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Wired and the Public Radio Podcasting Dilemma

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Wired has a very interesting piece on the financial challenges brought up by public radio's embrace of podcasting. It's sort of encapsulated by this quote, one listener's response to a local station pledge drive:

"Why would I sit through all of that if I can get what I like for free online, listen to it on my own time and not be guilted for weeks into giving money?" says Michaels, a real estate agent who says her husband donates to the station on behalf of her family. "I've even found a whole bunch of NPR shows online that aren't on NPR here, which is so great."

Many local NPR stations have basically been run as NPR (and PRI, and APM) conduits for the past ten or fifteen years, and they're now realizing that in the 21st century, radio stations no longer have exclusive license to audio content distribution. No longer does being "Your NPR News Source in the Tri-County Area" mean that listeners must turn to your station if they want interesting and informative news audio.

I'm a big advocate of podcasting, and of public broadcasting (as you might imagine, me being a podcasting public broadcaster). Everything's very much in the air, but this is how I think (hope?) things will shake out:

  • As NPR's non-station audience grows (naturally cannibalizing some local station audience), it must significantly cut the huge fees it charges stations for programming. Its online and sattelite presence will provide lots of underwriting revenue (that's the stuff that's like advertising, but isn't) , and potentially lots of private and public revenue (like the huge Jean Kroc bequest) as well.
  • Radio will remain a vital medium for many years to come, just as newspapers have. It's ubiquity and ease-of-use will not go away, though that advantage will decrease over time.
  • Stations will be forced to develop programming that means something to their audience, then distribute it through all the means at their disposal, if they want the audience to continue to care about them enough to give money.
  • "Audience" may not continue to mean only "local audience," as more stations will undertake the KPIG/KCRW model, by combining local community relevance with strong brands that promote broader (inter)national community relevance.
  • Stations that produce their own high quality programming (like WNYC and KCRW) will thrive.
  • Smaller independent program producers (that's me!) will view the radio audience and radio stations as great promotion for their podcasts, raising money directly from underwriters and listeners. Currently, TSOYA charge a big fat nothing to the stations that carry the show or our specials.

One big question here is where the non-government, non-corporate money will come from and go to. What will people care enough about to make a contribution to?

In our TSOYA Census, about 60% of the respondents said they would be willing to give directly to The Sound of Young America. Consider, though, that only about 200 of the most enthusiastic listeners responded to the census -- it's a self-selecting group.

Personally, I've given directly to Chicago Public Radio to support webstreaming of This American Life before. I've thought recently about giving some to KCRW, since I love The Business and The Treatment so much. But if people do give to content producers, will that keep them from giving to their local stations?

Tod Maffin, a CBC broadcaster, points out that "traditional" public broadcasters (those, like the CBC or BBC, supported by government funding) are in a great position, since the podcasting revolution simply gives them expanded opportunities, with only a modest added financial burden.

Of course, all of this comes at a key juncture for The Sound of Young America, as I leave KZSC (where I was bound by university policy not to have any income from the show), so I'm very interested to hear your thoughts about what kind of listening you've done in the past, what you plan to do in the future, and what you think The Sound should do.

Anyway, this isn't a manifesto, it's more of a first draft, so thoughts are appreciated.

Spike Lee on Weekend Edition

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Here’s a wonderful interview with Spike Lee from NPR’s Morning Edition. He talks a bit about The Inside Man, and is as stand-offish as he often is. He’s such a cool cucumber, he just refuses to be anything but serious and aloof about his work, but he cracks, eventually. He gets to some real answers to tough and interesting questions, like the rape scene in She’s Gotta Have It, which he says is the one scene in his films he regrets. When he’s asked whether he’d cut it out for DVD, he offers an emphatic no: “That would be the punk move.” He compares it to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, or the Mammy in Gone With the Wind: “It’s done. It’s done.”

He closes with a great plug, "Thank you, and I really feel good about Inside Man, and I hope people come out and see it." He's nothing if not a straight shooter.

Link

All-Star Hedberg Tribute in Minneapolis

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Word on the street is that this is selling out quickly, but there's an all-star tribute to Mitch Hedberg going down in Minneapolis at the Orpheum Theater. More information here, and according to the site, "Nick Swardson, Patton Oswalt, Mike Birbiglia, Zach Galifianakis, and Dave Mordal are all on board." Doug Benson tells us via AST that he's in, too. Tickets are a totally reasonable $35, and the money goes to charity, including his memorial foundation. He was a brilliant and broadly loved comedian, and it's nice to see all these brilliant comics turning out to support his family.

Last year, we did a show the day his death became public. My guests were both comics -- Marc Maron shared a manager with Hedberg, and Al Madrigal had just gotten off tour with him a few weeks before. I talked about Hedberg with both, and we played some of his brilliant, brilliant jokes. MP3 Link

Of My Old Boss & the Mel Brooks Box Set

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For a while I interned with a public radio show here in the Bay Area. My boss, the producer, had left a career in publishing to join the show. She had done pretty much everything in the book business -- among her titles was novelist, editor and most recently, literary escort. This is not a high-class prostitute, but rather the person responsible for getting authors where they need to be while on book tour.

She met lots and lots of famous authors, and had lots of insight into their personalities, at least while they were on book tour. There were some positive surprises -- the shock-jock Mancow, for example, was really, really nice, and took her and her son out to dinner.

But I was never more jealous of her than when she mentioned in passing that she had once escorted Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner. Can you imagine anything more fun than that? And she said it totally lived up to it's billing.

I love Mel Brooks because he allows a passion for anything-goes humor and a brilliant intelligence to exist in concert. His jokes are usually smart even when they're dumb.

20th Century FOX released an amazing box set of Brooks' films today, and side-by-side, you can see how formidable his body of work is. It isn't a complete collection (we all miss The Producers, no one is lamenting the loss of Life Stinks), but it's a great one, with eight films, several of which weren't on DVD at all before. It includes Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, To Be or Not to Be, History of the World Part 1, The Twelve Chairs, and High Anxiety. I've never seen Twelve Chairs (should I?), but the rest range from really funny to All Time Classic.

Anyway, it's pretty cheap at Amazon, considering all the laughs you're getting...

and by the way, call your local library and find out if they have the mid-90s PBS special Caesar's Writers, about the writing staff of Your Show of Shows and the Sid Caesar Hour, two 1950s TV sketch series. The film features a lot of brilliant footage from the shows, and interviews with the writing staff, which included Neil Simon, Brooks & Reiner, and (relatively briefly) Woody Allen among others.

Waiters Who Are Nauseated by Food

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There was a lot of great stuff on The Dana Carvey Show, the late-90s primetime sketch series. This was one such great thing; it features Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.

Hey, is there anything out there like YouTube, without the new YouTube 10-minute time limit, and without the Google Video copyright protections?

The New Sincerity: Spring Training Edition

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The Bash
Official Home Run Celebration of The New Sincerity


Julio Franco
Official 47-Year-Old MLB Player of the New Sincerity
& Official Batting Stance of The New Sincerity


The Knuckleball

Official Pitch of The New Sincerity


Fat
Official Baseball Player Physical Characteristic of The New Sincerity


Hotfoot
Official Childish Prank Adult Baseball Players Play of The New Sincerity

Download our "Baseball" Episode from Last Year
Featuring Bill "Spaceman" Lee, official former major leaguer, current semi-pro barnstormer of The New Sincerity

How to be on The Sound of Young America...

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Want to be on The Sound of Young America?

Call the listener comment line at 206-984-4FUN and leave a message. Say: "This is ______ (first name is fine) from __________ and you're listening to The Sound of Young America."

If you'd like, add one sentence about why you listen. "I listen because ________."

I want to make some little IDs and promos from them. They will probably be edited together in a collage.

True Hollywood Stories: Sad Edition

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A friend of mine, we'll call him B, was booked to do a late night TV show, which we'll call TLLSwCF. This is a big break for B, who's never really been on TV (outside of a few here and there tiny things, and maybe Premium Blend, I can't remember).

So anyway, he goes and tapes the show, and to hear him tell it (and he's not one to misrepresent these things) does very well. Big laughs, a few applause breaks, etc etc etc. This is great news, because he has a very unique style that isn't what you see from your airplane food type comics, and this very middle-america audience ate it up.

So it was really cool. He was really happy. Wasn't sure if CF saw it, but the writing staff all came and talked to him about how great he was, and how happy they were to see him on the show. Kudos all around.

The day the bit is scheduled to air, he finds out that an executive at the network (which we will also call by initials: CBS), saw the tape of his performance. She is not offended by the performance, there is no political material in the performance, he did not swear. But she thinks it's weird. Over the objections of the staff of the show, including the booker who booked B in the first place, she bans it from being shown on the network. In fact, she won't even allow B's agent to have tape of it, so he can put it in B's reel for booking purposes.

B talks to the folks from the show, and they're all steamed, but they can't really do anything. In fact, the booker was reprimanded by the exec for booking B in the first place.

B is understandably frustrated, not to mention saddened, that his big break has gone sour because one exec (not nameless, but name's not really important) banned him from network TV. He can only hope it'll happen again -- and given his talent and commitment, I think it will.

Man, that's totally fucked.

Here's the question for me...

TLLSwCF is the last show of the broadcast day. After it goes off the air, we go to Taxi reruns or something. The comedy segment is the last segment of the show. The only thing left after it is the credits. This comedian killed in front of a middle American audience, and he's built a significant live audience by being a brilliant and unique comedian. Those qualities even earned him a development deal.

When will TV programmers realize that in the 21st century, the business is about putting on something that people will love, not about putting on something that is C+ for everyone? If they can't do it at 1:30 in the morning, when can they do it?

Aspen Roundup

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Last week, we asked five great comedians to tell us some stories about their experiences at the HBO Aspen Comedy Arts Festival. Here's a roundup.

Charlie Todd

There was a local guy who showed up at all of the social events with his dog. He had trained the dog to stand on his arm. No one really knew what his deal was, but everyone called him "Dog Dude". I guess he's there every year. Anyway, at the UCB party his dog was walking around the kitchen and I figured out how to get it to stand on my arm. The dude saw me doing it and just said, "Go for it, man." So I walked around the party very drunk with this dog standing on my arm.

Ryan Stout

So, Weinbach and I loaded up on one of those carts that are normally reserved for the disabled and elderly. The driver hit the gas and we were on our way. We thought we might be going all the way to another terminal. Nope. Six gates. They had someone drive us, two young, healthy looking lads, five hundred feet.

Anthony Jeselnik

Also, I was caught off guard by the sheer number of times I heard everyone, and I mean everyone, using the word “buzz” in casual conversation.

Sherry Sirof

I also got kicked out of the HBO hospitality lounge on account of my baby. The industry doesn't like babies all up in their business, I don't blame them, but I can't help but resent them.

Brent Weinbach

I'll tell you what though, about nine of us went snow mobiling one morning. If you consider that a social event, that was the best. It was like a video game or an action movie or something, sort of. It was very fun. We rode through the mountains and ate burgers at this log cabin and raced at the end. We met a mysterious man named the Red Zinger.

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