My situation is that if I had to choose between losing my (public radio affiliate) stations and losing my direct podcast fundraising, I’d pick the one that would allow me to continue to pay my rent and I would lose the stations.Ouch.
Well, I'll get the disclosure out of the way, first. I run a public radio station, and maybe a year ago someone (I think my PRI rep) sent me a TSOYA demo CD and asked if I'd run it on WEOS. Well, since I'm 32, and thus in the demo that NPR is, allegedly, so desperate to attract, I figured I'd give it a serious listen and see if it was any good.
I can't lie, I thought it was boring as hell. I forced myself to listen to the entire hour, and couldn't really find anything worth listening to again. At first I thought maybe I'd try and find a second hour, just in case this hour was a dud. But I figured that they'd put the best show out there on the demo, so theoretically the other shows weren't likely to be any better. (shrugs)
Am I being a little harsh? Perhaps, but you could argue I'm just practicing Thorn's own form of "honesty". (evil grin)
In all seriousness, though...reading Thorn's missive about the virtues of going small / Do-It-Yourself / shoestring budgets brought a few things to mind:
FIRST: It's all well and good that Thorn does practically every aspect of the show: host, producer, technical director, marketer, fundraiser, accountant, etc etc etc. But what happens when Thorn can't produce a show? It's not really a question of "if", only "when". At some point he'll be unable to produce the podcast for an extended period...and his entire business model comes apart. And I don't just mean getting old and sick, what if he gets married and has a kid? I don't think he'll have quite the oft-celebrated "studio in his bedroom" access anymore.
Thorn makes no bones about how he's pretty young (27) and this really strikes as an "ignorance of youth" attitude. It's great to have that enthusiasm and time to devote to it...but as one gets older (not much older than 27, either) usually devoting your entire life to a project starts getting unpleasant and, in some cases, physiologically impossible.
These are the sorts of worries that make Program Directors refuse to carry a show. They don't want to take a risk on a show that has an awful lot riding on the current health and life situation of one man.
SECOND: Thorn seems to have a lot of disdain for public radio affiliate stations. I'm sure they appreciate paying him for his disdain, but we'll put that aside for a moment. My point is that if TSOYA had a lot of affiliates, I don't think he'd be nearly so disdainful...because it's not just about the paltry affiliation fees that stations pay. It's about the access you have when you've got a ton of radio listeners to your show...and, lemme tell ya, there are lots of folks that are quite willing to pay you nicely for that access.
By Thorn's own admission, he thinks his show probably has at least 30,000 listeners on WNYC alone (and he's got WHYY in Philadelphia, too, not to mention a half-dozen or so other affiliates) but that his regular podcast audience is perhaps 12,000. I know that it's certainly possible to monetize podcast listeners more than radio listeners, but it strikes me as a little odd that he'd be so dismissive of his radio audience given how much larger it is.
THIRD: I mentioned before that I thought TSOYA was pretty boring. One thing that immediately comes to mind is that since Thorn has to do all the business work involved with producing a show, by definition he's got less time to devote to producing the show. Now obviously one man's opinion of whether a show is boring/interesting is not statistically significant...but as a station manager, my thought process immediately assumes that it's because he's not putting enough time into producing a quality product. Right or wrong, that's going to be a hard image to shake in the minds of many Program Directors.
I should point out that while I'm being mostly critical of Thorn, I'm being that way about specific points in that interview. There's a lot Thorn says that I wholeheartedly agree with. There's stuff that I don't agree with, too...but that doesn't mean it's not probably correct. (no doubt to my ultimate chagrin)