Adam Carolla was the choice to fill shock jock Howard Stern's nationally syndicated morning slot on the West Coast four years ago. He delivered the punch lines but not the ratings. So the funnyman got the ax.
But Carolla appears to be getting the last laugh. He launched a podcast that became so successful it will now be co-produced by a major radio network the same one that fired him nine months ago, CBS Radio Inc.
CBS Radio will pay Carolla, although the amount has not been disclosed, and it will help sell advertising to play on the podcast. CBS Radio will also promote the podcast on its stations and Web sites beginning Monday.
Network executives and the 45-year-old entertainer who replaced Stern in late 2005 after the shock jock moved his morning show to satellite radio insist their relationship is solid. Nevertheless, industry observers chuckle at the idea of CBS Radio in a deal with Carolla less than a year after firing him from the national morning talker that aired locally on his home base, the former KLSX-FM (97.1).
"The word is ironic," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers Magazine in Springfield, Mass. "Carolla only had to go off and start doing the podcast because CBS laid him off, and now CBS is stepping in and picking him up."
Carolla told the Business Journal it's all fine with him.
"A lot of people in this business, they might be like, 'Screw those guys, they fired me, I'm going to make them pay,'" he said. "Well, I'm making them pay by making them pay me."
Carolla said his podcast wouldn't change much, except for the insertion of advertising. But he admitted that operating under CBS Radio's aegis could cause him to watch his language more closely.
"This is now part of CBS Radio, and you can't go and just incite riots or drop n-bombs," he said. "I understand that."
Carolla's podcast, which he produces five times a week out of a studio in Glendale, has enjoyed strong success since he launched it in February. Each podcast, which can be downloaded for free through iTunes and Carolla's Web site, receives an average of 130,000 listeners. It has consistently been ranked as one of the Top 10 downloaded podcasts on iTunes.
But Carolla didn't sell advertising because his old contract with CBS Radio ran through the end of this year and he didn't want to be seen as a competitor. He had planned to start selling ads at the beginning of 2010.
Now, the deal with CBS Radio means ads will start appearing soon on the podcast. Company executives declined to discuss specific ad rates. But a source familiar with discussions told the Business Journal that executives have talked about charging about $25 per ad per thousand downloads. Under that scenario, an ad buy on one of Carolla's podcasts that receives 130,000 downloads could cost $3,250. Carolla would get a cut of that revenue.
Chris Oliviero, CBS Radio's vice president of programming, said Carolla was exploring other advertising opportunities, such as integrating products into his podcast.
"One of the things we've learned about Adam is that he understands the value of really strong sales relationships with clients," Oliviero said. "As soon as we announced this partnership, we heard from advertisers who sponsored his show at KLSX who said, 'We want to find a way to get back in business with Adam.'"
The deal could put Carolla and CBS Radio at the forefront of the next wave of evolution in talk radio.
While talk radio listenership generally remains strong the top-rated station in Los Angeles in August was news-talk station KFI-AM (640) some personalities have struggled to find a way to retain their relevance in the era of media-on-demand forces such as TiVo, YouTube and iTunes. Podcasts have been a key force in the revolution.
"I advise talk radio hosts all over the country to get into podcasting," said Harrison of Talkers Magazine. "It's an absolute gold mine of potential." That's because podcasters know they're reaching the listeners who want to hear them, and their advertising can better target that audience.
Some popular talkers such as Bill O'Reilly have had success with podcasting. But their podcasts are usually subordinate to their on-air radio shows. Carolla, however, has found success with a podcast that's his primary media. As such, the partnership with CBS Radio will be closely watched by the industry.
Carolla's podcast partnership is the latest chapter between the comedian and CBS Radio. Carolla came to the network after co-hosting "Loveline," a radio and TV sex advice show, and the "Man Show" on cable TV. He built a loyal radio following as Stern's replacement, but ratings were unsatisfactory. The station, with a stable of personalities that included Tom Leykis and Tim Conway Jr., traditionally hovered around 27th place in the L.A. ratings with a listener share of about 1.3 percent.
In February, CBS Radio pulled the plug. It announced it would flip KLSX to Top 40 music and it laid off all of the on-air talent. In his final show on the station, Carolla riffed on the state of local radio, saying, "All you're going to hear on L.A. radio now is ranchera music and Top 40." But he said he understood the network's ratings-based decision.
Carolla said when he started his podcast, he doubted it would be successful.
"I didn't know what podcasting was before I did it," he said. "And even when I started, I didn't understand who would listen to it or why they would listen to it."
Oliverio said CBS Radio monitored Carolla's podcast and approached him about a deal when the show was a proven success.
Jack Silver, the former program director at KLSX who hired Carolla for the morning show, said he knew his former radio host would thrive in the podcast format. The station used to repackage "The Adam Carolla Show" into a podcast that was regularly one of CBS Radio's most downloaded.
"It didn't surprise me at all that when he went off the air, literally the next day he started the podcast," said Silver, now the director of integrated marketing and promotions for CBS Radio stations KRTH-FM (101.1) and KTWV-FM (94.7).
For Carolla, the CBS Radio deal also means he no longer has to shoulder the cost of producing the podcast himself. He estimated he has spent $100,000 of his own money to pay for Internet bandwith, buy equipment and rent studio space and his expenses escalated as the podcast climbed in popularity.
"Every time someone downloaded the podcast, it cost me like half a cent to pay for bandwith," he said. "It's almost like I was getting punished for being successful."
Carolla doesn't have to worry about paying for his Internet bandwith now. Instead, he could be sitting on a lucrative opportunity to pioneer a new media format an opportunity that was kick-started by his firing from KLSX.
"Getting laid off may be the best thing that happened to him," Harrison said.
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