With more than 50 million downloads in its first year and the honor of iTunes’ “Best Audio Podcast of 2009,” Adam has achieved almost unparalleled success by taking his one-time radio show to an all-digital audience.
So what are Adam’s secrets of digital audio success, and how can you learn from them? The answers are here in truncated form, but I’d encourage you to listen to the audio podcast for the full conversation – including all the funny references to Chuck Heston, Vincent Price, and Tim Allen.
Today I'll feature Part 1 of our conversation, "The Fame." Here we learn how Adam turned a dead radio show into one of the most successful podcasts online. Tomorrow, get ready for Part 2 – "The Money," where we learn how Adam profits from his efforts.
Both parts are here on the audio, so click play or download and get busy.
Adam, your podcast has been incredibly successful. To what do you attribute that?
We had a head start because I had a radio show that got cancelled, so we had a nice built in bunch of orphans that needed a place to take their ears and we gave them a podcast and some of them came along with us.
It’s not all us. It’s really a combination between providing a product that people want to hear and also having an outlet – namely a bunch of radio stations we were on and being pulled off those radio stations and now having a bit of a void for our audience and people finding me on the Internet.
But you’re deep in a lot of different stuff. So this was actually a choice for you; you didn’t have to do this free podcast. What made you decide to do that?
Well, it was the guy who was just calling on the other line, who is a guy I went to high school with.
When I told him it looks like the radio station is flipping and that’s going to be about it for me, he said “You’ve got a podcast.” And I said, “How does that work?” And he said, “I’ll come over to your house, I’ll give you a microphone and I’ll run a little mixer and you can say whatever you want.” And I said, “Alright. Sounds like my kind of broadcasting,”
I’ve always been interested in the opinion part of broadcasting and never really into the nuts and bolt parts of it. I didn’t want to give out the time or break or look at the clock or back-sell a song or do any of that; I just really wanted to spout out about stuff I was interested in.
So for me, the podcasting is all of that and none of the extra stuff that, as you know, goes along with broadcasting.
As you know, a lot of name brand morning talent have left their home bases in the past 12 months for variety of reasons. As I look around, yours is really the only radio career that has transitioned to podcasting. Is it because you’re the only guy who decided to do a podcast on the back end of that station gig?
No, there have been others who have gone from radio or a cancelled radio show into a podcast.
I think as far as a success of a podcast goes, it’s basically – it’s a pretty straightforward equation, I would say:
If you were on the radio and you had a million listeners and you decided to do a podcast, then maybe you take 10% of those people to listen to your podcast. But if you were doing a radio show that had 20,000 listeners and you went and took 10% of that, then now you just have 2,000 people, which is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not going to make waves and people like yourself aren’t going to be talking about it.
I think we started off with a larger pool and were able to take that pool over to the Internet and also through people like yourself and getting awards from iTunes and getting some nice write-ups and some publicity and things like that, we were able to definitely get some stuff going.
But the other thing too is, who else who does a podcast can go on Dancing With The Stars and have Tom Bergeron say at the end of his two-minute bit, “Hey, go to adamcarolla.com.”
So what you’re trying to get at with all this is that all the traditional media assets that have been part of your portfolio have played a large part in making the podcast what it is, which argues for the value of a big radio show and a big television show when you’re trying to create additional content extensions, right?
Yeah, again, it’s really hard to tell what brings ears and eyeballs over to whatever it is you’re doing. It’s really difficult. I mean ultimately, putting out a product that people respond to is the most important aspect of it.
But I’m in a unique position where I can go on The Tonight Show and get a plug, and I can go on Dancing With The Stars, and Jimmy Kimmel and get a plug. And most people who do podcasts just don’t have this kind of opportunity.
As someone who has been radio talent and who works a lot of areas in the entertainment business, what’s your assessment of the role of entertaining talent on the radio in 2010 and the importance of entertaining talent on the radio?
Well, I have a couple of thoughts.
First, it’s kind of like auto manufacturers in that somewhere after World War II, there were probably fifty auto manufacturers in the United States – stuff you have never heard of unless you take a tour of Leno’s warehouse.
And eventually, the way business works is, you start with fifty American car companies but you basically end up with Ford and GM, and Chrysler. It’s gets narrowed down. I think radio is kind of going the same way.
You used to start off with a local guy – every city had their own guy, and then they started syndicating and before you knew it, Rush Limbaugh was in 150 cities, and that’s 149 DJs that are going to be out of a gig. It’s pretty simple math.
A lot of people lament that it’s no different than Target. There was the “Ma and Pa” store on every corner and somehow Target or Home Depot or whatever it is came around and figured out a way to give a product to people that they liked at a price that was cheaper than the “Ma and Pa” place, and next thing you know “Ma and Pa” are out of business. So, I definitely think there is that element of it.
The other element of it is that music stations and radio stations are just realizing it’s cheaper to spin records than it is to pay guys like me to talk. And if they can get the same kind of ratings playing CDs as they can with me talking and they can do it a Hell of a lot cheaper, then it’s going to go that way.
And definitely what has happened with the economy over the last year and a half has really affected radio.
So your first point really chalks up this trend to “progress.” How do you think the audience is going to respond to that? I mean, is the audience going to seek out some of this entertainment benefits that they’ve long received from radio elsewhere?
Well, we’re living in a time I think where people go to the computer for entertainment.
I have only been in radio for about 13 or 14 years, and even during the early stages of my career when we talked about syndicating, I’d hear program directors say, “No New Yorker is going to listen to a guy out of LA” and things like that, even though you find out that for Kevin & Bean in Los Angeles on K-Rock, Bean is in Seattle and Kevin is in Los Angeles, and they’re number 1. It’s fine. That kind of stuff.
You would have been burned as a heretic if you had suggested that stuff in 1996. Do you know what I mean?
I mean things have changed quickly, and the bottom line is this: I feel the audience just wants to hear the voice they want to hear and it doesn‘t really matter if they’re in Seattle or they’re in LA going back to New York or they’re coming through a computer; as long as they can hear that voice tat they want to hear coming through their speakers, then they’ll be fine with it.
Now, what advice would I have for someone who is trying to break into radio these days, I have no idea.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t ask you that question.
Yeah, because I feel like I’m in radio and I can’t get into radio. So I would have no idea what to do if I was out of radio.
Tomorrow, tune in for the rest of my conversation with Adam Carolla – Part 2: The Money. How Adam makes it from podcasting – and the answer may surprise you.