For decades, Tom Barnard has been among the most popular media personalties on the Twin Cities landscape. Now he's ready to take on the rest of the world.
Starting Wednesday, the KQRS morning-drive host will offer a free podcast -- one-hour episodes, five times a week -- leaning heavily on his Rolodex of comedian friends, including Nick Swardson and Louie Anderson, as well as his family. His wife, Kathryn Brandt, will serve as sidekick while their children will make sporadic appearances.
"It won't be the Kardashians, but it'll feel like a reality radio show," said Tom Barnard.
The press-shy entertainer, who is preparing a uncharacteristic media blitz to promote his new Internet audio venture, is the latest to jump in the ever-expanding pool of podcasting. A handful of nationally known comics, such as Adam Carolla and Jay Mohr, reap anywhere from $100,000 to millions in profits on their podcasts, thanks to advertising and sponsorships.
"The Tom Barnard Podcast," available via tombarnardpodcast.com, isn't expected to join that rarefied class right away.
Though some predicted that podcasting would make radio as relevant as the telegraph, it has yet to catch fire with the mainstream. Only 13 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast and 63 percent aren't even aware of the term, according to Edison Research.
Barnard's team offered to partner with Cumulus Media, which owns KQRS, splitting expenses and profits. The Atlanta-based company turned it down, but gave him permission to develop the series as part of recent contract negotiations that will keep Barnard at the station for the next four years.
"It's very difficult to make meaningful money with these," said John Dickey, Cumulus' executive vice president and co-chief operating officer. "Subscribers to his podcast will number in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands that listen to his radio show." (KQ's morning show draws more than 270,000 adults a day.)
David Spark, who covers tech media for San Francisco-based Spark Media Solutions, said even the most successful podcasters had to deal with "meager recognition" in their first year.
Rob Greenlee, founder of WebTalk World Radio Live and a business manager at Microsoft, estimates that 20 to 30 percent of new podcasters get frustrated and quit after fewer than 10 episodes.
Host is investing $50,000
Barnard recognizes that it's not going to be easy.
"It's going to be a long build. That may be tough on me at first," he said. "Some people are going to say, 'Who the hell is this guy?'"
To improve the odds, Barnard's team is investing $50,000 for start-up costs, not including salaries. Nephew Sean Barnard fills the role of general manager. His original plan was to tape shows at his uncle's home, but they opted for a regular studio with superior sound.
To promote the show, Barnard agreed to interviews with local TV stations for the first time in 20 years. He'll travel to Los Angeles to stir up interest. He's hoping to tape at least one or two shows a month at local bars. He may even book a local theater around the holidays for a music-driven show in front of an audience.
Even if the podcast doesn't come close to his KQ numbers, he can be labeled a hit. That's because podcast audiences are extremely valuable to advertisers.
"Adam Carolla has said that he'd rather have 10,000 podcast listeners than 100,000 radio listeners," said Spark. "The audience is crazy, crazy powerful because they are big word-of-mouth marketers and are really passionate about the show. The only advertisements I ever remember are the ones I've heard on podcasts."
Kit Gray, director of sales for the Barnard show, said an established comedy podcaster can pocket more than $100,000 a year. Some, like Marc Maron, also use the shows to build their fan base and raise their public profile, which can lead to bigger live audiences and new opportunities, such as TV shows or movies.
Barnard's goal is to build enough of an audience so that, some day, he can start sleeping in.
"I'm not going to want to get up at 4 a.m. in the morning for the rest of my life," said Barnard, who turns 61 in November. "I can't see myself being on the radio for more than 10 years. But podcasting? That's something I can do for the rest of my life."
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