It’s not news that our society and media love to build things up and then tear them down. The latest example is the This American Life produced podcast “Serial.” As the final episode of season one is about to post, there is a ripple in the force of “Serial’s” success.
“Serial” captured magic in a bottle. It’s a podcast that investigates a 15-year old murder case and the conviction of Adnan Sayed. Millions are listening, some even waiting in anticipation for its weekly Thursday release. Personally, I’m a fan. In my house, it was a topic of conversation at Thanksgiving with friends, fodder for the weekly Skype call with the in-laws, weekly hypothesizing with radio clients in Cape Town, Los Angeles and Ithaca and one night my wife and I chose Serial over TV and listened together. It’s even beginning to influence the way I’m telling stories and using audio on my podcast Radio Stuff.
The Deal with Ramsey
Despite the early positive press, my own tongue-wagging, the very successful season two fundraiser, and the ever-growing audience for the show there are some in the media who seem to want it to go away now or pretend it’s no big deal.
I’m not sure why.
Mark Ramsey of Mark Ramsey Media is one of them. He dismisses it as “overrated” on his Facebook page with a link to an article by Variety. I rebutted in the comments of his post suggesting his comment was shortsighted and he encouraged me to read the article and listen to his podcast. I’ve done that now. It inspired this post.
The Case Against “Serial”
“The podcast is really no more or less engrossing than the countless other true whodunits common all over movies and TV. Even an average episode of a relatively low-profile TV staple like NBC newsmagazine “Dateline” routinely features cases like Syed’s; you could even argue recreating these crimes for TV is a more sophisticated form of storytelling.”
Variety criticizes “Serial” for being unoriginal and using tried and true storytelling methods. And then later declares “Serial” irrelevant to the success of future podcasts, because it’s too unique and difficult to recreate. Oh, and there’s more.
“The problem with “Serial’s” success is that it won’t represent an inflection point for podcasts for one simple reason: Even if the hype for this show grows to a level where it brings podcasts exposure to a new audience segment perhaps even more sizable than that of current core podcast devotees, there’s little else like “Serial” for this wave to listen to that will keep them around to sample more content.”
In their podcast “Media Unplugged,” Mark Ramsey and Tom Asacker decided to rebuke one article’s claim that on the heels of “Serial’s” success this is the golden age of podcasting. Here are some of their arguments. (My comments are italicized and in parenthesis.)
- “I was met with a splash page asking for donations to fund a second season.” (Crowd sourcing worked! Not sure why that is a negative. If pop ads bother you I might suggest exiting the internet altogether.)
- “Only 15% of Americans are listening to podcasts, it’s not a dramatic change from before “Serial.”” (That’s 47 million people and growing. The golden age of TV was the late 1940’s and 50’s but there are far more people watching TV today than then. This seems irrelevant to “Serial’s” success or the argument against being a golden age of podcasts.)
- “Being #1 on iTunes doesn’t mean it’s popular. The iTunes ranker is not a reflection of popularity it’s an algorithm – momentum and comments rather than raw popularity. Plus, the iTunes ranker is not the sum total of podcast consumption.” (For some reason this seems like a personal issue with Ramsey. I’m guessing if “Media Unplugged” became #1 on iTunes he wouldn’t parse popularity versus momentum and comments, which also seem like perfectly fine factors of popularity.)
- “”Serial” has 18 million exposures less than an average episode of NCIS on CBS.” (NCIS is the #1 drama on TV. “Dateline,” which is probably more appropriate to compare, maxes out at 7 million viewers. But, since when are we judging radio/audio content success versus TV? We never have. It’s a ridiculous comparison.)
- “There is an orgins story to this podcast: This American Life launched it. It’s a platform and all these distribution points called public radio stations.” (So, this is the old “don’t try this at home, kids” warning. I think most smart people in the radio/audio space realize the impact that had, but that shouldn’t keep them from trying or also launching podcasts on the backs of established brands)
- “They used the “what happens next” method of storytelling, the genre “murder mystery” is as old as Agatha Christie, and the style as old as Dickens. Somehow in the world of podcasts it’s fresh.” (Excellent. We should be using every trick in the book. There’s no need to recreate the wheel. Good storytelling is good storytelling.)
- “Most podcasts are like most blogs, most books, and most music; if they’re hitting maybe tens of thousands of downloads then they are lucky.” (This only further proves the growing success of podcasts. Two years ago experts like Mark and Tom wouldn’t have uttered podcasts and blogs in the same sentence as books and music. Now they’re putting them on equal ground. Either books and music have failed horribly or podcasts have risen in the ranks.)
The Opposite of Prosecution
Maybe I’m a glass half-full guy, but “Serial” makes me excited. And not just for podcasting, but for radio. I can hear a whole new wave of personal journalism on news-talk radio stations right around the corner. I can imagine newscasts with that familiar, intimate tone, personal asides and anecdotes (or “folksy” as Variety called it) that sucks you into the “Serial” narrative.
As a news-talk PD I was passionate and supportive of enterprise reporting and in-depth investigations and I believe “Serial” has cleared the way for commercial radio stations to move forward in that direction with gusto. Yes, there’s a risk it won’t work. Which means there’s a chance it will work. Go for it.
The model of launching a podcast off the success of a radio show is one that any radio station in the country could duplicate with varying degrees of success depending on the strength of the brands involved. You could also launch podcasts off of non-media brands or TV partners or local celebrities. Be creative. Use this as an idea starter.
I’m not sure why it’s a negative to borrow successful story-telling techniques. Regardless if it’s from CBS, Agatha Christie or Dickens, it all seems like good company to keep. Look at cable news. They built 90% of their programming on the models talk radio created. I guess my point is sometimes we get so concerned with being original and unique or “innovative” that we forget about “cultivation” and “ideation” which allows you gather all available assets, ideas and thoughts and repurpose them to greater success. We should do more of this.
And finally, with all due respect to the naysayers, I think anytime any audio content captures the imagination of people or the media, we should celebrate it. Far too often radio and audio creators crossover onto print, digital and TV for all the wrong reasons. “Serial” seems like just the lightning rod our industry needed to regain our swagger and expand our personal definitions of what’s possible in this space as it pertains to content creation, monetization and our definitions of success.
Every talent in every market at every radio station around the world wants to be great. If you already are great, congratulations! For everyone else who wants to improve, whether it’s a tune-up, a swift kick in the ass, or some words of encouragement and direction I’ve got something for you.
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How do you quit your radio gig? It’s a multifaceted question. With so much competition in the industry and jobs being eliminated, how COULD you quit your job? But the question posed to me recently by a client of mine was HOW do I quit my job? It’s not a question I get very often, but it makes sense. If radio stations can fire you, why can’t you fire your radio station?
I have a lot of experience with this. I’ve never been fired. I’ve left every radio job on my own terms. If you believe the adage, “you’re not really in radio until you’ve been fired,” I guess I’ve never been in radio.
There are many reasons to quit your radio job; maybe you have a new gig, maybe they’re changing the scope of your responsibilities beyond what you’re comfortable with, maybe your boss is an incompetent fool who is holding back the radio station, maybe… a lot of different things. Regardless of how well or horribly you’ve been treated, regardless of how happy you may or may not be, regardless of what’s coming next for you, here are my suggestions for quitting your job.
1. Do not make the decision in the heat of a moment. Sleep on it. Maybe let it be for a couple of weeks and see if you feel the same way. This is a business decision not a personal reaction. I know many people who have quit in the heat of of the moment saying, “Let’s see how well they do without me!” And the station moves on and forgets about them pretty quickly.
2. Be sure your mindset is that you are going towards something new and not just escaping from your current predicament.
3. Do not quit your job without either a new job lined up or 6 to 9 months of expenses saved in the bank.
4. Take time in advance of your resignation to begin to gather any work emails, documents, or show recordings from the station. You’ll want to have these in your personal possession before resigning, because they may not allow you to hang around once you quit.
5. Write a brief and gratitude filled letter of resignation with your exact last day of employment written down. Do not use this to rant about all the things wrong with the station. This is not your Jerry Maguire moment.
6. To be in good standing with the company and your peers and bosses in the future give at least two weeks advance notice.
7. Call a meeting with your manager or direct supervisor. Arrive with the note, hand-signed, and calmly and professionally explain your decision to resign. At the end of the meeting you can hand over your resignation letter for the Human Resources department.
8. Whenever discussing the situation with colleagues, peers and acquaintances be professional. It is certainly cathartic to make it personal, but it will come back to bite you down the road. Remember, this is a business decision.
9. After you have left the building for the last time, write thank you letters to your boss, her boss, and any other station or company leaders that is aware of you and has influence in the industry. Be thankful for your time at the company and genuinely wish them well. I’ve actually, eventually, rehired guys who’ve done this because they left on a high note.
10. When interviewing for new jobs try to focus on the positives of your past employment and the lessons learned instead of what drove you crazy.
Larry Gifford answers three questions about radio: What do you listen for on an air check? How perfect should a pre recorded show be? How do I become the next “Colin Cowherd?”
I drove a total of about 10 hours yesterday to catch up with radio friends and listen to the radio. It also gives you time to think, come up with new ideas and dream a bit. I have a renewed focus and a more positive attitude starting my day today. Here are some things I heard, saw and thought that may be of interest to you.
I heard a bunch of a election coverage. There was no greater test for my brain than flipping between NPR and Fox News Radio coverage of the midterm elections; different tone, different language, different storylines. Both were biased. Both served their audiences. Neither was misleading.
Non-stop election coverage is rewarding for anchors and reporters, but hard work. I heard national anchors and local reporters all lose their thoughts, get choked up by dry mouth, and fumble through names and issues they weren’t prepped to discuss. You can’t over prepare for a night like this.
I didn’t hear anyone fumble and most of the coverage was informative and timely with the right level of excitement and urgency.
I saw this on the 405-South heading out of Los Angeles. I had to turn around and drive by again to snap this photo going 60 miles an hour (not recommended).
TAKEAWAY: I think KFI is threatening me.
Two points here. It’s hard to be funny and I think they’re trying to be funny. Humor is tough and extremely subjective. Use it with caution. Secondly, how is “stay connected” any different of a benefit from most other radio stations? Keeping listeners connected (to news, community, music, etc.) is really the goal of most stations regardless of format. It doesn’t provide a differentiation point
WORDS OF WISDOM:
“Best advice (I’ve received) is to go through life with an “F— it!” attitude. Nothing is as bad as you think it is at the time. You can survive practically anything. And the best way get through things is to realize that it’s all going to pass.” – Perry Michael Simon, AllAccess.com, on the Hermosa Beach Pier Plaza.
A note to the country morning show host who opens each break with the double time check (11 minutes after 7, 7-11 on your home for…) stop it. The 80’s called and it want’s the analog time check back please. Stick with the digital read out. It’s shorter, simpler, and easier to understand. Rule of thumb: never have listeners do math in their head when you’re just trying to tell them the time.
“The Mayor joins us next to talk about the election” is a programming note not a tease. Find a way to make me want to listen. Instead of WHO you’re going to have on think of the WHY you WANT him on and WHAT he’s going to provide that’s worth sticking around for.
“There are some really good 40 second ads out there (in Los Angeles) that have been padded into a minute. If you could sell ads in multiples of :10 instead of :30s or :60s could the creative be rather better than it currently is? Because the creative of some of the ads I was hearing was not quite as high as I was hoping it would be.” – Radio Futurologist James Cridland on the shores of Laguna Beach
Bring a gift. I feel both special and inadequate meeting with James Cridland. He arrived with a thoughtful gift for me and all I brought was a camera so we could take our picture together. His was more useful to me than mine to him. :-)
Larry Gifford answers three questions about radio; What should a play by play demo sound like? What questions should I ask while networking with hiring managers? How can you incorporate a jewelry sponsor on sports radio?
In honor of Halloween here is my list of what’s really scary about radio.
The first, seventh or 20th time you find yourself alone, at night, in a radio station studio. There’s something creepy about sitting in a padded room, talking into a microphone and hoping/praying/believing someone is listening, understanding what you’re trying to say and getting it.
No one enjoys free food more than radio people, except when delivered by listeners. We’ve all seen the food that sits on the table as everyone watches out of the corner of their eye waiting for the first sucker to try it to see if it’s poisoned.
Listeners are our life blood, but if you have the slightest bit of a germ phobia then shaking listener’s hands at events is only a little less scary than hugging them.
It’s scary to think that our careers, in part, rest in the hands of someone who is so desperate for money or power or both they’re willing to wear the Nielson equivalent of a beeper every day for some extra beer money each month.
When you really stop to consider it, it’s frightening to me that the kids making $10/hr. are responsible for making sure the spots, which account for 80%+ of the station’s revenue, play correctly. These are the same kids who look at their shoes when they pass you in the hallway.
Dead Air. Death is in its name! Can it get much scarier? It comes in many forms;
- The moment of panic when the computers seize up, you can’t play a song, you can’t go to break, you open your mouth and have nothing to say.
- When you’re listening to your radio station driving down the highway and it goes silent.
- When you race to the bathroom during a song and forget your keycard to get back into the studio area and you can hear the song ending over the loud-speaker and know nothing is going to happen in 10, 9, 8, 7…
Five words phrases to send shivers down your spine:
- The radio station coffee pot. (freezer/refrigerator)
- Back of the promo closet.
- The old jock lounge couch.
- Back of the station van.
- A darkened traffic director’s office.
What would you add to this list of scary things about radio? Add them to the comments below.
RELATED: This week’s Radio Stuff Podcast (episode 75) shares three stories of haunted radio stations.