Some of the best stations in the country are still formulating their digital plans. Radio has a lot of assets, but has even more questions on how to use them properly.
Brian Buckalew is an executive producer at KIRO Radio in Seattle. If you go to kiroradio.com, you’ll see a wide offering of focused podcasts in the On-Demand section (notice it’s called On-Demand, not Podcasts). The podcasts are categorized into News, Entertainment, Sports, and Life sections, and KIRO offers 75 different shows in all.
“I think podcasts and radio shows are both audio, but they’re very different mediums,” says Buckalew. “It’s a different listening experience.” Think about what a listener has to do to hear a podcast, and compare it to what they need to do to listen to the radio. “A podcast listener has to jump through a lot of hoops to listen to a podcast,” Buckalew points out. “For a radio show, you flip it on.”
But podcasting has its advantages: The listener is able to download and stream content on demand instead of waiting for it to be broadcast. And new listening trends indicate that podcasting is about to have its best year yet.
I asked Brian to give us some insight into building a digital audio network. He said that in the next year, KIRO’s plan is to expand as follows:
Phase 1: Find a host platform that works. The station is beginning to migrate its audio to the podcasting service Libsyn because of its offered dynamic ad-insertion features.
Phase 2: Find new shows. In addition to on-air content, original programming will be needed to expand the digital brand even further. Buckalew plans to develop a system to allow people to pitch shows for the KIRO website. He’ll be looking for the talent to provide information like target audience, comparable shows, and even how they plan to market their proposed program. He says, “It will help us get a sense of how invested they are and how they think about the project they want to do, and how they see it growing.”
Phase 3: Develop new shows. Once KIRO has a certain number of pitches, one to three shows will be chosen to be developed into pilots. The episodes will be evaluated by both programming and sales. They’re looking for a strong talent that can also be a viable sell to a client. “We’re not looking for a perfect show,” Buckalew says. “We’re trying to be better about systematically going through a lot of ideas and making sure we get the right thing that people are behind.”
Phase 4: Recruit talent from outside the building. The first three steps will create the infrastructure that can foster and further develop shows. KIRO is also looking to make more shows in categories that the sales team feels confident they can sell.
Phase 5: Managing the network. Making sure things are running smoothly and efficiently will be important for the longevity of all the on-demand offerings.
Buckalew says KIRO purposely thinks of digital offerings with the awareness that listeners are radio fans first. I think one of the keys to the development of podcasting in the radio industry is to understand that people are looking for specific subject matter. They have a connection to your station’s talents, but they don’t want to sift through an entire show to hear just specific elements.
“Our most popular podcasts are our sports shows,” Buckalew says, but weekend shows do very well too. Seattle Kitchen is one example. It’s a podcast that covers local restaurants, recipes, and how to get your kids to eat fish.
If you’re wondering what a “win” looks like for KIRO Radio, the goal is 5,000 to 10,000 downloads per episode. But numbers aren’t the only reason to produce a podcast. On-demand gives your listener the ability to hear exactly the things they want to hear. When they have that option, they’ll come back for more.
Act as an audio curator for your brand. Put your best materials forward, and surround them with original content. The first step could be as easy as separating specific on-air segments into their own podcasts. Commentaries and benchmark interviews can act as standalone podcasts, even if they’re only a few minutes long. Offer your on-air segments alongside original content as the basis for your digital plan.
Radio can once again become synonymous with audio entertainment by incorporating digital audio on demand. We need to make sure we don’t foolishly separate ourselves from digital audio by sitting on the sidelines. We need to further develop on demand audio to stay relevant.