Successful Newsman Becomes Major Podcaster

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Major Garrett has been a familiar face in television news for years, first with Fox and now with CBS as its chief White House correspondent. He’s one of the few correspondents left who actually reports the news, rather than trying to make news or offering political opinions — which is what so much of television news has become.

Garrett has been in the muck of many political campaigns, traveling around the country with candidates and elected officials to cover and report the news to the American public on a national stage. And that work can surely be a grind — plane trips, hotel rooms, lying politicians, the list goes on. So, Garrett says, in order to balance out his life, he needed a little therapy. Not the kind you might get lying on a couch. The kind you get at the dinner table.

To get that therapy, Garrett and CBS News Radio launched The Takeout on October 20, 2017. The Takeout is Garrett’s weekly podcast that covers politics, policy, and pop culture. Each episode is actually recorded over a meal at a Washington, D.C. restaurant. The final product is not edited for perfection or broken down into tiny, sensational newsbites. Having worked for years to provide those soundbites, Garrett wanted to dabble more in longer-form news. And podcasting has allowed him to do that.

After a little more than a year, The Takeout is downloaded and streamed more than 90,000 times a month, and it reaches over a million people weekly on nearly 30 radio stations across the country. Yes, the show is available to radio stations.

Radio Ink: You’ve been doing news a long time with Fox and CBS, and now you are a podcaster. What is your opinion on how the public’s perception of the media has evolved?

Garrett: There are lots of ways to measure that. And there are two discouraging signs, and they were discouraging long before Donald Trump became a political actor in American life. One of those trend lines was reduced credibility. Look at the Gallup survey data running back to the early 1990s: a steady decline, some might call it a precipitous decline, in credibility of the so-called “mainstream media.” Not just by Republicans, but Independents and Democrats.

The other trend line since that time is declining market share. I don’t think those are coincidental. You have to ask yourself in this industry, are our declining credibility and market share self-reinforcing, or at least in some way related? The media — and I know that’s a broad category, not everyone in the mainstream media fits within it in the way people think about it — but nevertheless, the major networks, cable, newspapers have seen this decline in either market share or credibility. Those are trends the industry has had to become somewhat aware of. I think we have been a bit lagging in our sensitivity to that, at our peril.

That has contributed in part to the conversation that candidate Trump — and I went to more than 75 Trump rallies — had with the American public, that there is something you can’t believe or isn’t worthy of trust. He saw that those numbers had been in decline for a while, and he exploited that opening. Everyone in our industry is trying to find ways to re-establish or improve credibility.

One of the tools I use in my podcast is to say when our guests come on: A) there is no filter and B) no editing. Everything asked and answered is relayed to the audience precisely as it was asked and answered, thereby removing the filtration process to the highest degree possible. This increases my audience’s sense that they are getting the whole continuum of the conversation, not just a segment of it. All of us are trying different things to improve and enhance credibility, and that is one of the things my show brings.

Radio Ink: Why did you originally launch this podcast, what are your goals with the show?

Garrett: This will sound funny, but in some ways it was therapeutic for me. I spent 16 months on the campaign trail doing nothing but radio and TV for all the various CBS platforms, CBS Evening News, and all of our radio outlets when I was asked to. I enjoy all of that work enormously, but I was hungry for an outlet that had more time and focus. So much of campaign coverage and radio/TV coverage is compressed. I was craving something that was bigger and longer and allowed for a single focus on a single guest.

Obviously, podcasts were out there all over the place. I was late to that party, but I did have one idea that was my own, which was taking a conversation about politics, policy, and pop culture out of the studio and putting it in a far less formal atmosphere, like a restaurant, and building every conversation around a meal.

It wasn’t an original construct at all. I just know in the lives of my friends and family, the most interesting conversations tend to be had over a meal or drink or both. I asked if we could do this, if it was possible, and it turns out it is. We started as an anonymous podcast with my name and Twitter feed as the promotional platform, and it grew into a digital TV show. It’s now on 25 radio stations around the country. We hope, over time, even more than that.

Radio Ink: Is it all political?

Garrett: It’s mostly political. We try to take people who live and work in Washington and ask them a set of questions, not just about what they do and what they think, but why they are here. I’ll be honest: one of the goals of the show is to let people know people come to Washington not to destroy the country or destroy the practice of, or confidence in, politics. They come to Washington because they believe deeply in politics and policy and they’re working their way to achieve certain goals.

Along with elevating that awareness comes the imperative of my show, which is to let people hear different points of view. There’s nothing about my show that’s remotely ideologically consistent. One week we had EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a staunch conservative, a very strong voice of the Trump administration. Another week we had the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, a dedicated liberal Democrat who wants to take control of the House of Representatives from Republicans and block as much of the Trump agenda as possible.

We’re taking listeners across an entire spectrum of American political life and political conversation. A show that week in and week out reinforces a particular point of view — we force our listeners to listen to different perspectives, which is what I want to do.

We’ve gotten letters from people who say, “I didn’t think I would like it. I see some of the guests and my inclination is to turn it off and not even give it a shot, but I do listen. I don’t agree, but I learned something about someone, and I can at least respect their motives and point of view.” That’s a small contribution to American political life, but one I am proud of.

Radio Ink: You mentioned the Twitter feed to get the show out originally. Now what are you doing to keep it growing?

Garrett: I’m talking to you, and that’s enormous. If you had asked me three months ago if you, or anyone in your world, would be interested in this show, I would’ve said of course not. Yet we’ve created enough awareness, broken enough news, to warrant some curiosity, which is a great thing for us and a great thing for my entire team. I will try to get more Facebookadept. I’m not a big Facebooker. I’ve always occupied my space on Twitter, but I know lots of different platforms matter and we’re trying to get more sophisticated with that. I’m trying to adapt more. Not easy to do when you’re 55, as I am, but I’ll get there.

Being on the radio across the country creates visibility, it creates an identity and communities of its own. I don’t know if there is any other show than mine that lives in three different places. To be there in a little over a year, I’m pleased with that.

Radio Ink: What are you trying to achieve every week?

Garrett: The greatest thing I try to achieve is a sense in my audience that you’re at the table or the table next to us, and we’ve invited you to listen. I grew up in San Diego listening to KFI [Los Angeles], and in the morning they had a popular tandem called Lohman and Barkley. They were updated versions of Bob and Ray. They did bits and theater-of-the -mind stuff, and I remember being captivated by it. I can’t do anything that funny or sophisticated, but what I do try to do is create a theater of the mind experience.

That’s why I love the restaurant, the sounds of the restaurant. It lets people feel like they are participating, like they are sitting in. They’re involved and can latch onto the conversation and what they learn as they listen. There are thousands of shows on podcast platforms, and a lot of them sound alike. I needed to find a way to make it sound different, to differentiate it in the market if I could. I think we are doing OK there.

Radio Ink: Who has been the most interesting interview, and why?

Garrett: The one I had the highest degree of anticipation about was White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who had not given a lengthy interview in his tenure inside the Trump White House. He had answered three or four questions to the New York Times, and they shrewdly and wisely stretched that out into a 22-minute podcast. His words did not fill that, but they milked it. That interview generated a ton of news. My little show was on network news shows for two or three days, and so that was by far the most interesting and consequential we have done so far.

Radio Ink: Is there anyone you have wanted to get on the show but haven’t been able to?

Garrett: We are a little thin on Republican members of the U.S. Senate. We have had two Democratic members of the Senate, one Republican. We had Al Franken. We have other Democratic senators lined up for the future, but we’re thin on Republican senators. We are trying to get Vice President Pence on the show — early in his career he was on the radio, and so he has an affection for radio. We certainly intend to land him by the end of the year. We are going to continue to ask for bigger and bigger guests. We have also learned you don’t necessarily need a big guest to have a great show.

One of our most popular shows early on was a woman most people in America have never heard of and probably never will: Maya MacGuineas. She is the head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and we spent 45 minutes demystifying all the terms around the federal budget and taxes. All the buzzwords. We took a word or phrase, broke it down, and explained it. We got some of the most positive reactions we’ve ever had from a show. People said, “Now when I hear a news story about this, I will know what it means.” I’m aware we can create a great and meaningful show and not necessarily have what would be regarded as a marquee guest.

Radio Ink: Have you had an interview that bombed?

Garrett: No, we have never had a show that never got off the floor. One of the reasons is people would not do the show until they have heard it a few times. They hear it is over a meal and more relaxed. Everyone comes down a notch, less an A-type, that makes the conversation and the show better.

Radio Ink: What do you want radio station managers who don’t have the show to know?

Garrett: Your audience craves something that is authentic and different that they can learn from every week. The show we produce is all three of those things. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio. It is absolutely authentic because there is no filtration whatsoever. The audience knows they are hearing exactly what was said. That is a confidence builder that they can’t find virtually anywhere else. It is fun. It is a kick. We have an interesting conversation. We break news and ask tough questions, but we don’t rake them over the coals. If you are driving around or doing stuff at home, it is a heck of a listen.

The Takeout is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify. New episodes are available every Friday morning. The weekly radio show is 39 minutes — three 10-minute segments and one nine-minute segment. Stations get time for news at the top of the hour and ads in each break. The show is taped and the podcast posts every Friday morning at 6 a.m. For more information about adding Major Garrett’s podcast to your radio station, contact Caitlin Conant at [email protected]

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