From Broadcaster To Podcaster

This post originally ran as a part of my AM/FM/PODCAST column in All Access

Mike Carruthers had a syndicated radio show for 37 years that faded.  Now he has a breakout top 50 podcast.

For 37 years Mike Carruthers hosted a successful 90 second syndicated radio feature carried by top radio stations of all formats across the country including WBZ Boston, KOMO Seattle, KXLY Spokane, WJRZ, Rochester and WNNC Charlotte, but in recent years, station clearances dropped and subsequently revenue dwindled.

So, after over 9000 episodes, Mike ended the radio show.  And like so many other radio programs, that might have been the end.  However, Mike reinvented the feature, and it is now a top 50 podcast.

I spoke with him about the reinvention of “Something You Should Know:”

Podcasts are different from broadcasts — you have done both.  What are the biggest differences?

The big difference starts at the listener experience. Since a listener proactively choses a podcast, he or she is more invested than a radio listener who listens to whatever happens to be on. So there isn’t as much need to dazzle and keep the listener from leaving because he or she made the appointment in the first place. So as a producer, my focus is on the content – not so much about what’s coming up and giving reasons for listeners to stick around. If the content is good, they’ll stay.

Also, podcasting is more relaxed. I guess because it’s recorded and you can always go back and edit or do it over – and things don’t have to time out perfectly. It’s not as “strict” as radio.  Frankly I think it is more fun to do a podcast. I can be myself and take my time. I really enjoy the freedom.

But there are a lot of similarities which is why I wish more radio people would get into podcasting. 

How does your podcast differ from the radio feature in construction/length?  

The two are very different.

The radio feature is exactly 90 seconds and runs five days a week. The podcast is 30-40 minutes- twice weekly. For the radio show, I find 3 or 4 “nuggets” that the guest says and write my part around it. For the podcast, I use the entire interview with a little editing. Also, the podcast typically contains 2 guests and some other interesting “intel.” The two are very different.

Also, the network commercials in the radio show are sold by United Stations and I never hear them – they are inserted at the distribution point. For the podcast, all the commercials are read by me and are typically endorsement-style commercials.

Why not just take the short form content you have already assembled and put it into podcast form?  

I actually did that. It ran for many years on iTunes. I never really knew what to do with it. All the experts said there was no real market for a 90 second podcast – it is just too short. For people to go to the trouble to download and listen to something that only lasts a minute and a half seemed to be asking a lot. I guess I believed them so I never really tried to do much with it. When I decided to launch the long-form podcast I pulled the short form version from iTunes so there was no confusion. 

Who did the radio show target? Who does the podcast target?

That’s an interesting question – because the real answer, from a producer point of view is, that the radio show targeted program directors and the podcast targets listeners. The only way I could get my radio show heard was to design and produce a radio show that PDs would accept. In the early days that was a lot easier. And in those days we had a lot more music stations so the audience was split 50/50 male and female. We still have a few music stations, but it is harder to attract new affiliates.

The radio show has always been sold to advertisers as primarily a 25-54 program. For the podcast, I am trying to go a little younger. Wondery, the podcast network we are affiliated with, conducted an opt-in survey (so not that scientific) but they found our audience skewed female – and younger than the radio show.

Why did the radio show run out of gas? 

The network radio business just isn’t what it used to be. There is a lot of downward pressure on ad rates and there just isn’t the advertiser demand there once was. It has gotten so hard to acquire new affiliates – and, over time every show loses affiliates. As a result, the audience declines, the revenue declines and it continues to spiral downward. I was making far less than I used to. It is hard to watch the decline when there really isn’t any hope of it coming back. It was time to pull the plug.

People in radio think there is no little or money in podcasting.  It sounds like you would disagree.  

Oh my! There is a lot of money in podcasting and more and more advertisers keep showing up.  For now, it is mostly direct response advertisers – but the cost per thousand rate advertisers pay is MUCH higher in podcasting than radio. There are a lot of people making a lot of money in podcasting. Sure, most people who have a podcast don’t make money but most people with a YouTube channel don’t make money either. If you can attract an audience you can’t help but make money. Anyone who says there is no money in podcasting doesn’t understand the math. 

What does Wondery do for you?  

They do a couple of things really well. Hernan Lopez, the CEO is one of the smartest guys I know when it comes to the business aspects of podcasting. I learn something every time I talk with him. Wondery is very good at selling advertising. They have great relationships with the ad agencies and are constantly developing new ones. In a sense, they work much like a radio network like Westwood One or Premiere. They represent podcasts to advertisers. Also, all the shows under their banner help each other with cross promotion. They have a good relationship with Apple which enables their podcasts to get on the “feature” page on iTunes which is very valuable real estate and drives a lot of new listening.

What kind of traffic/downloads are you getting? 

When we started, I was getting 10 -100 downloads a day. Frankly it was discouraging. But I kept at it – along with the help of my partner Ken Williams who was one of the founders of Dial Global Radio Networks (later Westwood One). He is also one very smart media guy and we kept trying things and experimenting and after about 4 months made onto the Top 100 chart of all podcasts on iTunes. That was a game changer. 

Now, 8 months after launching we’ve gone from 100 downloads a day to an average of over 8,000 downloads a day and our audience has grown by a one-third every month since Dec..

What are the top factors in people discovering your podcast?

Getting on the iTunes chart was the biggest thing. But before we got there, we were just doing the standard promotion with the key being consistency. I can see why people give up on podcasting because it is hard to keep at it on those days when it doesn’t seem like it is working. Having guests promote their appearance on social media has been very helpful. But it isn’t like there is one magic way to promote. It’s doing a lot of little things consistently that grows the audience over time. 

Advice for other long time radio people thinking about podcasting and other platforms?  

There’s a learning curve. While podcasting is similar to radio, there is a lot to learn.  But I certainly think it is worth the effort. With radio talent employment opportunities dwindling, doing a podcast seems like a natural transition for radio people. I have a training program for people who are seriously interested. You can find information at:

Frankly I would love to see more commercial radio people in podcasting. The skills and talents radio people have developed are exactly the ones that so many non-radio podcasters struggle with. For example, the ability to project a personality, to interview and draw people out, to add production value, to use your voice to convey emotion, to be brief and get to the point, etc.

Like many people, I always considered myself a “radio guy.” Radio is all I have ever done since I was 16. But sometimes progress dictates change. I am thankful I found podcasting because it uses the skills and talents I have used for years in radio while allowing me to grow in a whole new medium. 

Congratulations to Mike.  I’m not sure whether it was foresight or necessity that was the driving force, but reinvention is often a necessity in the entertainment business.  And, hey, it’s still audio … in this case, just not emanating from a transmitter.