Broadcast to Podcast: As They Flip Off Radio Careers, Former On-Air Hosts Weather Complicated Pivot

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When radio hosts Cane and Corey were fired from their morning show gig on New York’s Alt 92.3 FM a month ago, it took them less than a half-hour to decide to take their shtick to a podcast.

“As of 20 minutes ago, via Zoom, we have been let go,” said Cane Peterson at the top of a Dec. 16 episode called “WE GOT FIRED” (emphasis is theirs), which spilled all the duo’s dirty laundry in one 27-minute long rant. The team was fired for multiple infractions on-air and off (more on that later), but they wasted no time to give their spin on the news: “We have been terminated by Audacy,” Peterson told their listeners. “‘Show Killer Mike’ literally killed the show.”

Peterson was referring to Mike Kaplan, senior VP of programming at Audacy (formerly Entercom), whose company’s 2017 acquisition and subsequent revamp of the former CBS Radio chain has not endeared the executive to terrestrial old schoolers or, on the opposite coast, to longtime fans and former staff of once-influential modern rock station KROQ, which has also undergone a major revamp (including the firing of its stalwart morning drive team).

In many ways, Kaplan has been held up as a personification of radio’s decline, as the medium’s reach narrows and its corporate overlords tighten belts by thumbing their noses at high-priced on-air talent. The “show killer” nickname is just one of several descriptors for their old boss that Cane and Corey use in the episode, and the jocks mince no words when it comes to characterizing the constraints foisted on them by company brass as well as the perpetual threat that they were a format flip away from losing their jobs.

Revenge pod, anyone? How convenient and seemingly easy it is for a personality to air their grievances, no old-world broadcasting conglomerate required. And Cane and Corey are just the latest in a long line of radio hosts who’ve splintered from their former stations to try their hand at podcasting.

There’s Opie, one-half of shock-jock duo Opie and Anthony, who’s nearing 500 episodes of his “Opie Radio” podcast; several grads of KROQ’s “Kevin & Bean Show” have taken their once-daily features and segments to a podcast format on Patreon, including Gene “Bean” Baxter and Allie MacKay, who host the three-times-a-week “A Cup of Tea and a Chat,” and Ralph Garman of the daily “The Ralph Report”; Chicago radio legend Steve Dahl, who continued a daily podcast after parting ways with Cumulus and WLS in 2018; and perhaps the most successful example, “The Adam Carolla Show,” which consistently lands among the top-ranking podcasts on multiple charts, has been going strong daily since 2009.

Still, there’s a reality — which Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw recently encapsulated with the headline “Podcasting Hasn’t Produced a New Hit in Years” — that discovery is down in the medium. The most popular programs remain perennials like Joe Rogan, “WTF with Marc Maron” and Carolla. At more than a decade old, they’re practically geriatric by podcast standards. (Lest we forget that the term podcast goes back to the iPod, which first hit the market in 2001.)

Here, radio veterans may have an advantage: In an age of too many podcasts (nearly three million are currently being housed on Spotify alone), and few really resonating, these personalities are well-positioned to pivot to podcasting as a business — and even to make a go of self-employment. Radio stars, particularly from major markets where they commanded hundreds of thousands of listeners, have a built-in, loyal fanbase ready and willing to plop down a monthly subscription fee to continue the relationship they once had for free over the radio.

It’s something that most new podcasters, and even celebrities, don’t possess: An audience that already has an audio bond with the people whose voices they’ve heard for years on a daily basis. Radio stars are used to hosting for hours each day, yet keeping things crisp, fast and lively. It’s hard to shake the notion that dead air is death, which is why their shows tend to just naturally be more formatted and with a flow that amateur podcasters just can’t match.

All of which makes the circumstances of Cane and Corey’s firing somewhat ironic. The official cause for their termination? They released a podcast while on a three-week suspension from the station. The reason for their suspension was the hosts’ refusal to get vaccinated, and letting a few F bombs fly live on-air by accident (the latter snafu was due to their own sloppiness, they admitted). Any of the above would be grounds for dismissal, which makes their grievances with Kaplan and Audacy a bit misguided.

Nonetheless, here’s how Corey Bonalewicz (who professionally goes as “Corey B”) describes being let go: “We were told, ‘You can’t come in the building until you’re vaccinated. And if you’re not vaccinated by January 3rd, you guys will be terminated.’ Since we were going to miss three weeks of work and [worried] that our listeners would forget about us, we decided to do a podcast so they can listen to us while we were away.”

Easy enough to do with Spotify’s Anchor tool, Bonalewicz continues: “We posted it, and the next day, we were told, ‘You breached your contract and posted your own podcast to Spotify and Apple. And that’s against Audacy policy.’ It was the most BS I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”

Audacy declined to comment but did confirm that Cane and Corey were terminated for cause, which means no severance for the hosts (Peterson is an eight-year veteran of the station) or their staff. “They fired everyone with us just so they didn’t have to pay out,” claims Bonalewicz. “It’s so messed up. And right before Christmas. Now with our own podcast, we’ve become a much closer team.”

 * * *

“Life is so great. Not having to wake up at 2 a.m. … This is something we were thinking of doing anyway. … We’re not going anywhere. We’re just gonna switch platforms. … Where we get to be our own fucking boss; where we get to make our own fucking rules; where we get to say what the fuck we want.”

Such was Peterson’s declaration as the Cane & Corey podcast launched, while his cohost promised it would be “better, funnier” and “something you can still listen to in the morning.”

A month into their show, the guys have settled on a schedule in which they go live for an hour at 9 a.m. ET to Patreon subscribers ($5 a month), and upload individual episodes to surface on DSPs (Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, etc.) between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. PT, behind a paywall ($2.99 a month buys you access through Anchor). Posting daily is demanding in itself, but the show has maintained consistency there — taking a day off only on Jan. 6 so far this year.

“We’re still the same, but we’re not handcuffed,” Peterson tells Variety. “We’re not told what content to do and not to do. We actually know who our listeners are, unlike those who they thought wanted to hear Machine Gun Kelly every 45 minutes. … Our listeners love how free we can be now.”

Radio vet Tom Leykis, who spent much of his career doling out life advice and offering brash, unfiltered talk in syndication and on such stations as WABC, KFI and KLSX, warns that not everything translates from terrestrial to pod. “If they think doing their morning zoo show will work — honking the horn and saying, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck. Hi, I’m your morning man! Look at me, I’m talking dirty!’ — it doesn’t,” he says. (With episode descriptions that include “Cane reads parts of his mom’s diary” and “Producer Jai did WHAT to the holiday ham?,” it seems the duo hasn’t veered much from the formula.)

“You have to adjust to the medium — where the show starts when you press play,” Leykis continues. “Not being live does require certain changes, but it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily giving something up.”

Leykis, like Carolla, left the terrestrial world in 2009 after their L.A. all-talk FM station (Carolla in the mornings, Leykis in afternoons) flipped to top 40. He never looked back, but his contract with CBS Radio (last employer to both) prevented him from launching a podcast or internet radio show for a period of three years. Considering his show was drawing as many as one million listeners at its height in the mid 2000s, that audience was a valuable one to hold onto.

Fortunately for Leykis, he had foresight and a plan. “I knew there was going to be a collapse of the business so I made preparations, like saving every email I received from listeners for two years straight,” he says. “Then, when they gave me notice — and their technique was to just fire you, give no notice to the audience, or to you until you got to the station — I harvested all those addresses and started putting out a newsletter letting them know why I wasn’t on the air.”

A year before his CBS non-compete expired (the company did pay out the remainder of his multi-million-dollar contract, so no cause for revenge there), Leykis featured a countdown clock on his website and social media accounts, and his first show was a monster, with 400,000 tuning in. “We had a bigger audience than some L.A. radio stations strictly being on the internet,” Leykis brags.

Shifting from live internet radio, he retooled his show in 2018 for the podcast format because there were elements that wouldn’t work. “When you’re on for three or four hours a day, there’s a lot of ad-libbing and spontaneous stuff,” he explains. “The podcast is not as spontaneous and I now do something that I didn’t have to do for radio: write every day.”

He currently offers his archive of 5,000-plus episodes along with new daily content starting at $11 a month as part of a premium package. “It’s worked out well because I make a mint six-figure salary,” he says. “I record from my ranch in Santa Barbara County without even leaving the property. Throughout the pandemic, I was doing three episodes a week without fail. … Too many people have the kind of egos that need 10 million listeners or whatever. I am happy to have 2,000 solvent, bill-paying customers who pay to hear my show, and I don’t have to talk into a microphone at a radio station where they cut the Lysol budget out in 1998. … But a lot of these radio guys, they think they’re going to be on the air forever and are not prepared for the future.”

 * * *

There is a perception that podcasts don’t pay. That unless you’re a known name who can score a big check from a company that will host, or window, your show exclusively (on the upper rung of deals: Joe Rogan reportedly pocketed $100 million when he signed with Spotify in May 2020), the fraction of an ad spot that you earn is probably comparable to what songwriters make off a stream. Which is to say: nominal.

Peterson boasts that the Cane & Corey podcast numbers are strong, with listening time averaging 30 minutes (“Compare that to seven minutes of time spent listening [on the] radio,” he says), and a gender breakdown that’s 56% male and 44% female and mostly based out of New York, New Jersey and Florida (the duo was syndicated to Detroit and Miami in addition to Alt 92.3, which landed in 20th place on the latest ratings report covering the tri-state area).

The show’s age breakdown: 23% are 23 to 27; 40% are 28 to 34; and 25% range from 35 to 44 years-old. As for engagement? “It’s high,” Peterson says. “Our Instagram reels get at least 30,000 views and over 100,000 video views a week. On Apple and Spotify, we have 100% five-star reviews and monthly listens are over 50,000, with subs growing daily consistently.”

“The holy grail is picking up bigger ad clients that buy ad inventory of the whole season or the whole show,” says Jared Gutstadt, founder and CEO of AudioUp Media, the studio that produces podcast offerings by the likes of Stephen King, Rosanna Arquette and Machine Gun Kelly. “But there is a lot of money in the CPM model for podcasting,” he adds, referring to the cost per thousand people reached — currently hovering around $25 — formula. “If you have 800 listeners, it’s not much, but if you have 800,000?”

Among the most successful examples is former attorney Michael Cohen’s “Mea Culpa: Nothing But the Truth,” a top-ranking AudioUp show which takes aim weekly at former President and ex-client Donald Trump and has seen its share of six-figure months. Not bad for a revenge pod.

“He is in many ways, a jilted lover,” offers Gutstadt of Cohen. “He was so in that circle and paid the ultimate price. Now, he’s telling his story with the democratic vehicle that he has in the form of podcasting. And that that’s a good example of utilizing the medium to reach a broad audience that otherwise would have been closed off. It’s been really cool to see that this story didn’t fizzle out with him just whining all the time, like ‘woe is me.’ He’s decoded a period of time that was complete insanity and he’s doing it in a way that’s attracted a real interest from the people on the left. He’s using the revenge podcast in the best possible way: to enlighten, entertain and fix.”

Another radio veteran who’s making the podcast format work for him is former KROQ jock Ted Stryker. His “Tuna on Toast” series launched in October 2021, three months after leaving the L.A. station amicably (he worked there 22 years). For the show, Stryker honed in on two things which helped define his place in SoCal culture: long-standing relationships with rock stars like Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and former Blink-182 member Tom DeLonge (both guests on his show), and with local advertisers, like Hamer Toyota, which signed on as a sponsor.

When you think of the worldwide reach of a podcast, a car dealership in Mission Hills, Calif., may not seem like the obvious choice, but the bond between loyal listener and a local station personality is a valuable one. “I’ve had a working relationship with Hamer for years, so I’ve gotten to know them well,” says Stryker. “I’ve seen how they work, how they treat people, and how supportive they are. When I told them, this podcast is not a hobby, this is my career and my next step, and asked, would they be interested in being the title sponsor? They thought about it for a very, very short time and said, ‘absolutely.’ They took a chance. I hadn’t even done one episode.”

So far it’s working, as Stryker reports several of his listeners have visited the Hamer showroom. Does that mean his devotees did indeed come with him to the pod side? Says the native Angeleno: “Well, I hoped that some of the people who listened to KROQ, or followed me over many years, like when I did red carpet stuff, would be like, ‘You know what? This guy has entertained me at least a little. I’m going to give it a chance.’ And those who did would post on their Instagram story that they were listening, and I could see that it was driving placement on the charts, where you’re like No. 9 for one week on Apple, and then No. 130 the week after. It’s such a roller coaster.”

“Tuna on Toast” has a video component, too, which has worked for veteran podcasters like Joe Budden, who monetizes those plays on YouTube (in addition to charging betwen $5 and $25 for early access to the show and other perks via Patreon). But it requires an extra layer of production, most of which Stryker is handling solo.

“A majority of the guests come over to my house, and we’re filming them walking in and then going into my refrigerator and eating my food and going into the guest room, which is now the studio,” he elaborates. “This is all me doing every single detail.”

And that includes booking the interview subjects, who, like Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan or Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda (the most popular episode to date), have sizable fanbases of their own. (On his wish list: Britney Spears, Eminem and Dave Grohl.) “It’s what I needed to do,” Stryker continues. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could build this thing. And if a bigger company wants to jump on board, when it feels right, I’ll be ready.”

 * * *

Radio and podcasts have become uneasy bedfellows as major broadcasting companies like iHeartMedia and SiriusXM have invested money in engineering, equipment and talent to build up their non-music audio offerings. But we’re not quite at the Venn diagram of podcasts and airwaves seeing as what should be complimentary mediums — “Want more Cane and Corey? Here they are on-demand on pAudCast…” — are actually competing for people’s attention. Similarly, for the DSPs, it’s practically a given that they provide access to those same audio programs, or risk the user jumping platforms.

Leykis views the intertwining with much more skepticism. “When iHeartMedia says, ‘We’re the biggest podcast aggregator’ or ‘We have the most podcasts,’ what does that even mean?” he barks. “Any dope with a laptop and a garage can do a podcast and even get on iHeartRadio. It makes no sense at all. But there’s another thing going on: radio is embarrassed about the word radio. Right here in Los Angeles, KNX 1070 Radio is now on FM as KNX News. There’s not even mention of 1070, which is where it’s been on the dial since 1924.”

(Coincidentally, KNX’s move to FM at 97.1 meant the end of the road for the top 40 format there — yes, the very same Audacy station that threw Leykis and Corolla off the air in 2009.)

In fact, in recent years, podcasts have increasingly looked like the beginnings of radio for scripted content, adopting a 21st-century “radio play” model for series involving actors and sound effects. A-listers abound and noted composers are starting to dip a toe into original music for what some refer to as “movies for your ears.”

“Radio entertainment in the 1930s was all the things that we saw in podcast 1.0: news, storytelling, music, immersive advertising,” says Gutstadt. “The Orson Welles Mercury players created content that brands, and their customers, engaged with.”

Still, that giant podcast hit has been elusive for what’s become a mature medium. Sure, there have been acquisitions that led to screen adaptations (“Homecoming,” “Dirty John,” “The Shrink Next Door”), and each had their moment. But as Gutstadt observes: “The conversations we keep having as we’re developing relationships is, ‘Where’s our “Squid Game?” Where’s our “Sopranos” for podcasting?’ Initially, it was ‘Serial,’ and everybody’s tried to replicate that with true crime. Everyone’s had to replicate Rogan, who is really good at what he does. The ‘Smartless’ guys — they’re geniuses and the show is done so well and is so singular that it’s hard for anybody to match that.”

What does that mean for the podcasts of tomorrow? “They will sound and look completely different than everything we’ve experienced at this point, mostly because the technology around podcasting is not great yet,” Gutstadt adds. “We’re in the first inning right now. It’s peak podcast 1.0, which is to say, how many more agents and managers are going to tell their clients that they’re the next Joe Rogan and should do a podcast? But I don’t think we’re at peak dollars being spent — we’re nowhere near that.”

With reporting by Michele Angermiller and Michael Schneider