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’m an unabashed fan of Seth Godin’s books. Some have been very formative in how I go about my life and business and some just made me tilt my head a little as the light flickered on in my head with a new awareness and understanding. His latest book, “Poke the Box,” is an example of how great things come in small packages. It’s a quick read with no chapters per se, just example after example of why you should stop making excuses, whining, contemplating failure and just start doing. He makes a strong case that businesses should have a person dedicated to “starting things” and reward those who fail. The theory is if you’re failing, you’re doing something.
In one example, Godin points at Starbucks. It started at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle as a coffee bean and tea leaf shop. You couldn’t buy a cup of coffee. That wasn’t in the business plan. When Howard Schultz took a trip to Italy and watched the barista make his espresso like an artist on a stage, he knew he was on to something. He brought the idea of baristas and cappuccino to Starbuck’s and they weren’t interested. Schultz’ idea ultimately prevailed, but without starting something and “failing” (selling beans and leafs), Starbucks may have never had happened.
Fail. The more you fail the closer you are to succeeding. Try something. Ship it to market. Get feedback. Tweak it or trash it, make something new and ship again. Repeat. And this is even more important for companies and individuals who have already found some success.
Poke the box. See what works. Be an instigator. Be unconventional. Challenge the status quo. Stir the pot. Stop collecting good ideas and start implementing them.
In 2007, a “Jerry Maguire-esque” memo from Starbuck’s chairman Howard Schultz to his senior management team was leaked. At that time, I was inspired by the words he wrote and penned a memo to my team and peers using Starbuck’s story as a cautionary tale. This week, Newsweek is following up with Schultz and updating the Starbucks story, “How Starbucks Got Its Mojo Back,” so I felt it only appropriate to update my messaging as well.
Starbucks is a brand just like your radio station. Your brand is your most valuable resource. The experience fans should have with your brand is unique, powerful, personal and ever evolving. Do not forget your roots, the inspiration for the station, how it has impacted the community, and what it stands for. After reading the memo (below) take precautions to keep your radio station from becoming stale or worse – flavor-sealed. Let your fans take a deep breath and inhale the experience of your radio station.
10 Steps to prevent your radio station from falling down the Starbuck’s slide…
1. Talk WITH fans instead of AT or ABOVE them.
2. Be better story tellers.
3. Walk the fine line between pride and chest-pounding. You can only be remarkable if others are remarking about you.
4. Challenge your own incumbency and conventional wisdom.
5. Find ways to better serve your fans and meet their needs. Connect with them on their terms.
6. Stop being so self-righteous. Have fun. Be self-deprecating.
7. Surprise your fans.
8. Find ways to connect with the fan by engaging them outside the radio station in activities and causes they are already passionate about.
9. Know what your brand stands for, because every time you compromise your brand fundamentals there is a cost. (listeners, ratings, revenue, clients, employee satisfaction and more.)
10. Listen. Notice what’s not right. Propose solutions. Take action.
Please share your thoughts by posting comments.
February 23, 2007
Starbucks chairman warns of “the commoditization of the Starbucks experience”
Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz wrote this to CEO Jim Donald earlier this month. The memo’s authenticity has been confirmed by Starbucks.
From: Howard Schultz
Sent: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 10:39 AM Pacific Standard Time
To: Jim Donald
Cc: Anne Saunders; Dave Pace; Dorothy Kim; Gerry Lopez; Jim Alling; Ken Lombard; Martin Coles; Michael Casey; Michelle Gass; Paula Boggs; Sandra Taylor
Subject: The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience
As you prepare for the FY 08 strategic planning process, I want to share some of my thoughts with you.
Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand.
Many of these decisions were probably right at the time, and on their own merit would not have created the dilution of the experience; but in this case, the sum is much greater and, unfortunately, much more damaging than the individual pieces. For example, when we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines, which are now in thousands of stores, blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista. This, coupled with the need for fresh roasted coffee in every North America city and every international market, moved us toward the decision and the need for flavor locked packaging. Again, the right decision at the right time, and once again I believe we overlooked the cause and the affect of flavor lock in our stores. We achieved fresh roasted bagged coffee, but at what cost? The loss of aroma — perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores; the loss of our people scooping fresh coffee from the bins and grinding it fresh in front of the customer, and once again stripping the store of tradition and our heritage? Then we moved to store design. Clearly we have had to streamline store design to gain efficiencies of scale and to make sure we had the ROI on sales to investment ratios that would satisfy the financial side of our business. However, one of the results has been stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store. Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee. In fact, I am not sure people today even know we are roasting coffee. You certainly can’t get the message from being in our stores. The merchandise, more art than science, is far removed from being the merchant that I believe we can be and certainly at a minimum should support the foundation of our coffee heritage. Some stores don’t have coffee grinders, French presses from Bodum, or even coffee filters.
Now that I have provided you with a list of some of the underlying issues that I believe we need to solve, let me say at the outset that we have all been part of these decisions. I take full responsibility myself, but we desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it’s time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience. While the current state of affairs for the most part is self induced, that has lead to competitors of all kinds, small and large coffee companies, fast food operators, and mom and pops, to position themselves in a way that creates awareness, trial and loyalty of people who previously have been Starbucks customers. This must be eradicated.
I have said for 20 years that our success is not an entitlement and now it’s proving to be a reality. Let’s be smarter about how we are spending our time, money and resources. Let’s get back to the core. Push for innovation and do the things necessary to once again differentiate Starbucks from all others. We source and buy the highest quality coffee. We have built the most trusted brand in coffee in the world, and we have an enormous responsibility to both the people who have come before us and the 150,000 partners and their families who are relying on our stewardship.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge all that you do for Starbucks. Without your passion and commitment, we would not be where we are today.
I was at Jiffy Lube with my son over the weekend getting an oil change. It just happened to be the day 104.3 MY FM was doing a station appearance. The “appearance” was a 10×10 tent, a back drop, a bannered table and two chairs from the lobby. There was no other signage in or around the Jiffy Lube. The tent was set up away from the flow of customer traffic, so to see what was going on you had to wander outside and around the side of the building.
I took this picture after the station representative (assuming promotions assistant) came racing into the lobby, captured the eye of a Jiffy Lube worker and said, “one of your customers just spilled hot sauce all over the place including me.” And then he disappeared into the bathroom for ten minutes.
The whole time I was there the guy from MY FM never appeared again, he never offered a bumper sticker, invited anyone outside for any reason (do you have games, giveaways or something?), and never explained to the customers what MY FM is by offering a handout, coupon or anything. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Here are some things to think about before your station’s next outing….
Look at your station remote / appearance set up. Is that how you want fans and potential listeners to see you? What would you / could you change to better reflect your brand?
What’s the payoff? There should be four: one each for the station, the listener, the potential listener and the client?
Be a star. Radio is show business. No matter what happens on a remote or appearance, remain calm and smile. No matter your role in the radio station, if you are the guy behind the card board table, you are the star of the show and the show must go on.
Client customers = potential listeners. Treat them as if your ratings depend on them. This is an opportunity to make your case to listen to your station to live bodies. What’s your elevator pitch?
Keep the remote / appearance area clean. Hide the equipment and supplies as best you can. Your area is a stage and no one wants to see the prop box.
Have fun, be engaged, and be engaging. When I pulled up the MY FM guy was lounging in his chair reading the paper, while customers were sitting inside the lounge directly behind the wall his back was against.