When Apple released their Top 20 podcasts of 2017 last week, there was only one commercial radio show on the list, and it was lodged right up near the top at number 4. Unlike public radio, which dominates the podcast charts, winners from commercial radio have been elusive. Except for this one. This is the story of how one syndicated radio show vaulted to the top of the podcast charts.
In a sea of right wing talk radio, Dave Ramsey’s daily 3-hour show stands out for what it is not – it’s not about politics. It is a caller-driven show which most often revolves around money and personal finance. Ramsey is known for consistent and solid advice for getting ordinary Americans out of debt by cutting up credit cards or selling the car they can’t afford.
I have been to the Ramsey Solutions sprawling office campus just outside of Nashville. There are 650 team members creating content of all types which include 11 best-selling books, Financial Peace University attended by more than 4.5 million people, a high school and college curriculum currently offered in 16,000 high schools and educational institutions, and the list rolls on.
At the core of Ramsey’s success is a highly successful radio show and now, podcast.
I spoke with Dave’s SVP of Media, Brian Mayfield, about the success of the podcast.
Steve: Congratulations on the big win.
Brian: Thank you so much; we are humbled and incredibly excited.
Steve: How many downloads per month gets you to the #4 slot on the Apple chart for 2017?
Brian: Around 10 million downloads per month. It’s a three hour show and so we produce three individual hours for podcast each day. This translates to 15 individual podcasts per week.
Steve: What’s the difference between the over-the-air audience and the podcast audience?
Brian: The terrestrial broadcast of The Dave Ramsey Show has a 50/50 male to female split, with an average age of 47 - a little younger than the national average for talk radio. Our podcast, however, tends to skew heavier male – with a 60/40 split. The income level increases dramatically, with the average age decreasing to 37.
Steve: That’s a big difference age-wise. With the success of the podcast, what's been the impact on the radio show ratings? Any cannibalization?
Brian: We just completed a listener survey of our audience with a sample size of 116,000 listeners. I can confidently say there has been no negative impact on our radio audience. In this year alone, we've increased our radio audience by more than a million listeners while our podcast continues to grow.
Steve: Are the podcast listeners former radio listeners or new to the show?
Brian: According to our research they are not the same listener. 85% of our radio show listeners don't listen to podcasts. Conversely, when we questioned our podcast listeners, we found 85% percent do not listen to the show on the radio – it’s a completely different audience.
Steve: Why do you think this show has done so well in podcasting?
Brian: It’s the content. We teach people how to get out of debt, get on a budget and live on less than they make. In an on-demand environment where people are searching for answers on money, Dave is the authority. This kind of advice resonates with every demographic. Part of our show’s success is that the audience consistently regenerates itself.
Steve: So, its actionable content for a younger demo?
Brian: It's on-demand, meaning the listener is coming to us. It differs from radio, however, where a listener tends to be more passive.
Steve: When do you post the podcast?
Brian: It posts daily, an hour following the show.
.Steve: Let's talk about the money side of it. How do you monetize the podcast?
Brian: We've tested a couple of different initiatives. We started out with one 60-second break in each podcast which was fairly successful. However, we felt in an on-demand environment a 60-second exposure to an ad could have a less than positive effect on the listening experience. So we adjusted to two 30-second spots within each hour.
"A limited supply of ad space increases the value of the ad as well as the quality of the program"
Steve: So only two spots for each podcast download, which runs about 40 minutes?
Brian: Correct. There's no need to over commercialize. The listener is there for the content, not the commercial. A limited supply of ad space increases the value of the ad as well as the quality of the program. We have never taken the route of Direct Response advertising, so we don't need to increase the spot load to achieve revenue goals.
Steve: Are there different advertisers than the over-the-air advertisers?
Brian: It's a healthy mix, about 50/50, which is exciting in that it has opened up a completely new revenue stream. We also have the power of the Dave Ramsey endorsement which allows the ad to flow like content within the program.
Steve: What percent of the spots would you say are Dave endorsements versus other types of recorded spots?
Brian: Ninety percent.
Steve: Are you considering more ads in a podcast?
Brian: No, we have found our lane and are happy with the success. My focus is on growing the audience which will grow the revenue. Our commitment is to the listener, not the necessarily the advertiser. Success comes from finding the right advertisers, who when exposed to our listenership, see immediate success through an on-brand connection. I have found over many years in the advertising business that delivering positive results for the advertiser trumps ratings every time.
Steve: All of the advertising is sold by your own staff, not a podcast network?
Brian: Yes. Our media team manages all aspects relating to syndication of the radio show, development and distribution of digital products, affiliate relations, marketing and national sales of The Dave Ramsey Show.
Steve: What about other podcasts?
Brian: As Ramsey Solutions continues to grow, so does our goal of distributing additional content outside of Dave. We have a team of individual personalities that do a phenomenal job with this. Rachel Cruze, Dave’s daughter, has two best-selling books and is a regular contributor on shows like Good Morning America, Rachel Ray, FOX News, and more. Chris Hogan is a recognized expert in the retirement space. He hosts his own successful podcast, is a national best-selling author, and is a regular contributor on FOX News as well. We've just launched the Ken Coleman show on the Ramsey Network on Sirius/XM, which is also repurposed into a podcast. Christie Wright speaks to thousands of women through Live Events via her own Podcast and Video blogs, and has a best-selling book. Chris Brown is the host of his own podcast titled Life, Money, Hope.
“The one thing I can promise you is, if you do nothing, nothing new will happen.”
Steve: What’s your advice to radio people who have been hesitant to get into podcasting?
Brian: Don't be afraid to try something new. We continue to grow our radio audience and we continue to grow our digital audience. When you have the right kind of content people will find it. In the digital world, they will actively seek it out. Don't be afraid to try new things in a different space or concept. We found that the digital world is completely different from the terrestrial radio world, but it is an important extension to our brand. The one thing I can promise you is, if you do nothing, nothing new will happen.
Steve: How are people discovering and learning about the podcast?
Brian: We have our own marketing team focused on digital audience growth. The podcast community loves to share good podcasts with one another and we have been blessed to grow that way. And we are consistently listed in the weekly "Top Podcasts" on Apple.
Steve: Where to next?
Brian: I want to continue to grow not only the terrestrial audience but have a goal of doubling our total digital audience in 2018 which includes podcasts, online video channel, iHeart Radio show, and digital stream. There is a huge audience seeking content and we want to meet them where they are.
Brian is right; take great content and meet the audience where they are. That's the mantra.