It’s No Crime To Work In Radio

The world is a lot different place today than it was three years ago.  Back then, we were still wearing masks a good bit of the time as well as social distancing (or most of us were), restaurants (assuming they survived the pandemic) were open, but usually odd days and hours, and we still weren’t going out a whole lot.  

“What are you watching on Netflix (and HBO and Hulu, etc.)?” was a frequently asked question on Zoom calls.  And while production of new shows had slowed due to the pandemic, the video streamers were still pouring copious amounts of cash on new production, much of it originating from overseas.  Ahhhh…2021.  It seems like such a looooong time ago. 

These days, we’re out and about, back to “normal.”  And while we’re still watching streaming video, the sheer number of platforms along with lower demand has turned what was once a cash cow into a real competitive morass.  Now, most streaming platforms have added lower priced tiers that include commercials.  And most critics would likely agree the overall quality of shows has been trending down.

“Bodkin” | Netflix

But one I’ve been enjoying lately is Bodkin on Netflix.  It’s the story of an American who travels to a small burg in Ireland in search of a “true crime” hit.  There are unsolved murders to be discovered in a quaint little town where most of its residents have a lot of secrets to hide.  The part of Gabriel Power is annoyingly played by Will Forte, who along with his two sidekicks (the wonderful actresses Siobhán Cullen and Robyn Cara), quickly find themselves knee deep in intrigue and mystery.  Bonus: the Irish countryside is just beautiful. 

“True crime” has been a popular genre in novels and films forever, but has truly found a home in the world of podcasts.  And today’s #TBT is a 3-year trip back in time to a post about “true crime,” podcasting, and why a radio station wouldn’t be the perfect place for some underhanded misdeeds.  Why not?  – FJ

I’m always amused when someone tells me they’re not “into” podcasts.  It is true most podcasts are “spoken word,” and some people don’t enjoy listening to talk.  But the fact is, podcasts are about everything.  You name it, and chances are there’s a podcast – or a dozen of them – on the topic.

You see it up close and personal at events like Podcast Movement where enthusiasts from all over the planet debate whether “podcast” is, in fact, a good name or a bad name for the medium, (my favorite) what is the ideal length for a podcast, or is anybody making money on podcasts?

The remarkable thing about gatherings of podcasters is how diverse they are.  You run into people producing shows about cannabis, woodworking, quilting, politics, surfing, and…podcasts.

The last few years in Techsurvey, we’ve developed a list of podcast genres in order to get a fix on the most popular ones.  We then crosstab this information by key demographic groups (gender, ethnicity, age), as well as by their format preferences.  In this way, programmers, producers, and digital directors can get a better understanding of what resonates in the podcast space among their core audience.

One of the genres that has become a staple in the podcast ecosystem is True Crime.  In focus groups I’ve conducted over the past few years in both commercial and public radio settings, I continue to hear about the popularity of this category – especially among women and Millennials.  So, we started to quantify these findings, and sure enough, that’s exactly how it stacks up.

True Crime is a popular genre across the board (tied for fifth overall), but as the focus groups tipped us off, its appeal skews female and young.  Maybe it’s no surprise that women are intricately involved in some of podcasting’s biggest hits in this category.  That includes My Favorite Murder, produced and hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.  And let’s not forget the podcast that may have fueled the current renaissance – Serial – is a “True Crime” masterpiece headed up by Sarah Koenig.

And now, there’s some buzz that a radio station might be a perfect location for a True Crime story.  That was the sense I got when I saw this James Cridland tweet:

While it might be jumping the gun to point the finger at Dr. Johnny Fever (who I’m sure had a great alibi), the tweet links a story in CrimeReads by Michael Bradley titled “Why The Life Of A Radio DJ Is Perfectly Suited To Crime.”

It turns out Bradley is a former DJ turned suspense novelist.  His heroine is a radio star, Kaitlyn Ashe (sounds like an air name to me), and the book is appropriately titled, Dead Air

Bradley notes that a radio station at night is the perfect location for an True Crime suspenseful scenario.  After the salespeople go home and the cleaning crew has come and gone, it’s just a DJ, a studio, and the phone lines.  Anything can happen (assuming the station isn’t voicetracked that is).

Bradley may be onto something here, and Kaitlyn could become an ongoing character, anchoring a series of creepy stories revolving around a radio station.  Just imagine the suspense and drama when:

  • The consultant comes to town unannounced
  • A listener drops off a cake, but the entire airstaff is too terrified to try a piece
  • The ratings book comes out
  • The corporate lawyer starts approving every promotion, raising suspicions she’s being impersonated by an imposter
  • The morning guy mysteriously doesn’t show up for his show
  • Food mysteriously disappears from the kitchen refrigerator
  • The general manager is kidnapped, but the station can’t pay the ransom until Q3
  • The station mysteriously goes off the air, the backup transmitter fails to go on – an obvious case of engineering sabotage
  • A suspicion there’s a ghost in the station, responsible for a long list of disasters, failures, and missteps (I know several of these)

Michael, you’re right – radio is a very scary place, especially these days.  Better leave the lights on (assuming we’ve run enough spots to pay the bills).

Who knows?  Maybe Clue will replace that dated conservatory with a radio studio.

A postscript…

Michael Bradley may be clever, but he was not the first.  Years ago when I was programing WRIF, a radio/college friend, Sheila Sorvari, bought me a book for my birthday with the greatest title ever.  As you can see at right, the cover art is pretty compelling, too.

Even though it’s about a TV executive who gets murdered (who would even dream up such a thing?), Killed In The Ratings by William DeAndrea occupied a prominent place on my bookshelf for many years.  The cover art, as they say, is to die for.

The story is centered around network executive Matt Cobb who has to solve a crime the cops want to pin on him.  Holy Nielsen!  The ratings may contain a clue to the murder.

This is exciting news for the radio broadcasting industry.  It’s nice to be talked about – even in felonious terms.

After all, for many of us, radio has always been a mystery.

If you decide to dig into Michael Bradley’s book, you’ll get no spoiler alerts from me.

But just remember the classic solution to most radio crimes:

The consultant did it.

 

If you’re so inclined, here’s a link to Dead Air.  

And here’s the trailer for Netflix’s Bodkin.

Originally published by Jacobs Media

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