justice, comedy, sports – these are things that are just natural extensions of me and what I do.”
‘Put Some Black On It’
During a presentation for ad buyers Thursday, iHeartPodcast Network President Conal Byrne said one of the most interesting parts of the Black Effect’s rollout has been advertisers’ reaction. They won support for the typical lineup of ad products, but Byrne said some brands also approached Charlamagne to use Black Effect creators to act as advisors to help them fine-tune their message and marketing plans. “It was something I had never seen before on a media plan, it was true partnership, not just sponsorship,” said Byrne.
Charlamagne said he was open to the unusual request because he felt it could help put Black voices among decision-makers rather than just have executives guess what appealed to the audience. “You have a lot of corporations that have a lot of blind spots and they make a lot of mistakes because they don’t have anybody that’s not White or male sitting at the table,” he said.
For marketers or podcast networks on the fence about diversifying their appeal, Charlamagne thinks there’s an advantage to embracing a “put some Black on it” strategy.
“We control the cool,” he said. “When you put Blackness into anything, there is an immediate cultural impact and shift.”
Seven-Figure ‘Brilliant Idiots’
Long before the Black Effect launched, Charlamagne and Andrew Schulz launched the series The Brilliant Idiots in 2013. Charlamagne credits Chris Morrow, a former weekend producer for “The Breakfast Club,” with convincing him to try podcasting and launching a show on Morrow’s Loud Speaker Podcast Network.
“He would always tell me that I should do a podcast,” recalled Charlamagne, who admitted his ego stopped him from doing one sooner. “I do morning radio in New York – why would I do a podcast,” he remembered thinking. But then he appeared on Loud Speaker’s Combat Jack. “I did it and I got a reaction from it, and I thought maybe there is something to this podcast thing,” he said.
That led him to connect with Schultz, a comedian and a fellow MTV2 staffer, who decided to turn their conversations into a podcast. After their first episode, he knew they were onto something. “We put it out and had 60,000 listens in a week,” said Charlamagne. “We just kept doing them, and next thing we knew we were doing live shows, selling merchandise, and seven years later we have a seven-figure a year business – it’s actually kind of mind-blowing.”
Charlamagne has spent more than two decades in radio, moving from an intern at Cumulus Media’s hip-hop/R&B “Z-93 Jamz” WWWZ Charleston, SC in 1998 to the “Power 105.1” WWPR New York-based “The Breakfast Club.” It was a path that landed him in the Radio Hall of Fame’s class of 2020.
He attributes his Southern upbringing for his hosting talents, crediting his family’s focus on the conversation for teaching him the skills that have come in handy on the radio and in his podcasts. “All we did was sit around and have conversations, which is still one of my favorite things now,” he said.