When WNYW-TV reporter Dan Bowens found himself wiping away an inch of dust from Beta tapes of newscast recordings excavated from the Fox O&O’s archives, he knew he had something.
Bowens is the host of WNYW’s podcast “The Tape Room,” which focuses on deep dives into unsolved crimes from the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. Bowen has found plenty of material just by combing through WNYW’s vault, which he augments with new interviews with key players in the cases and other investigative efforts.
“It’s extra work but to me these cases are so fascinating,” Bowens tells Variety. “One thing about these old cases — no matter how big they were in the day, the cases fade from the news. Families are happy to hear from you and sometimes they’re more willing to talk and detectives are more willing to talk in the medium of podcasting.”
“The Tape Room,” which bowed early last year, is one of more than a dozen podcasts produced by outlets in the Fox Television Stations group. Fox Corp. counts 28 O&Os that reach nearly 38% of U.S. TV households, including nine of the top 10 markets.
Fox’s station group produces more than 1,000 hours of local news every week. But in some markets, anchors, reporters, producers and editors are spending even more time in the newsroom to deliver a distinctive lineup of podcasts with local appeal. The mandate from the top is for station managers to develop podcast vehicles that reflect each market’s specific local interests and concerns and the flavor of the community.
“First and foremost it’s a terrific way for our talent to reach our existing audience in a long-form way,” says Patrick Paolini, VP and general manager of Fox’s WTTG-TV Washington, D.C. “The newsroom is excited about looking at different genres and finding different ways to reach new audiences. We’re seeing a lot of reporters and anchors working on podcasts after their shifts end.”
Paolini hosts one of five active podcasts at WTTG. “The Paolini Perspective” is a twist on the tradition of station general managers delivering short commentary and editorial segments on-air. In podcast form, Paolini feels he has a much greater ability to do a deep dive on a given topic and also to respond to community feedback. He works with a co-host and banters back and forth in a conversational way.
“This us a chance for me to address some issues that previously would have been done in an editorial on-air in a minute and a half,” Paolini says.
Fox’s podcast strategy is locally bespoke by design, but there are common threads. True crime stories have been a magnet in most markets. WTTG’s “Missing Pieces” podcast is by far the most popular of the station’s offerings to date, Paolini says. KTTV-TV Los Angeles has tackled true crime in some episodes of “What the Hal” podcast (hosted by reporter Hal Eisner), which have been among its most popular installments.
Podcasting is also a natural format for public service journalism. Steve Noviello, consumer reporter for Fox Television Stations who is based out of KDFW-TV Dallas, hosts “Basic Training.” The idea stemmed from Noviello’s understanding that many viewers were in need of basic information about financial and consumer issues.
“There really was a significant lack of 101-level financial education for our viewers,” Noviello says. “People would hear words like ‘equity’ and ‘credit freeze’ and all these things that sound familiar. When viewers reach out to us for help, we find there are a lot of things that never should have become an issue for them. So we have a chance here to educate people on a basic level about how to buy a car, how to buy a home, how to protest your property taxes, understanding the different between a credit union and a bank.”
“Basic Training” is an extension of Noviello’s charter to interact directly with viewers. “One of the nice things about my position is there are opportunities to engage with viewers. That helps us identify areas where we can create custom content,” he says.
Noviello also notes that there can be an evergreen quality to some podcasts that are helpful in times of crisis. He points to a recent episode that explained what homeowners should do after a tornado.
“We’d never say on air ‘We just had a tornado let’s cue that package from two years ago,’ “ Noviello says. “But we can tell people ‘You’re going to want to check out that podcast that covers everything you need to know about your insurance forms and assistance that’s available.’ Information that is not visual seems to have a much longer shelf life.”
For sure, the podcast format also opens up the storytelling lens because it doesn’t require a need for video. But some of the station’s podcast franchises are migrating to the screen.
“The Tape Room” has become such a buzzy property for WNYW that it yielded a half-hour special for the station that aired in February. Bowens revisited the unsolved murder in May 2004 of 21-year-old Sarah Fox in upper Manhattan and three other “Tape Room” podcast topics. There are more such specials in the works.
Bowens’ interest in podcasting was sparked by his own listening habits during his daily commute to WNYW from his home in New Jersey. The process of digging into cold cases has made him a better reporter and something of a tri-state area historian.
“The authenticity of crime reporting in New York City in the 1970s and ‘80s is fascinating,” Bowens says. “Looking backing on the old footage of reporters wearing thick glasses standing in the precinct interviewing detectives — none of that stuff happens anymore.”
Fox stations use their own air and local newscasts to help drive listeners to podcasts. There are usually natural tie-ins for a reporter or producer of a timely podcast topic promote it in a newscast or lifestyle program. WTTG has gone “all in,” Paolini says, and built a dedicated podcast studio at the station.
“Going in we didn’t know if we were going to be able to produce (podcasts) on a regular basis. To the contrary, we’re taking pitches all the time from our talent. They all want to get in the game,” Paolini says.
To date, some of the Fox podcasts have drawn advertiser support, although the initial focus has been on generating a deep menu of content. If the material is good, advertising dollars will follow, Paolini says.
“From a monetization standpoint we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” he says. “But it gives our sales team another product to put in the suite of products we have. It gives our sales team a nice arsenal to work with when they talk to advertisers.”
Here is a sampling of Fox Television Stations podcasts:
WNYW New York:
- Politics Unusual, hosted by Joe Toohey
- All Good in the Motherhood, hosted by Teresa Priolo
- X’s & Mo, hosted by Robert Moses (sports)
- Another Think Coming, hosted by Mac King (offbeat stories)
- Binge Talking, hosted by Steve Lacy (music and pop culture)
- The Tape Room With Dan Bowens
KTTV Los Angeles:
- Olympic & Bundy, hosted by Kelly Hayes (local color)
- The Issue Is (politics)
- What The Hal, hosted by Hal Eisner
WTTG Washington, D.C.:
- The Paolini Perspective, hosted by Patrick Paolini
- On The Hill, hosted by Tom Fitzgerald
- Missing Pieces (true crime)
- The Good Word, hosted by Tisha Lewis (faith)
- Unconventional Wisdom, hosted by Wisdom Martin (uplifting stories)