The New Frontier

The year was 1982. I was living in Iowa, my consulting practice was thriving, and I was a year away from taking on the newsletter and two years away from owning my first stations. A fellow named Jerry Yellin was a friend of mine, and he worked for a new business called Dome Systems, which was bringing “the Internet” to Southeast Iowa. He would say to me often, “You really need to check out this Internet thing. It’s going to change the world.” And I would respond every time with something like, “Jerry, I’m too busy returning faxes to worry about this Internet thing.”

But Jerry did convince me to secure the domain name “jaymitchell.com,” even though I had no idea what a domain name was, much less how I would use it. (He also encouraged me to secure “smallmarketradio.com.” Thanks, Jerry, wherever you are.)

Fast-forward to 2017. A fellow named Jay Douglas is a friend of mine– and a contributing editor to this publication—and he’s been doing something called “podcasting” for a year or two now. He would say to me often, “You really need to check out this podcasting thing. It’s going to change the world.” And I would respond every time with something like, “Jay, I’m too busy trying to find stories for the newsletter that don’t involve podcasting.”

That was pretty much my state of mind when I walked into Podcast Movement 2017. I wasn’t skeptical or negative—just ignorant. So many things come and go in the world nowadays that I wondered whether podcasting was actually a thing. (Of course, I boldly predicted that reality television would last a couple of years tops, so I don’t have the best track record when it comes to predicting social phenomena.)

After two and a half days of exposure to this new medium, I get it. With over 400,000 podcasts in the world—and growing—this is a medium that will experience a shakeout, as all new things do, but it is indeed a thing.

What makes this a thing? And, more importantly, what makes this a thing that radio should embrace?

Podcasting fits perfectly into the on-demand world in which we live. For most people, especially those under the age of 35, television is no longer consumed one weekly episode at a time. Thanks to content creators like Netflix and Amazon, programs are made available an entire season at a time, and the newly-invented term “binge watching” describes the way the shows are now consumed.

What such programs are to television, podcasting is to radio. While we continue to enjoy massive Cume—over 96% of Americans over the age of twelve listen to the radio at least a little bit every week—our time spent listening is down, and one of the things fragmenting it is podcasting. And podcasting is one of the few media impinging on our medium that we can easily co-opt and reclaim at least some of those lost hours.

As I walked the halls and the exhibit booths of “PM17,” the people I met were excited to hear that I was in radio. Podcasters—at least the serious ones—understand the genesis of their medium and want to know more about ours. (That’s why the “radio track” was so well-attended.)

In fact, the entire conference crackled with the energy of something new and bright and shiny. People were happy and hopeful, whether podcasters or vendors. Podcasters and vendors alike saw no limit to what they could accomplish in this new media frontier.

Why Should You Care?

As various authors have said repeatedly in the pages of this publication and elsewhere, we have three things that most podcasters would kill for: content, distribution, and promotion. To enter the world of podcasting and to leverage those three things is relatively easy for us, and can pay big dividends.

Let’s take the obvious: repurposing your morning show. Take the best bits or the best conversations and edit them into stand-alone pieces that go up on your website as podcasts to which your listeners can subscribe. (“Subscribing” means that when your listeners give you their email addresses, they receive a notification and a link whenever a new podcast is posted.)

Take a look at your on-air schedule and see what else might be podcastable: Coaches Corner. Last week’s ballgame. Interviews from that community show you probably do to wrap up morning drive.

Then look at your community; you will be amazed at the talent you find there: the town’s historian. The mayor. Someone from each small town surrounding your market doing a weekly news report.

In short, podcasting is a way for you to present to your communities all the features and forums that you don’t have airtime for. And the fun part is, any given podcast does not need to be a home run. No matter how few people listen to any given podcast, it has no negative impact on your listenership; and the mere fact that you have it underscores your commitment to your community.

And here’s the best part: you can find sponsors for each and every podcast you post.

I have become such a believer in the podcast concept that within a week or so we will be launching “The Small Market Radio Podcast.” Details to follow. Contact me for sponsorship opportunities.