Is podcasting the radio of the 21st century?
There’s certainly a lot of overlap, and if nothing more, a podcast is certainly an evolutionary step up from radio broadcasts. Steve Lubetkin, co-author with Donna Papacosta of The Business of Podcasting, got his start in radio in the ’70s, courtesy of Fort Monmouth, the Army base where his father worked. It was also where military personnel were trained in communications.
“There was a robust closed-circuit network with 30 channels, and they trained people for Armed Forces Radio,” Lubetkin said. “One fateful afternoon, my dad got me access to that studio and I spent the afternoon learning how to queue records. I went home that night and set up a radio studio with an old reel -to-reel tape recorder and a turntable to play vinyl records. I even taped some commercials off the radio” to make the broadcasts seem more real. He’d play back his “broadcasts” to his best friend, because that was the only mode of distribution available to him at the time.
Lubetkin got his broadcasting license from the Federal Communications Commissions while in college, allowing him to work the board at an Asbury Park, New Jersey, radio station late Sunday nights to broadcast a local public affairs show. He had the radio bug and would’ve made it his life, if not for an equally burning passion to eat.
“At some point along the way, I had to make a decision,” Lubetkin said. “You can either be on the radio or you can buy groceries. You can’t usually do both.”
So, Lubetkin did what so many do: He went into public relations. He still had the chance to use some of the skills he gained from broadcasting, but he didn’t get involved in this newfangled podcast world until about 11 years ago, when the platform was just starting to eke out over the horizon of “new media,” what’s now called social media.
“I started listening to what I was hearing and it was a lot of people sounding like what we did in college radio,” he said.
Lubetkin set about relearning some of the basics — “When I was in radio, we were editing with a razorblade and a grease pencil”—and has since launched a series of podcasts.
Along the way, Lubetkin’s learned that the best podcasts are the ones that stay true to a focused, targeted audience.
“It’s not about going viral, it’s not about having 20 million people” listening on a regular basis, he said. “That’s the old advertising model. The best use of a podcast is for a very narrow focus, for an audience that lies awake at night trying to solve a problem, then Googles that problem and finds a company with a problem where their subject matter expert talked about how they can solve that problem.”
On this week’s It’s All Journalism podcast, producers Michael O’Connell and Nicole Ogrysko talk to Steve Lubetkin, who wrote The Business of Podcasting with Donna Papacosta. Lubetkin discusses the technical and business challenges many novice podcasters face, as well as some of the solutions out there for building a successful podcast.