Steve Dahl embarks on digital journey with new perspective

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Posted by Bud on September 08, 2009 at 20:48:01:

Phil Rosenthal looks at Dahl's new adventure in his media column from the Tuesday Chicago Tribune:

Steve Dahl embarks on digital journey with new perspective

Phil Rosenthal
September 8, 2009

It is still a man, a microphone and the belief that an audience will listen to what he has to say, the stories he tells, the wry observations he makes, the pictures he paints.

For Steve Dahl, who is set Tuesday to begin doing an hourlong podcast each weekday from a basement studio in his home, it's back to basics. And the basics are the same as they always have been, from his early days in radio as a California teenager to when he signed off almost 40 years later from Chicago's WJMK-FM 104.3 in December.

"It's a leap of faith that you're on the radio when you're on the radio, because you're really just in an office building in a room," Dahl, 54, said as he prepared to reunite with listeners -- off the air, unless you count Wi-Fi connections -- online. "So far I've been able to just project myself to that place."

It's too soon to know how many of the fans who made him a Chicago radio mainstay for more than 30 years will join him there, downloading each day's show through CBS Radio's, Dahl's or Apple's iTunes site. But 5,000 downloads a show translates to about 80,000 a month, which would mean 1 million a year, and Dahl believes that might be viable.

CBS Radio, which is on the hook to pay Dahl through mid-2011 but can keep him off the air until then as well, agreed to partner on the podcasts in July. CBS can sell two "live read" ads on each recorded program. A company called Wizzard Media is looking to peddle two minutes of commercials per hour, with CBS and Dahl splitting the proceeds.

Rod Zimmerman, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio Chicago, said in July that the podcasts not only would satisfy the "legions of Dahl fans" but create "an entirely new opportunity for CBS Radio and digital marketers to work with the original founding father of talk radio."

Dahl, who said he wants "to start it under the radar a little bit [and] get the bugs worked out," expects sales efforts to kick in after he has a few hours under his hard drive. His hope is to at least cover his cost of paying his staff. But this is as much an adventure as a business experiment, the latest in a career that long ago included a 976 phone line and recording national programs six weeks in advance for ABC Radio.

Although he has blogged, tweeted, written a Chicago Tribune column and made occasional TV appearances since his last Jack FM show, this is the longest he has been away from daily shows since he was 16.

"I've really tried to suspend my expectations until this starts," Dahl said. "If it's 200 people a day [downloading], I'm going to have to rethink it. But, on the other hand, I just don't know. ... It can't be any worse than the People Meter, when the Moody Bible Institute [station] is beating you, you know?"

It is, by now, old news how Dahl's radio audience figures dropped with Arbitron's move last year from diaries to eavesdropping Portable People Meters in determining the ratings used to set ad rates, which precipitated CBS Radio's decision to take him off the air.

But just the anticipation of PPMs wounded Dahl. Thirteen months before his eventual exit, CBS abandoned FM talk on what was WCKG-FM, a station it had more or less built around Dahl, flipping to a female-oriented music format it believed would fare better with the new methodology. Dahl eschewed a buyout at that time and transferred from afternoons there to mornings on WJMK, as Jack FM's only live host.

After initially struggling with suddenly being off the air, Dahl has seemed to come to terms with it. It enabled him to be there for his family when both his father-in-law and mother died. He is working out, playing golf and has lost weight.

"It's been liberating in a lot of ways," Dahl said. "It's probably made me a better person because it's given me a chance to step back a little bit from the madness. I think it will make me a better broadcaster for the same reason, just some perspective. Plus, it's not the worst time in the world to not be in radio."

The podcasts are to be recorded late in the morning and should be available online sometime after noon. Dahl said he is in the process of getting an iPhone application approved by Apple that will link to iTunes, making it easier for people to take him and his program with them.

"The thing I'm looking forward to is kind of deconstructing myself," Dahl said. "It sort of feels like I'm going back to where I was when I first started doing all this stuff."

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