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Steven Goldstein Has Podcasting’s Road Map

“Traditional radio – by design – is a lean-back business. Podcasting is a lean-in business.”

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It’s clear he doesn’t get the question every day, but he doesn’t hesitate to give you the details surrounding the moment.  The single experience that changed Steven Goldstein’s professional life forever.

“I was sitting at home watching TV with my kids,” Goldstein declares with the kind of enthusiasm you can only find in an entrepreneur.  

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That particular night the Connecticut native was taking in House of Cards with his 3 children ranging from age 17 to 24.  There wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking about the show.  A political drama with a couple household names to draw you in – mix in some clever character development wrapped around a bit of scandal and corruption.  

No, it wasn’t the story structure of Cards that ignited the lightbulb above Goldstein’s head – it was the credits.  Specifically the “Play Next Episode” option in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

When House of Cards debuted in February of 2013 – it didn’t just legitimize Netflix’s streaming platform – it changed the way we consume television.  Prior to that Winter, the idea of releasing an entire season at once was unheard of.  Unthinkable.  Seven years later it’s commonplace.  In fact we often complain about traditional television networks sticking to the “old school” weekly programming model with shows in which we’re invested.

Goldstein took notice of his children’s immediate decision to fire up the next episode.  And the next.  And the Next.

“It was the birth of binge watching,” he recalls.  “I knew that moment if television was evolving in that direction – why wouldn’t radio?”  

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With a career as impressive as Netflix’s market evaluation – when Goldstein has an idea about radio, you’d be wise to listen.

Ironically, when he left Ithaca College for the real world several decades ago, the industry was in the midst of a different revolution.

“The big explosion was FM radio – if that gives you any indication of how long I’ve been around,” he offers, his wink almost audible through the phone.  

He’ll disguise it as a self-deprecating jab, but Goldstein’s experience watching the balance of power shift between the almighty AM to the unexplored FM is eerily similar to the current balancing act between terrestrial stations and the digital space.

“FM had all the momentum.  Better fidelity, looser playlists on all the stations – it was an interesting time.”

Following stints as an executive with both the NBC Radio Network and ABC Radio, Goldstein helped launch SAGA Communications in 1986.  It was there he served as the company’s Executive Vice President and Group Program Director for nearly 30 years.  

The reason for his departure?  His binge watching-inspired vision had manifested itself into what he believed was the future of the medium – podcasts.  Roughly two years after that evening watching television with his kids – Goldstein had launched Amplifi Media, a company that would take his decades of radio experience and put it to work advising professionals in the digital world.

“I got some eye rolls when people found out why I was leaving for sure,” Goldstein remembers.

Standing in 2020, a company like Amplifi makes perfect sense – from the 2015 point of view, it looks a little shaky.

“‘Are you crazy!  You’re leaving a great job with a good company for what?  Podcasts?’”

Goldstein bet on his intuition and it paid off.  Of course – podcasts had existed for nearly a decade at that point.  Pioneers like Joe Rogan and Marc Maron had developed (by today’s standards) niche followings.  However, just months before Amplifi got off the ground, NPR and Sarah Koenig took the platform to a whole new level with the October 2014 release of Serial.

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Almost overnight men and women of all ages were discussing the curious case of Adnan Syed.  For the first time in history – a pop culture phenomenon revolved around a podcast.  It was a craze that surprised just about everyone – outside of Steven Goldstein of course.

“Another development that was huge for use,” he explains, his appreciation for the recent history echoed in his cadence. “Right around that time, Apple developed the Podcast App.  Now, everyone had access to any podcast with the tap of their thumb.”

Log onto Amplifi’s home page and you’ll find across the top banner one hyphenated exclamation:

“Thumb-Stopping”  

Five years after Serial and the launch of Goldstein’s company, we’ve seen nearly 1 million podcasts across the globe.  As prospective listeners browse through their seemingly infininate options, your podcast has to have thumb-stopping power.

“Traditional radio – by design – is a lean-back business.  Podcasting is a lean-in business.”

Spend 30 minutes on the phone with Goldstein and you’ll walk away with half a dozen of these simple yet profound thoughts.

From a listener’s standpoint, it’s quite simple.  Almost literal.  With terrestrial radio, you find your station on your commute, lean back and enjoy the ride.  A digital listener hardly leans back.  They have the power to listen to just about anything under the sun and will exercise that power until they find something that fits their demand.

When programming for a terrestrial radio station, you plug in your music, prepare your shows and sit back and wait for the ratings.  Dealing in the digital space, you’re called to action.  You have to produce your show – then find a way to get your show in as many earbuds as you can.  

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind in any new business venture is revenue.  How and where do we get paid from the pods?  While he credits Netflix for it’s hand in creating this entertainment-on-demand culture we now reside – he’s adamant subscription based models have no room in the digital audio space.

“Right now at least, everything is so new you can’t put anything behind a paywall.  Listeners have so many options – they’ll move right along if you ask for money.  Everything has to be ad based.”

With digital software and recording hardware getting better and cheaper, launching a podcast is becoming easier.  If you’re one of the 1-2% of podcasts fortunate enough to generate revenue – great!  The hard work starts there.

Ask Goldstein about the most common mistakes associated with new successful podcasts and he’s not lost for words.

“Self indulgency can be tricky, and length is always an issue, but the biggest issue is people not having a clear road map.  Not understanding how they’re going to get to where they want to be”

If every podcast needs a road map, then Goldstein is a seasoned cartographer.

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Over the last decade we’ve watched the not-so-slow encroachment of digital audio into terrestrial radio territory.  It has, understandably so, left many feeling uneasy about the future of the business.  To that – Goldstein offers a reassuring thought.

“Sports radio stations, given the local interest market to market, are in the best possible position to embrace and take advantage of the growing interest in podcasts.”

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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