Luke Burbank‘s podcast titled “TBTL” was named, because he thought his night-time radio show on 97.3 KIRO FM was “Too Beautiful To Live.” He was right. The show was cancelled after 395 shows, but the podcast persists and is thriving after over 1,000 episodes.
Last year, in 2011, TBTL was downloaded 24,085,650 times. He currently averages about 2,000,000 downloads per month. I sat down with Luke for about an hour and talked to him about the show. Even he can’t believe the success of the show.
Full disclosure: Luke is one-half of the Ross & Burbank Show on 97.3 KIRO FM, which as Program Director, I oversee.
Luke is a radio veteran with an impressive resume including producing, reporting and hosting NPR shows like “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” and has reported for This American Life in addition to his employment at 97.3 KIRO FM. Transitioning from traditional radio to podcasting, Luke quickly shed the formatics and realized even the worst segments could be fodder for days, where in terrestrial radio he doesn’t feel that freedom.
What is it about TBTL that makes it work? work. Luke treats it like a “real thing.” His producer gets a real salary, they invested in broadcast quality equipment, they do show prep and produce the show consistently at that the same time.
Luke’s success isn’t without some direction. He got some early advice from Adam Corrolla. You’ll find Luke appearing on other people’s podcasts, he is a panelist on NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, and he recently did a commentary on CBS Sunday Morning.
One lesson Luke learned along the way is that the more obstacles you put between your content and your listener, the less they will listen.
So, after all of this you still want to start or continue your podcast? Cool. Here are the parting words of wisdom from Luke.
If you are going to launch a new podcast, be a narrow-caster. For instance, Luke says, “If someone did a podcast about just Marshawn Lynch‘s teeth, I would listen to that.” The more specific your podcast the better. Serve your niche and serve it better than anyone else.
You can watch the full interview here…
I do not condone Rush Limbaugh’s word choice and characterizations of Sandra Fluke. No woman deserves to be called a “slut” or ” prostitute” or any other derogatory phrase. I do not condone ex-WDAE morning guy Dan Sileo’s characterization of three African American NFL players as “monkeys.” Howard Cosell was fired nearly 30 years ago for pretty much the same thing. I also heard the “n” word un-bleeped on a syndicated show last week, which I do not condone.
So here are my questions…And answers.
Why is this happening? How is this happening? Who is to blame? Who is responsible? How does this impact radio? How should radio deal with it?
Talk radio is a tight rope walk. We ask talent to spend three hours a day entertaining, informing, dishing big opinions and driving conversations. We want hosts to “cut through the clutter,” “be passionate,” and “take risks,” while simultaneously protecting our company brands. This is hard to do and mistakes will happen. This is why companies provide a net in the form of board operators and producers. Talent need to rely on and respect these roles more — and the people in these positions need to speak up and take action when a talent crosses the line. Here is an idea; use the dump button…or tell the host they’ve gone too far. If you sit there and laugh with them like it’s a 1960s fraternity house, the content will likely degenerate. This isn’t the producer and board operators fault, but it is their responsibility along with the host.
What frustrates me is that radio is getting beat up as a dying industry everywhere I look and these outdated, racist, sexist, and irresponsible comments reinforce those claims and further suggest the medium is irrelevant and obsolete. The reality is radio has been and can continue to be a remarkable platform for lively debate and conversation about important issues and help to provide understanding. At its best talk radio is informative, entertaining, compelling, thought provoking, in-the-moment, interesting, fun and relevant. As an industry we provide the sound track to people’s life, we start conversations, we tell stories of triumph and tragedy to better understand the human condition, we care for and take care of our communities, and we create an invisible, powerful, connective tissue through the lives of our listeners which creates an amazing bond that has helped stations across the country in the past year alone raise millions and millions of dollars for good causes.
That being said, we are in a business that requires an understanding that things will get said that shouldn’t be said. Mistakes happen. This is talk radio. We will provoke at times and upset groups of people. As a PD it is my job to be calm in the middle of the storm. Programming decisions should never be made in the middle of a fire storm. It is our job (my job) to listen to the people complaining, listen to the actual audio of what was said, and then formulate my response. If lines were crossed –apologies should be made (as insincere as you may think he was, at least Rush did this). And then after everyone takes a deep breath, ask yourself a couple of questions; is this show representative of the kind of show you want on your station? Does it attract the audience you are targeting? Is the host chronically crossing the line ( your line, the FCC’s line, the community standards)? and if so, is the reward ( ratings and revenue) worth the risk? We are in the radio business and we need to make business decisions.
Finally, radio needs a shot in the arm and not another punch to the gut. Somehow, someway everyone who believes as strongly in this medium as I do needs to be actively promoting its awesomeness. 90+% of everyone (a totally made up stat) listens to radio. They are already believers in the medium, let’s remind them of it. Tell your friends why you love radio (#iloveradio) and I will do the same. Together we can rekindle people’s passion for absolutely free, wireless, instant information and entertainment available nationwide at the touch of a button…that is still legal to access while driving.
I had the pleasure of attending the a leadership conference last week. It’s especially cool to know that people are still encouraging radio to take risks, think big, and change the world. I know sometimes bosses go off-site to these conferences and you never hear what they did or learned. So, I would like to share a few ideas, quotes and inspirations that I took away from the day.
The following are notes I jotted down during a series of presentations. Regardless of your position, you can incorporate some or all of the concepts below to make a positive impact.
Ask more interesting questions. Ask what hasn’t been asked before in order to get different answers.
This is a simple concept that applies to everyone. Whether you are trying to develop a story, find an angle to explore, solve a work efficiency issue, or having trouble working with a colleague – asking a more interesting question about whatever is in front of you will lead to a more interesting answer. This reminds me of a line from motivational speaker Tim Sanders, “Stop asking how people are doing and start asking what they are excited about.” Same concept; ask a different question, get a different answer.
We need more crazy, off-the-wall, ridiculous ideas. Inspired from the Albert Einstein quote, “If at first an idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.”
Wild ideas lead to interesting conversations about “what’s possible” and “What if…” This doesn’t mean you starting acting crazy, off-the-wall and ridiculous. Use your IDEAS as a launching pad to obtain more creative results on and off the air.
This reminds of what it must have been like for the first man to suggest and then eat a raw oyster. I can only imagine there wasn’t an overwhelming reaction of support and congratulations. But, depending on your tastes, it turned into a pretty good idea.
Get out of your comfort zone. We need more interesting people in our lives. Expose yourself to new people and new experiences to challenge yourself and expand your reference points. Stop thinking so narrowly about the things you think about.
We all have our routines, favorite spots, people we interact with on a regular basis. Make a point to go new places, talk to new people and change your regular way of doing things. Collaborate with someone new.
Take Risks. Be prepared to fail. Learn from mistakes. Focus on what needs to be better. Commit to perfection.
Risk-taking is not easy, but the key is to learn from failures, adjust, improve, and try again. Thomas Edison experimented thousands of times before perfecting the light bulb and is known for saying, “we know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.”
No one wins by working twice as hard. You win by fractions, inches, and moments. If you work 15 minutes extra per day on developing a skill… that’s 91 hours over the course of a year.
It’s the little things and small changes that can make all the difference. For you, this can apply to clock management, spending an extra five minutes reading the whole article to make sure you extract all the dazzling details, or spending a couple extra minutes with a listener or client when you’d rather be somewhere else.
We need more innovation. Stop watching the other guy. Stop playing catch up. New doesn’t have to mean revolutionary.
Innovation can come from you. Start innovating by asking, “I wonder if ____ is possible?” There are enough smart people in our business that if we all start trying to answer new, different and big questions innovation will be inevitable.