Where Does Radio Fit in the Podcast Gold Rush?

By NPR InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Where Does Radio Fit in the Podcast Gold Rush?

As the original form of audio, you'd think radio stations would be the go-to for all things podcasting, but that's hasn't been the case.  In another example of traditional media being slow to adapt to the seismic shift digital technology could have on its business, many radio stations have been slow to explore podcasting.  Now, as listening explodes and advertisers commit more money to podcasting, radio broadcasters have started ramping up podcasting efforts, but they're playing catchup.  The medium is still in its infancy -- or at least its toddler years -- and there's still room for more players, so broadcasters need to get aggressive, and fast.

With about one-quarter of Americans listening to podcasts weekly, per Edison Research, and IAB forecasts calling for ad spending to near $700 million this year, competition is fierce.  Spotify, Pandora, public radio and podcast studios are industry leaders with original series and robust options for marketers.  Even Apple, which is the top listening platform but has been largely on the sidelines with content and ad sales, is reportedly looking for exclusive content.

In the past year, some of the biggest names in local radio have invested in podcast companies and are building their own shops.  A few notable moves include:

  • Beasley Broadcast Group launched its own in-house podcast production team, bPod Studios.
  • Entercom Communications invested in Cadence13, a leading production company, and plans to offer subscription podcasts on its Radio.com digital streaming service.
  • Hubbard Broadcasting purchased a stake in the PodcastOne Network.
  • Emmis Communications, fresh off selling the bulk of its radio stations, recently invested in Sounds That Brand, a branded podcast producer.

To plant their flag, radio stations should focus on their best assets and local connections and apply them to podcasting.  That means leveraging radio's rich experience in promotion, production and audience engagement.  Stations have well-loved hosts and DJs, many of whom are fixtures in their communities and are local experts who a large portion of their audiences would gladly follow to podcasting.

On the marketing side, AM/FM radio sellers also have established relationships with local and national advertisers.  The medium can tout a proven track record for boosting sales and building brand awareness.  As small businesses shift their ad dollars from traditional media to digital, radio can grab a share by embracing podcasting.  For local marketers, podcasts offer exclusivity and an avenue to upscale, educated consumers -- and buys can complement an on-air campaign.  A live read by a popular podcast host is a powerful ad tool.  Stations could also partner with local businesses to create branded podcasts, an area that clients are very interested in.

Commercial radio can also take cues from NPR, which planted a flag early on and built its catalog to include top-rated shows and a robust mix of genres.  To stay ahead, NPR is continually innovating.  Live tapings for some of its podcasts routinely sell out like must-see concerts, and one podcast, entrepreneurial-themed How I Built This, even spawned a small business conference.  When it comes to promotions, when a popular NPR podcast host gives a shout-out for a new show, that's priceless marketing.

Recently, iHeartMedia, the country's largest radio station owner, muscled its way into podcasting's upper echelon, purchasing podcast producer HowStuffWorks and launching dozens of original shows.  The company stations now aggressively market podcasts on-air and online and even turned a handful of its radio stations into all-podcast channels.

These strategies could work for radio stations in large or small markets, whether they are individually owned or part of a large group.  The most important thing is to experiment with podcasting and back it up strongly with promotion.

In a sign of radio's growing commitment, more stations are devoting valuable promotional spots to podcasts.  In Q4 2018, just 11 podcasts were promoted on stations measured by Media Monitors; by Q1 2019, that number jumped to 106, according to a report from Cumulus Media–owned Westwood One.  These promotions appear to be having an impact on listening.  Much like radio is a top source for new music, one-third of new podcast listeners credit local radio for helping them discover shows, according to a new study on listening by Westwood One, Maru/matchbox and Audience Insights.  And about half of Americans said they heard an ad for a podcast on AM/FM radio in Q1 2019.

Radio stations seem to finally be embracing podcasting and evangelizing the medium.  Their success will depend on the quality of their product and their ability to sway listeners and brand advertisers.  If radio fails to capitalize on podcasting, it risks being left behind in its own audio industry.

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