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Podcasting the country way

By Dan MacIntosh, January 2006

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"Simply put, I'm a country artist," The Outhouse host Grant Langston elaborates. "I have a band. I sell records. I am on a tiny label, but we tour and have some degree of success, though we're always reaching out for new partners and opportunities. The first time I heard about podcasting was in an article in Time or Newsweek, and I immediately said, "That's something I need to do.""

"It just seemed like a great opportunity to spread the word about my music, my colleagues and my genre," Langston continues. "Americana and alt.-country appeal to people who are not fans of Nashville country music, and because of that, they often need a demonstration of the music to understand that it is different and something they like. This is a free and painless way to get that sample."

"Another reason to pursue this is because of our desire to break into Europe," Langston elaborates further. "We have a tour booked for the UK and France in January, and much of the podcast audience is in Europe (or it was when I started). I wanted to build a fan base there, and this is a great way to do that."

For some, podcasting offers skilled radio folk an avenue to show off what they can do, while for others it's simply an uncomplicated way do "do radio."

"I got into podcasting because I find it to be an exciting and easy way to showcase my talents," says Bubba Bohacks, whose podcast is at bubbabohacks.com. "(There's) no big transmitter here - just a computer, audio mixing board, a microphone or two and some software."

Bohacks, whose podcast is comedy-based, draws about 2,500 dowloads for the joke of the day in the first 24 hours.

"I thought the podcast thing was a great idea," says Bill Groll who just recently discontinued his Country Roots program. "I ran across it in my travels about the Internet, and it sounded like a great way for independent people to publish exactly what they wanted without investing lots of money. It was conceived as an independent minded thing, like blogging, and not just for downloading segments from the established mass-media to play on your iPod.

Then again, some podcasters only want to spread the word about music that too often gets neglected by mainstream radio.

"We started podcasting because country radio doesn't play much country music anymore. We've got great songs and stories to share and we don't feel like we need the corporate music biz or corporate radio to validate what we do," says Kliman.

Only time will tell what kind of affect podcasting will have upon country radio in general. Nobody expects it to completely replace radio, but it may just end up drawing borderline listeners away for good.

"It'll probably have a significant affect on radio," theorizes Holm. "This change is a seismic shift akin to the affect of TiVo on television - the on-demand we've always been promised, which was never delivered. But, it isn't the radio killer. Radio is the radio killer - too much feeding, too narrow a product for too long. People are tired of radio. They don't see how it can give them what they want. It's low tech. But, its radio's own fault. Radio is now in the hands of the people."

"Frankly, I don't have a lot of knowledge about the history of country radio," adds Langston. "In rock radio, historically you had renegade DJ's with big audiences who, if they liked a record, could and would break an artist that had no following. I don't know if country radio has that tradition. I think radio will always have a place. I mean, AM radio is still a force in some ways. But as the current generation gets comfortable picking their music from a variety of sources - some sources which aren't controlled by big companies - radio is going to be less and less relevant. In rock music, this is already happening. But someday country music will be there, too."

Of course, some of these podcasters have stronger reactions to The State Of Radio than others.

"My feelings about country radio? It sucks! I understand that there are a few good stations, but none of those are around here (in Texas)," states Groll, emphatically. "But mostly, it is all commercial dreck coming out of the big media outlets. It's pop culture at its worst, with clichéd lyrics and no originality. There may be some overlap in the radio and podcast audience, but not much at this point. Podcasts can focus on a smaller market segment than radio can, and that will likely always be a fraction of the number of people who just want to turn their radio on and not have to figure out how to download casts and load 'em into their mp3 players. It is a no brainer to turn on the radio; it takes some know-how to listen to a podcast."

And how does "corporate radio" feel about podcasting? RJ Curtis, the station manager for LA country radio giant KZLA, says, "I don't see this as a threat, but instead something like a 'client service' opportunity for radio stations. I'm out of school on this because we haven't started this yet. But I think podcasting and webcasting are great ways to make radio stations 3-D."

So just who are these cutting-edge souls listening to podcasts these days?

"Currently, the audience is about 50/50 US and Europe," answers Langston. "These are mainly avid music seekers and computer people...though that is changing."

"I get fan mail from all over the place," says Bohacks. "One guy from China wanted a transcript so he could try to understand some of my country sayins' (slang). It's just me, a one-man operation, so there are no transcripts."

Corrigan said in December she had 18,000 downloads and for the third quarter of 2005, she had 48,000 downloads. She also says she is going to start a video podcast.

"I'm planning on making some money," she says, with the intent of building a fan base first.

"There is talk about early adopters being the only listeners right now, which is quite funny," Holm says. "It's sort of like the podcasters are listening to themselves. But, that's pretty short-lived. The audience is growing. A few shows will rise in popularity and help it spread the word. It's a very viral thing, and those that are listening are talking about it, and it'll spread quickly."

Perhaps podcasting is like that sci-fi movie after all: the phenomena seemingly just landed on this planet, it continues to multiply body snatcher-like, and it might take over in the end. But be not afraid neighbor because these podcasters are your friends, not your enemies. If you happen to agree with Bill Groll, that radio sucks, there is an alternative musical universe out there. And this expanding cyberspace may be country music's final frontier.

Photo is of Bubba Bohacks

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