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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.”

Jack Ferris

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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

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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