Is this the real future of AM radio?

A friend of mine and frequent contributor to this newsletter, Jay Douglas, has embarked upon a new venture, a series of weekly podcasts targeted to Baby Boomers called “Out Of My Mind.” His shows evoke the spirit of the old “Monitor” weekend program, which was alive and well on the NBC Radio Network for 20 years, from 1955 to 1975. In about 17 minutes, Jay features three or four interview segments that can range from “Wedding Planning For Seniors” to “How to Introduce Live Theater to Your Grandkids.”

Jay—who has done his share of radio along the way—turns out a consistently high quality product from week to week, and it’s growing in popularity. To be sure, he’s not racking up Mark Maron or Adam Corolla numbers quite yet, but he is contributing to the growing pantheon of podcasters who are gaining listeners and attention to the art form. (Check out “Out Of My Mind” at www.thetheaterofyourmind.com.)

You may have noticed that everyone, from Clear Channel to Spotify, is getting into the podcasting business. And this week, as you read on Page 1, the Interactive Advertising Bureau is further legitimizing the upstart startup medium with an upfront showcase. Why? Because, unlike traditional radio, or even our attempts to archive our product, podcasts are discrete, targeted, and available any time. It puts the aural art form back into the 15-minute program business, where radio started decades ago.

Is podcasting a fad of the moment, or destined to become a legitimate medium all its own? For all the hoopla, there are significant issues. For one thing, illogically, it is not that easy to subscribe, download or play a podcast. It involves too many steps, and the steps are not explained very well. There is no reason that listening to a podcast can’t be as easy as turning on a radio.

For another thing, the quality of most podcasts is horrible. The people who tend to get into podcasting are those who think they have something to say, but have no idea how to say it—either from a performance standpoint or from a technical one. The things we take for granted in radio—mic technique, audio quality, editing skills, basic performance abilities—are thought to be unimportant in the world of podcasting. (Dr. Douglas is on a one-man crusade to change this, but it’s tough to address a problem that podcasters refuse to acknowledge.)

Methinks there is definitely an industry in the making here, and that small independent broadcasters should get involved. The big corporate interests have already started to absorb podcasting into their, well, big corporate agendas, but podcasting affords an opportunity for independent voices to gain attention and popularity, and it would be a shame if we lost that, as we have lost it in some measure in commercial radio.

For example, it would be quite easy for your radio operation to encourage and facilitate podcasts around the voices and opinions in your community: simply feature those podcasts on your website and promote them on your radio stations. Who knows? Some of the podcasts may be worthy of air slots as well.

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