by Rock ‘n Roll Ghost
On July 11 of this year, Steve Dahl made an announcement through his Twitter account that he was through with his CBS contract and would soon embark on a subscription based service for his daily podcasts (dubbed “Dahlcasts“). At its peak, fifteen to twenty thousand people had downloaded the previously free, but restricted in language and content, Dahlcast daily. Dahl was now gambling that his longtime listeners, some so hardcore they’d been listening to him on Chicago‘s airwaves since he arrived at (long defunct) WDAI in February 1978, would pay for something they’d received for free.
And, despite getting a lot of heat initially from people online, Dahl says he’s very happy with the number of subscribers thus far, as well as the freedom of not having a corporate entity controlling what he says and does.
“I like the concept of being totally in charge of my own destiny,” Dahl says. “Now someone who wants to listen, can listen whenever they want, to exactly what I want them to hear.”
Fans who are interested in hearing what “the Stever” is up to now, can log on to Dahl.com to subscribe at a monthly rate of $9.95, or purchase an annual subscription for $99.95, which gets you two months free. The service is also available for download at the Apple iTunes® store. iPhone, Android and Blackberry mobile apps will be available later this year.
Though far removed from his rabble rousing days of Disco Demolition, fighting with radio management and pissing off the FCC and “community standards”, Dahl is as acerbic and funny as ever, especially now that he’s free of corporate constraints. Though not relying on “F” bombs and scatological humor to drive his Dahlcasts, when they do appear, they’re integral to the topics being discussed.
As a longtime listener and fan of Dahl’s, dating back to his playing a sound effect of a toilet flushing (which had me in stitches at six years old), to his phone calls to Iran to help free American hostages, to his and former radio sidekick Garry Meier‘s thoughts on culture, sports, entertainment and politics, to numerous comically inspired shows with great guests ranging from Albert Brooks, Sam Kinison, Richard Lewis, John Belushi, Joe Walsh and many, many more, Dahl was a surrogate father of sorts to me. I obsessively listened to his show every day from start (or as close as school would allow) to finish. I would also record shows and listen to them again and again. Broadcasts live from Maui, or the celebrity reading of A Christmas Carol from the Goodman Theatre in 1988 (which became a holiday listening tradition in my house year after year for well over a decade), I enjoyed them all.
Dahl is not only a radio legend, he’s a comedic legend, one who has created comic genius on the fly day in and day out for decades now. His role in my life is too huge to put into words. He helped shape my mind, my sense of humor, my very opinions of the world’s goings on. And, despite the fact that he was paid to entertain his listeners through the years, I still feel that I owe him greatly for making my life better while growing up. That is why I subscribed on August 1st for $9.95 a month. To be able to listen to Steve Dahl is worth paying for. If you’ve ever been a fan of Steve’s and you haven’t signed up yet, do it. I assure you that it is worth the money.
Rock ‘ n Roll Ghost: What was the final decision for you to start a subscription service over keeping the podcast free or going back to radio or going to satellite radio?
Steve Dahl: Basically, after two years of doing a podcast with very unlimited interruptions – like none – I found that to be enjoyable for me – turn on the microphone and talk for an hour and a half or so and without having to stop every fifteen minutes for seven or eight minutes of commercials. To be honest, there’s really no radio station right now where I’d fit in. I’ve been doing some stuff at WLS, but I don’t think I could be there every day because I don’t want to talk about politics.
I think that the future of…whatever the entity that was formerly known as a radio personality, I think that the future of that is in podcasts. Because people are used to listening to podcasts now without any commercials, they are never going to accept the commercial load that you’d have to put (in one) in order to make it profitable (for) advertisers. I think that I’m a little bit ahead of the curve and I certainly took some shit for it from people. But I really do feel that what I’m doing is going to be the model for everyone else. I’m just saying ‘hey, this is what I do and this is what I think it’s worth.’
Was there ever any approach by CBS to continue the relationship with you under their umbrella?
Steve Dahl: No. I don’t think that they understood the podcast at all. I don’t think advertisers understand it because, essentially we had, when it was free, fifteen to twenty thousand listening to every episode, which was a pretty good vehicle for advertising. But then, the problem becomes, you’d have to charge ten times what you charge for a radio commercial in order to be able to monetize it to pay for talent, commensurate with what they get paid on radio. So the only way to make it work, for a person like myself, is to charge for it. That being said, it’s less than fifty cents a day for ninety minutes of what I think is pretty good content.
You’ve mentioned about keeping an eye on the number of subscribers – how hard have you found it to pull yourself away from checking on that all of the time?
Steve Dahl: It’s hard not to check, that’s for sure. I get a report automatically sent to me every day at midnight, so I wait until the next morning to look at it. I have to say I’m really pleased with the results so far.
Ultimately, I’m looking to get a subscriber base of five to ten thousand people. I’d be pretty happy with that. And we’re well on our way to that.
Is it hard to have started off so young in radio and to have built a format, actually pioneering a format, to see how far downward radio has gone?
Steve Dahl: They kind of brought it upon themselves. (But at the same time), I don’t really look at things that way. It’s odd to have been paid to be off the air for two and a half years and now to tell you that there’s really no place that I fit in. It’s been okay for me because it’s given me a chance to experiment in this other medium. I’m reinvigorated by the fact that I think I’m doing something that’s on the cutting edge of what the future is going to be.
Are there any plans to do anything different with the show now that you have more freedom?
Steve Dahl: What I do is what I do. I just try and do it better than the day before. We’re planning on taking the show out live in front of audiences to expose people to it and to have subscriber parties to reward the people who have subscribed. It’s still all a work in progress. There’s really not much more I can do other than what I do.
Ultimately, what I think it offers is, if people like me and they’re a fan, this is about as close as you’re going to get to the actual inner workings of my brain and what it would be like to sit around and bullshit with me. I think it offers a level of intimacy that I don’t think I’ve ever been able to share other than maybe during a live show.
Your staff – it’s been a solid group of people around you for awhile now. What about this group endears you to them to not only keep them around but to also depend on them so much?
Steve Dahl: It took me quite a while to understand my own staffing needs. And I think that I’m able to, over the last ten or fifteen years, and certainly since I’ve stopped drinking, I’ve been more able to recognize other people’s talents and appreciate them for what they provide. I’m also, maybe, a little easier to get along with. I’m better now at recognizing quality people who will add to what I’m doing. Once you find them, you don’t really need to replace them.
They’re all super nice and they’re all loyal and funny. And they bring me good ideas. It works really well for me. It’s make what I do fun and a lot easier (to do).
What are your thoughts going forward? Are you excited by what’s to come?
Steve Dahl: I am. We had a good initial response and every day we get more people signing up. I see it as a challenge. It reminds me of the old days. I’m going to really have to get out there and win people over again. Which is okay with me. I think that the model works and ultimately that you’ll hear everyone switching to it.