Podcast network a 'work in progress'

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News,Business

BALTIMORE (AP) — Three business partners set out less than a year ago to fill the void left by talk radio in the digital age.

And they're filling it quickly. The RELM Network, led by Buzz Burbank, Marc Ronick and Lowell Melser, has grown to 18 shows from the two it started with in July. The shows' topics include entertainment, general news and politics, among others.

"Our goal was to make it so that it was a place where we could have a bunch of shows," said Melser. "It's a work in progress, but we just have tremendous growth in this first year."

Melser and Ronick started out as fans of talk radio in the early 1990s. As teenagers, they listened religiously to Mike O'Meara and Don Geronimo and eventually had the opportunity to intern "The Don and Mike Show," based at WJFK in Fairfax, Virginia.

Ronick later rejoined that group on the business side. By then Don Geronimo had left, and the show, renamed "The Mike O'Meara Show," had lost its home at WJFK flagship station and converted to a podcast.

Burbank was a broadcast news veteran by the time he joined Don and Mike in the early 1990s, where he was a fixture until 2013. Burbank left the show just before Ronick did. Before long, the two of them and WBAL-TV reporter Melser started their own podcast venture.

"I really consider what we do pioneering," said Burbank. "This is the new frontier for media."

Many radio personalities are finding themselves out of a job, said Burbank, due to the financial constraints of broadcast stations. These professionals need a place to go where they can make a living and serve their loyal audiences.

"We were all sort of pushed into this," said Burbank. "The audience is still there, and we're still here. We just have to meet at a different place."

That's what led to the network's recent game-changing addition — "The Don Geronimo Show."

Geronimo's two-hour, paid-subscription show is recorded five days a week. Fans pay $9.99 a month, $26.99 a quarter or $99.99 a year to listen.

The new show added a bunch of new listeners to RELM, said Ronick, and paying listeners at that. But that's not the only way the network makes money.

It also sells advertising on its podcasts, and certain shows, such as Melser and Ronick's "The Marc and Lowell Show," offer one extra premium podcast per week for a fee.

Ronick said he expects RELM to be between a $500,000 and a $1 million business by the end of the year with its various revenue streams, from paid content and advertising to show merchandise.

According to a study from Edison Research and Arbitron, the percentage of people who listen to podcasts rose steadily from 2006 to 2012, and began to level off last year at 27 percent. About 12 percent of those surveyed said they had listened to a podcast in the past month, although that percentage had reached 14 percent in 2012.

"It's not big money yet but I think as the audience builds and advertisers begin to notice the numbers . I think the money begins to get much better," said Burbank.

As a talk radio fan, Ronick said, he's glad that former broadcasters are finding their way to podcasting.

"What I've seen over the past few years, as a fan, is the traditional terrestrial radio, particularly talk and guy talk as well, it's kind of taken a big hit," said Ronick. "There are so many popular radio personalities that continue to lose their jobs. These are people that are passionate about what they do, and they need a home."

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Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com

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