From Tom Webster, more warnings for the podcasting industry based on broadcast radio’s travails

This week,  SoundsProfitable‘s Tom Webster posted the second half of an essay describing warnings he sees for the podcasting industry based on mistakes he perceives that broadcast radio has made.

(Click here for RAIN’s coverage of part one.)

Webster writes, “Last week, I talked about some of the ‘horrible warnings’ that podcasting can heed from commercial radio’s worst mistakes, including spotloads, talent development, and (my favorite) allowing the press to paint the industry with one brush based on the actions of a few.

“That’s three hopefully useful lessons, but I promised seven, and I am good at math. So, here we go with Part Two!”

4. Never Be Content With Content

After describing his experiences working with big content research (e.g., music tests) at New York’s Z-100 and elsewhere, he writes, “Today, it’s funny to me when I hear the uninitiated complain about radio sounding ‘too researched.’…  Radio in 2022 has never been less researched. I am sure you could pick apart a correlation graph between overall quarter hours of listening per market with the the amount spent on content research in those markets…but there is nonetheless a relationship there.

“Radio stopped doing this research at any kind of scale years ago, and there is no doubt that the product has suffered — especially with younger listeners (more on that later).

“But if podcasting wants to continue to grow, it can’t ignore content research forever… I don’t think podcasting has screwed this up, per se, but I will say that when no one is doing this kind of research, the first “players to do it in any medium win big, and win quickly. I’ve seen it in every other medium. And I hope I see it in podcasting.”

5. No One Will Thank You For Killing Their Joy

The other New York success story I worked on, WKTU,” Webster writes, “became one of the most successful radio launches in the history of the medium.”  But he notes that when the new dance format displaced its previous country format — although WYNY was only 25th in NYC ratings, it nonetheless had the largest audience of any country radio station in the world — hundreds of thousands of fans of country music were disenfranchised and disappointed.

“The only thing WKTU did for country fans in New York was create ill will.”

“I think about this a lot in the context of podcasting. In particular, I was reminded of this when a bunch of Gimlet and Parcast shows were canceled by Spotify…  What I hope is that going forward the podcast industry recognizes just how precious existing listeners are. When those difficult decisions about a show have to be made, something is going to happen to those existing listeners, and publishers can do a lot more not just to cross-promote the next thing, but actually attempt to communicate with them, and win them over anew. I like to think about the title of a Snow Patrol song here: what if this is all the love you’ll ever get?

6. You Don’t Start Smoking At 30

Webster continues, “Radio is still holding its own with adults 45 and particularly 55+ in this country. And, by the way, I expect that to continue for a while. Radio has largely punted 13-34s, but does a pretty good job satisfying older audiences who are looking largely to radio for a lean-back, utility mood service.

“The problem, though, is that father time is undefeated (ask 2022 Tom Brady). Eventually those 55 year olds age out of radio’s sales data, and those 25-year-olds turn 35. Some people in the industry think that those younger people will ‘age into’ radio as commutes and families and careers grind them down into more passive media consumers. But I don’t think so…

“I worry about the 13-29 age group in podcasting… VERY few publishers have cracked the code on teens and young adults, but we need to. We can’t assume they will just graduate from YouTube to This American Life once they hit 35. Podcasting has the talent to make hits here. We just need to invest and take a risk.”

7. Never Forget Joey Bag-o-Donuts

“Finally, this touches on something I wrote just a couple of weeks ago: podcasting doesn’t do a great job marketing podcasting except on other podcasts. This, too, is something the radio industry can provide us with a horrible warning about.

“Radio does still buy some outdoor advertising,… But I also miss radio marketing itself on local TV. I miss “Joey Bag-o-Donuts,” who countless radio stations used to use for local TV branding and imaging. I first saw these spots for Chicago’s WLUP, and they were unforgettable.

“When radio stopped doing this, it lost a fair amount of its personality and branding power and became diminished. Podcasting has an enormous opportunity here to market itself to new audiences. In the case of radio, an industry designed around selling the power of advertising to sponsors didn’t take its own medicine. If we believe advertising works, then maybe we should try some.”

Read the full part 2 of Webster’s essay here.

Kurt Hanson