On Radio: Up From the Boneyard: Local Media, Its Digital Death and Rebirth [Part 3]
As mentioned in part two of this series of posts, making money has always been a primary goal for Boneyard Industries. What was relatively easy for ten years on radio has been anything but for Bob Frantz and his cohorts. Without a sales and marketing staff, Frantz and his colleagues have had to do a lot of this on their own. As Frantz points out, “with podcasting the logistics are more difficult [than working on a radio show] because this is no longer your job and you need to work around your other job or jobs. As a result, the podcast becomes a hobby. And the podcast entails a difficult set of logistics to negotiate: just getting everyone to meet up and work around their schedules so you can record the cast is a problem in itself. Without cash flow it gets even more frustrating and sometimes when I am arguing with my colleagues I think about why I am even doing this. Sometimes it feels like it’s more work than radio because you are doing your job, producing, editing, promoting, and marketing. On radio I just showed up and went home and that was my job. I am not saying this to make people feel bad for us. I am saying this because all of us have had to learn all of this stuff on the fly and we are are still going through some growing pains.”
Two pains in particular, advertising and getting local listeners on board, have proven particularly frustrating. In both cases the issue is the medium itself: podcasting may be well-established for early adopters, but for much of the general public the medium has a long way to go. “Whenever anyone is trying to sell my show to a potential advertiser, whether it is me or another sales person, and the first question is ‘what’s a podcast?’ the meeting is effectively over,” Frantz explains. “There’s just too much to explain about podcasting: it includes the issues of technology, different listening habits and even the idea that the ad is, unlike an ad on radio, permanent.” Even more frustrating is the experience that Frantz runs into time and time again when he meets former listeners who tell him how “they loved The Mike and Bob Show” and “wish it was still on the air”. When he tells them about his new podcast and that it is essentially everything that same as the old Mike and Bob Show, they all too often know nothing about how to get a podcast despite the fact that many of them own iPods, iPhones, and use iTunes on an everyday basis. “People enjoy commercial radio because of the convenience of it. You get in your car and you know how to get it,” Frantz explains. “Trying to explain how to download a podcast to someone who has been invested in radio all their lives is often like trying to explain to a caveman what an airplane is.”
Still Boneyard Industries continues to promote their network and have discovered that the best way to do so, just like anything else, is by generating word of mouth. Of course this has meant using mainstream social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but it has also meant doing appearances at local clubs to host trivia nights and promote an occasional bar night. Pocketing the appearance fees, Frantz and his associates use this money to attend specific conventions, buy promo materials, rent tables, and shake hands with fellow zombie lovers and sci-fi fans. In the case of Dork Trek, considerable growth has occurred as as a result of numerous efforts. These include the creation of free, custom Valentines for their listeners to give away and attending Star Trek conventions to make connections with fans and other Star Trek podcasters. What started out as a relatively weak podcast in terms of numbers of downloads per month, had grown to a healthy 7,000 per month by April 2012. After attending another Star Trek convention in May, Dork Trek broke the 10,000 download per month mark. The continual production and promotion of Bob’s Boneyard garnered the cast some unexpected national press when The Onion‘s A.V. Club gave the cast a positive review in a “Best Podcasts of the Week” column in April 2012. Noting that “The real appeal of the show is how Frantz straddles the line between “Adam Carolla-type regular guy” and “Chris Hardwick-type regular nerd,” the A.V. Club called Bob’s Boneyard “the comfort food of podcasts.” Still this experiment offers little clarity for the prospects of local podcasting. In an atmosphere where the economics of radio mean that more local radio performers are losing their positions, Frantz predicts,”that those former radio guys will go into podcasting and the people who lived in their local market and listened to their radio shows will listen. However, it will be a tenth of what their audience was.”
Although Frantz still toys with the idea of getting back into radio, he often tells others not to do so. “The way radio is now there is no place to cultivate your talents–there are no overnight shifts to learn your craft. Everything now is being voice tracked. When I was at Sinclair Communications we automated just about everything. There are no minor leagues of radio where you stay up all night and you figure out how to be on the air. Voice-tracking doesn’t really help any talents grow. You can’t learn radio by recording your breaks and throwing out those that suck. You need to listen to your tapes and work on how you can improve. It’s the only way you can grow what is essentially an amalgamation of skill sets needed to be entertaining over the air.” But for now Frantz and his colleagues remain dedicated to producing podcasts and recording them live from Virginia Beach. And although they have yet to figure out how to make money from their casts, right now they do it because they love it. Given that all of this new, unexplored territory, how long it takes for what they love to line their pockets is anyone’s guess.
If you want to listen to any of the Boneyard Industry Podcasts, including Bob’s Boneyard, Dork Trek, Torres vs. Zombies, and Get Mommy a Drink, just click on the above links of search for them in iTunes.