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April 5, 2010

Lessons from a Podcast Pioneer

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Not only am I fan personally, but the work that comedian Adam Carolla has done to move the podcast genre forward earns my professional respect, as well. After CBS pulled the plug on his three-year-old radio show, Carolla tested the Internet waters to give his fanatical following the crude and comical mix of irreverent humor and observations of real-world irony they’d come to rely upon. Last year his podcast was named iTunes’ best audio podcast and racked up more than 50 million downloads. This year, Carolla has parlayed a daily show done in his garage into a burgeoning network of varied talent and topics.

Adam Carolla and Virginia Nussey

Adam’s Ace Broadcasting Network is still in its early days and still experimenting with formats and show concepts, ad partners and integrations. But if the engaged fan base and impressive download figures have anything to do with it, the network will one-day-soon be a profit generator for Carolla and crew.

So what lessons can we learn from the first big star of the podcast world?

Tech-Illiteracy is No Excuse

By Adam’s own admission, he’s borderline illiterate and far from Web savvy. But did that stop him from jumping into a new Web venture? In an interview with Fast Company, the reporter watched Carolla peck out an e-mail to a publicist, only to be stumped in locating the exclamation point. Still, the long-time entertainer saw that the future was on the Web and when pushed out of traditional media, he didn’t hesitate to carve out a place online. Now his podcast has 2.8 million listeners a month.

Continually Challenge the Status Quo

Once the show was off and running, Carolla and his producer started tinkering with new ways to reach the audience. They started doing video casts, and then put on a live show to benefit his friend from the long-lost radio show who was fighting brain cancer. The fast sell out of tickets for the benefit got Adam thinking about doing more live shows, and soon-after, he and his celebrity and comedian friends were getting together at comedy clubs to record live podcasts. Now the podcast has splintered into a network of shows, each covering many of the topics he would discuss on his own show, including car enthusiasm, parenting experiences, and sports analysis.

You’re Still Accountable

The once censored Carolla likely found joy in moving to an unfiltered space like the Internet, free to curse and be as politically incorrect as he pleased. To a point. Content is still open to the judgment of the audience — a lesson Adam learned last week. When Adam made comments on his podcast about Manny Pacquiao that stereotyped Filipinos, he drew a wave of ire from fans and non-fans alike. As a Filipino and a fan, I know he didn’t mean to pick on the Philippines — well, any more so than any other country or ethnicity. Adam is, after all, an equal opportunity ranter. But I believe that in the future, he’ll give second thought to how he’s representing himself to an audience that has proven loyal and loving time and again.

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