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Comedian Marc Maron’s ‘WTF’ Tip of the Spear to Podcast Revolution

by Chris Lingebach
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Comedian Marc Maron performs during the Bud Light Presents Wild West Comedy Festival - Marc Maron: WTF Podcast With Vince Vaughn at the Belcourt Theatre on May 15, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Bud Light)

Comedian Marc Maron performs during the Bud Light Presents Wild West Comedy Festival – Marc Maron: WTF Podcast With Vince Vaughn at the Belcourt Theatre on May 15, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Bud Light)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Podcasts had long been said to be the next logical evolution of radio, but with a lack of hosts with a built-in audience, and a lack of successful fledgling podcasts — combined with an all-around lack of funding — that future seemed, for a long time, eternally in the distant future.

But comedian Marc Maron’s “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast is quickly becoming the destination interview platform for Hollywood stars, and appears, at least in part, destined to rewrite history.

Originally recorded in the studios of the now-dissolved Air America radio network, Maron moved across country in 2009, to record the show out of the garage of his new two-bedroom home in Los Angeles, where it’s found fertile ground for growth and success ever since.

And his guest list is unmatched, more akin to that of a late-night talk show than an oily room in which unused power tools typically go to collect dust.

Maron’s spoken with everyone — Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow, Louis CK, Robin Williams, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Russell Brand, Chris Rock, Bill Maher, Danny McBride, and on and on — for his interview-style podcast, and as the show’s prestige continues to blossom, so to does its listening audience.

“WTF with Marc Maron” repeatedly cracks No. 1 on the iTunes comedy section, to the tune of 100 million downloads over its four-plus year run (just to give you an idea of Maron’s reach).

Simply put, Maron, a comedian who’s trudged through the mud his entire career, has finally captured lightning in a bottle, being in the right place in his career and having the right idea, at the right time, and he’s now in control of his own future, and possibly the future of radio as we know it.

See, terrestrial radio has always heavily relied upon Arbitron ratings, a system which, at best, delivers advertisers a one-sheet of age, race, and other demographic breakdowns of who’s listening and at precisely what time of day.

But the truth of the matter is, the vehicle by which Arbitron delivers those ratings has been inconsistent, with major shifts in its delivery method in recent years, leaving advertisers weary, wondering ‘WTF are we purchasing?’

Something more tangible are real, honest, download numbers. The only holdup for advertisers jumping all in on the podcast craze, I guess, has been a lack of shows with wide enough reach to justify large, targeted buys.

For the advertiser, sure, we know you have x amount of listeners, but where are they coming from? And is x, without location, large enough a number to supersede market-targeted ads on more traditional mediums?

Well, with respect to Maron’s podcast, the answer to that last question, at least, is a resounding ‘yes.’

As the “WTF with Marc Maron” show has evolved, Maron has adapted, to now monetizing his how with a wide-ranging degree of revenue steams, as he would explain to The Junkies Tuesday morning on 106.7 The Fan.

(Questions below have been edited and condensed.)

Can you make a great living in podcasting?

“It’s really about the courage to get off the corporate teet, and have a go at it,” Maron said. “Who knows? I don’t know if you’re gonna make money.

“Yea, I mean, that’s the big question. I did a little bit of radio and I’ve done network stuff, and all I can tell you is, whether it was my timing or what — at the time I got into podcasting, no one knew how to make money, because you had to keep it free to build your audience, but as time has gone on and terrestrial advertisers have started to sort of get involved with the podcasting world, the fact is, as a podcaster, I’ve got hard download numbers, dude.

“I don’t got to spin any Arbitron numbers into weird magic, so like when you have hard numbers, like I can show you exactly how many downloads I got on this thing, you can create a rate sheet and you can get advertising.

Many modern podcasting models seem to be, give a show for free, then charge a subscription fee for the rest. 

“No, no. That’s not what we did,” Maron said. “Some guys do that. I think, you start in radio, and you come out of radio, and you’ve already got your fanbase and they’re loyal enough, I think you can pull that off. I did not do that.

“What we did, was, we built the audience just sort of organically. I was talking to a lot of fairly big named guests, and then what happened was, when we were gonna start selling certain episodes — because I make sure they’re evergreen; I don’t date anything — so the library became sort of like valuable.

“And we created an app with our server, so, basically what we do, is the  most recent 50 are always free, but the other 460 are behind a paywall, where you get a free app, and if you upgrade you can stream all of them for like 8 bucks. But also the advertising money is coming in as well, so there’s a lot of different revenue streams.”

You had to convince some of your early guests to conduct interviews in your garage. How did you do that?

“Well the interesting thing is, is that like the media landscape is so different,” Maron said. “So a lot of these guys don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know what they’re getting into. I live in a two-bedroom house in a neighborhood in Los Angeles that hardly anyone’s ever been to.

“So, you know, you get people showing up, like Ben Stiller came over, and I’ve got this crappy little garage that I’ve made into a little mancave, and Stiller walks in, he’s like, ‘Wow, this is really great.’ I’m like, ‘Is it Ben? This is the size of your bathroom. My house could fit in your foyer.’

“So there was this sort of weird period where people didn’t know where they were gonna show up, and they’d be like, ‘I don’t even know what neighborhood I’m in. Where am I?’ I’m like, ‘Let’s just go in the garage.’

“But because of that, it was very disarming, and because there’s no video involved, and we’re just sitting at the mics for an hour, I got some very candid interviews with a lot of people that I don’t think anybody ever heard talk at that length. And now it’s sort of a little more established, though some people come over and they still don’t know quite where they are, but there’s not as much discomfort around it, because the media landscape is so diverse now.”

Listen to the full, unedited interview below.

Marc Maron Interview

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