Right now radio stars are being born in the unlikliest of places, such as the living room of a century-old Wisconsin farmhouse.
For that, thank podcasting, the audio version of blogging. Podcasts are created through a low-cost technology called iPodder, which lets everyone from amateur disk jockeys to Microsoft enthusiasts turn their audio content into MP3 files that can be easily downloaded onto an iPod or other portable MP3 player. Like blogs, RSS feeds alert subscribers when new podcasts are posted and, like blogs, podcasts are morphing from homespun curiosities into influential marketing tools.
General Motors Corp. last week launched its weekly podcast, "Fastlane Radio," featuring an interview with Clay Dean, designer of the new Pontiac Solstice. The venture is an extension of the company's Fastlane blog, which, according to GM, is read by between 4,000 and 6,000 people a day.
"We were looking for a direct line to consumers and people on the Internet," says Michael Wiley, director-new media at GM. "In the past we communicated either via ads or press releases and there was no feedback loop. This allows us to hear back from our enthusiasts, potential customers, and detractors. It's grassroots communication vs. a mass communication."
Jeff Rossi agrees. His job as media supervisor at Digitaledge, the emerging media lab at WPP's Mediaedge:cia, is to identify trends that affect the way the agency does business and find the marketing opportunities within those. "Being a new brand, especially in the technology space, it's important to get those tipping-point users to evangelize the technology," he says. "The people we're reaching through podcasts and blogs are the early adopters." He's eyeing podcasting's possibilities for such clients as consumer-electronics company LG and GPS provider TomTom.
FOLLOW THE RULES
But, as in the blogging community, marketers must follow the rules to be counted among the podcast legit. "If you try to be gimmicky, if you're dishonest, if you decide to filter or cleanse your comments, if you don't allow comments," Wiley says, "the blog pundits will be relentless in their dismissal of you."
What's most surprising about podcasting, perhaps, is how quickly it's grown. Invented last August by iPodder founder and former MTV VJ Adam Curry, podcasting has gained momentum due to consumers' desire for on-demand audio and because the shows offer unfiltered opinions on niche interests. Today, consumers can choose from more than 2,000 podcasts-and that number can only be expected to grow, as MP3 player sales rise. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey estimated more than 22 million Americans 18 and older have iPods or MP3 players-including 24% of those earning $75,0000 a year or more.
Even traditional radio players have gotten in on the act, including New York public radio station WNYC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and BBC. Phil Redo, who heads up WNYC's station operations and strategy, believes mainstream media should pay attention. "If I were running a commercial radio station today, I sure as hell would have my most popular talent on a podcast every day. I'd want them to be heard every place they can be."
Each month podcastalley.com, a directory of podcasts, ranks the most popular shows. Here are March's top five .
1. Dawn and Drew Show
General-interest talk show from the living room of the husband-and-wife hosts' 1895 southeast Wisconsin farmhouse.
2. The MacCast
News, product reviews, opinion and commentary for Mac geeks, by a self-described Mac geek.
All cover songs, all the time.
4. Free Talk Live
A syndicated Libertarian talk radio show.
5. Podcast Radio Show
Tony Marino, founder of Portland-based marketing firm America Web Works, discusses PodCast and Internet marketing strategies.