R.A.P. Interview: Todd Manley

720togo-400wJV: You mentioned a lot of podcasting that you’re doing. What’s the story on that?
Todd: I had this notion just like a lot of us that distribution is half of the game right now. I think that the Clear Channel people have put some amazing things together, campaigns about don’t pay for radio. That’s their basic message. “Why should you pay for it? We’re free.” I think the creative is great, but I think that’s a crazy notion for us to buy into, the fact that just because it’s free it’s better. I think we need to take the challenge to just be better than the stuff that people pay for, and eventually people will get it. We need to just see this as a challenge that we all need to get better at what we do, and podcasting is just another way to expand into that. It’s actually working for us on some level from a listenership standpoint. We’re doing about 6,000 downloads a week from various shows. We basically do two different feeds five days a week of different shows. The podcasts range anywhere from five minutes to maybe 20, 25 minutes in length.

I don’t think this is necessarily about time shifting because I still see radio as a companion medium. If you had the three hours to spend with your favorite drive-time show, you’d have done it live. If you have to go back and listen to it at a different time, you probably won’t find the time. Now, maybe people will get into the thing where they go, “Okay, I love this PM drive show but I’m going to listen to it in AM drive.” Maybe, but you still want the current news or at least traffic and weather stuff, so you miss out on that a little bit if you’re trying to use it as a commuting block. So I thought, “Well, let’s package these things up and really streamline them and use them almost like extended promos for our shows.” So it’s been really successful for us. Now we’re adding a revenue stream to it which is trickling in. We have a separate webpage that we call 720togo.com, and it’s all linked from iTunes and that sort of thing. It has a prominent place on the ‘GN Radio website as well.

That said, I think people still want up-to-the-minute stuff. In many cases, the tragedy of September 11th woke up a lot of CHRs and a lot of music stations. You started to see them go back to the classic commitment to some news and information and things like that instead of just being the jukebox, because that’s the only thing that separates them from XM and from Sirius, what they deliver locally or a local personality.

Like a lot of us have talked about over the years, I’m concerned about the talent pool coming up because syndication has snatched away a lot of cool, small market gigs where people cut their teeth and got to create their art form. But there’s an element of podcasting that will probably pluck some stars from outside of radio, and hopefully radio is paying attention and will swipe some of those people.

JV: Do you have a studio at home?
Todd: Yes. I put in a studio at home about a year and a half ago. The main reason for it was to help out a friend of mine in St. Louis, Tim Dorsey. The station down there is the News/Talker KTRS. I spent about 18 months doing imaging for them while they were growing out of becoming the second fiddle news/talk station into where they are now. At the end of the summer they did a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals where the Cardinals now own half the radio station, and the station is the rights holder for baseball in St. Louis. So things are at the point now where they really need to have all the imaging in-house. So at the end of the year, I stopped creating that stuff. That was a pretty heady job because I was writing the stuff, I was secondary voice on the stuff, mixing it, editing it, working with the station manager and PD and that sort of thing. And now they’re bringing all that stuff in-house as they launch their first season of Cardinals baseball.

JV: It’s amazing, as the years go by in this business and technology presents all this new competition for radio, you’ve got satellites, iPods, mp3 players and all these FMs and FM talk stations and FM music stations, yet scattered all over the place you still find stations like WGN on the AM band kicking major butt.
Todd: Yeah, just look at all the AMs that rule. San Francisco’s a good example with KGO. It is about the content. The medium is not the message, you know. That’s inspiring as hell to me. I understand that the biggest challenge for spoken word is that you’ve got to wait for people to grow into a need for it. But I love the notion of thinking in terms of life-stage demographics. In other words, I think our culture is such that people do everything at an unpredictable age now. People are single from 18 to 25 or until 50; or some people start families at 45 or some people are empty nesters forever. So basically it comes down to, once you start paying taxes, you start looking around for a spoken word radio station once in a while because you want a little of that information and that sort of thing.

You’re right. It is fascinating to think about the fact that while there is all this technology swirling around and there’s HD out there, that AMs can still rule. I’m trying to get all of our producers to really get back to some good stereo mixing of stuff, partially for our podcasts, but also because I’m thinking we’re going to be HD stereo again here soon. We’re not right now but it’s time to ramp up because we’ve got to be ready.  And yet at the same time, you go, “Well, wait a minute; it’s just the conversation they’re after.” How cool is that?

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