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Darien Southerland Interview

Darien Southerland
Pres/CEO
BG Podcast Network
Atlanta

Career Capsule: Funny story about how I got into Christian Radio. Moreover, honestly, the folks I broke in with are all still in the industry in a big way. So God allowed me to be around the future movers and shakers at a young age. At 26 years of age, I promoted Gospel Concerts in metro Atlanta. ( anybody that knows me knows I am a die-hard Gospel Music fan.) Brian Sanders ( PAR) was running WFTD, a Southern Gospel Station in Atlanta, and I bought some commercials from him. I was at the station and the afternoon DJ “IKE” knew absolutely nothing about Gospel Music. He asks me to sit in on his show. I did! Folks loved it. Brian offered me a part-time on-air job. Shortly after that, Allen Power came to Atlanta from Greenville to launch SALEM. He heard us on WFTD, called me up, and offered me a part-time morning show job on WGKA, Salems Atlanta Gospel Station. About six months into the job, Salem announced the launch of 104.7 The Fish. I worked part-time for Salem, and I knew I did not have the voice for adult contemporary, but I knew I could sell this format if they gave me a chance. When I first interviewed with GSM David Koon, he told me he needed primary market experienced salespeople who had sold Radio before. Well, that afternoon, I did not pay attention. I sold 10k worth of advertising and did not even know how to complete a contract. One of their veteran sellers, Joann Williams, told David to hire me, or he was nuts. They hired me, and 11 years later, I left SALEM after selling close to 16 million dollars in Christian Music ads and events. I then started my agency, BG AD GROUP, to help faith-based clients expand into the secular world and secular clients understand the faith-based world. We Have been blessed to work with KIA, Liberty University, and countless others. In 2017 we saw podcasts growing and caught the bug; in 2018, we created the BG PODCAST network. Since then, we have reached millions of listeners with faith-based shows, news, sports, fundraising, educational, and entertaining family-friendly podcasts. We continue to grow to this day and are highly blessed. We also now consult and coach radio stations, newspapers, publishers, brands, and others on the profitable side of podcasts. It is a marathon, not a sprint. We consider ourselves a leader in niche Hyperlocal podcast.

 

Darien, tell us what is new at BG Podcasts.. any news, changes, etc………………………..… and what is new with YOU?

About a year and a half ago, we created a template for newspapers to go into the audible world. Our family of clients continues to expand monthly. Now we produce close to 50 daily newspaper podcasts a week. We keep adding new partners monthly.

 If you know me, you know my love for Southern Gospel Music. After four years of hosting the “Southern Gospel News podcast,” we have turned the driver’s seat over to the best southern gospel voice in the business. I realize that for the show to grow, the character Darien Southerland had to move out of the way so the businessman could do what he does best. Build, sell and consult. So as time became an issue for me, I approached Daniel about hosting, and he said this would be an excellent fit for him; so far, the response from the Christian music world has been positive and encouraging.

 We have been on the road a lot, from NRB in Nashville to the Mega show for Newspaper Publishers in Orlando and the Department of Administrative services Convention for Georgia employees in Jekyll Islands, the past few weeks. We are speaking on the benefits of podcasting, Talking with new prospects, and building a company.. In addition, we have been working with non-profits to use podcasts to fuel their growth and significant universities, technical schools, corporations, and brands.

 Bill Scott and I are working on a new project called Men of Radio, which is fun, More to come from that in the coming weeks.

 In addition, we are launching a new sports package this football season and repping numerous podcasts like Nolecasts with over 250,000 monthly downloads and others in their podcast sales, productions, and content development.

 In the end, it is the 5 Ps of podcasting that keeps us going:  

* Plan

Prep

Produce

Publish

Promote

With these five directives, we always have something going.

 

How do you balance work & family? How important is it for someone in Christian Radio to ‘have a life”?

You are asking a work alcoholic this Question. However, it is something I was forced to consider, or honestly, you would be reporting my death. In 2019 I was running at both ends, trying to make everyone happy. My family, my wife, my church life, clients, employees, vendors, everyone. I was ill at former employers I felt did not give me the opportunities I deserved. I thought that I was constantly pressing and pushing for the next big thing, former employees who took advantage of me. I was looking for everyone to fit my perfect profile. Then in June of 2019, I was told I was going to have to have Open Heart surgery at 49 years old. I was 100 pounds overweight and told the doctor I did not have time. However, on July 1, 2019, I lay in a hospital bed on a date I now attributed to being my second birth physically. Since then, I have pushed aside all those negative thoughts and questioned why? Furthermore, started saying why not? Instead of looking at how someone could serve me, I now look at how I can serve others. Life has three sections, LEARN, EARN and RETURN. I hope at 52 I am still embracing them all. But with embracing them, you have to be balanced with all you do. I often say this? Do not be so heavenly-minded that you are no earthly good.

 

What is the best advice you received before launching your first podcast… the worst?

I was sitting in Philadelphia listening to Jahr Mohn, the former NPR president, and he said three things that have always stuck with me. #1 your not competing for AQH with a podcast; you are competing for minutes, BE specific. #2 Podcasts are a gateway drug for young audible consumers. Let us be honest and look at Neilson numbers 18-30 in any market. Those numbers ought to scare some radio executives to death. Instead of believing podcasts are competitors, why not embrace and drive listeners back to Radio with them. Numbers do not lie. MY old GSM Kevin Issacs, now GM for SALEM Cleveland, used to say the box does not lie. I use this example with our podcast daily. Suppose I take one of our local newspaper podcasts and compare the daily downloads to Neilson AQH ratings. That local news podcast often has just as many listeners in that geographic area as a radio station, if not more. I think many people in the world underestimate podcast audiences compared to Radio. And really, if you think about it. Why do companies I heart push podcasts so much now?  

The worst was that OH podcasts are a fad. They will never work in the mainstream or real world. Well, a billion-dollar in revenue later, they are seeing the truth. And now, where are they projected in the next five years? WOW.

 

What is something you have learned about podcasting that you did not know before? Something you would do differently?

Do not try to convince hardcore media people to embrace podcasts. The audience is there without trying to prove your point to radio executives. I wanted so bad for them to embrace what I was doing. Look at the leaders in the podcast world, and the numbers stand for themselves. Do what you do well. I met with every radio executive I could be saying that you ought to start a podcast network. When is the last time any of us changed a 50-plus-year-old man’s mind, who grew up in the radio industry and knew the ends and outs? Who would change just because they meet with a sales guy like me that says to him? It would be best if you jumped on this Podcast ship. They look at you like you are silly.

Podcast people are quick adapters. The audience will grow and continue to grow regardless of what Radio does. Radio just needs to realize they have a massive headstart because they know how to build an audience, as I work with so many of our friends in the newspaper world. I am not contending. Radio will fall to the podcast as much as Print did to digital. I contend that Radio needs to be open to change and realize that the audible growth of podcasting is incredible. And Podcasts can help expand their brand. NO matter if they are a one-station stand-alone, regional, or national network.  

 

What are your thoughts on podcasting for Christian Radio personalities, should they have one? Please explain…

Repurposing your show for a podcast is nothing special. I realize some folks have success with this. But honestly, it’s like watching Seinfeld reruns. There is an audience but does it make an impression or impact.

I have always felt the information you provide on a podcast should be special. Your P1s have left the dail find you and want to here what you have to say. Why you say what you do  . Podcast gives them a deeper dive into who you are. If you are a DJ and want just to be a voice on the Radio. That’s great. YOU want to provide a side they never get to see, allow them to know the real you not the program director you. See your real talents where you are not talking in a 3 min stop set. Podcast can help. It is funny I always thought in the back of my mind I could be as good on air as Kevin Avery, Frank Reid , Wally or Brandt. Until I interviewed them and seen how good they are at communicating.

Podcasts allow you to be yourself in ways Radio will never allow you to. If I wanted to reach the 18-35 crowd, yes I would start a podcast, But not at the expense of my radio show. Sometimes you just have a story to tell.

 

What would you tell someone struggling to build an audience with a podcast… Aside from the obvious, how is it different from Radio? 

Consistency wins, be yourself; not everyone will be Joe Rogan, Brandt, or a significant talent. Bloom, where the Lord has put you. I still think I should be Don Imus, but that isn’t where God put me.

Remember in the podcast that you are measured every minute or every show. Get to the point, and listeners care about your topic. They had to find you for your topic. Not what you ate for dinner yesterday that has no reference to the show. Zero in on the main thing. Leave the other mess for another day. Podcasts allow you to be yourself. You are the czar of your brand. In Radio, you often work for a company whose brand has to protect.

 

What advice do you have for someone wanting to monetize their podcast…? 

I heard once that all salespeople want to be on air because they believe they can do it. Truthfully, as good of a salesperson as I am, I could never be Frank Reid, Kevin Avery, or a good DJ or podcaster. Moreover, if you are a DJ or podcaster who has a show, do not try to do it all yourself. Find a great salesperson to help you. One thing monetizing has done for all. It makes on-air talent and sales talent realize how important the others are.

As far as whom to prospect. Look at the overall avatar of your show, and find products he or she likes. Go from there.  

 

Who are your radio heroes and influences? And why?

Great Question, ( in no order)

Ludlow Porch – Former WSB host – Could talk to anyone about anything and make you feel like a personal friend. It taught me to love Radio as a listener.

2. Kevin Avery – When I started working with him, I disliked him. We both are and were passionate about doing our jobs perfectly. No matter what it took. Kevin did not want to be the best in Christian Radio but Radio. He studied his craft and continues to after 25-plus years. Kevin also has always impressed me, even though he is one of the top Christian music DJs in the world. He wears his faith on his heart and not his sleave.

Dan Ratcliff – The best production voice guy I have ever seen or known, Humble, Loves Jesus, and will help anyone. Dan has helped me in a pinch, and hopefully, I have helped Dan. He is honestly a faithful Christian in a world of Christians we often question.

Mike Moran – MY old VP/GM at the Fish. IF he told me I could not, and I was bound to show him I could. Mike and I laugh to this day about this. We will probably have to ask forgiveness for some of the things we called each other in our days. But he pushed me to be better and be the best. If it was not for Moran, I do not think I would be in business today. Iron sharpens Iron.

Joann Williams/ Mike Copeland/ Micheal Howell/ Deb Lankes/ John Stirzaker/ David Koon/ Kevin Issacs – MY former sales mates at the Fish. We all pushed each other to be better. If it were not for them, I would have never reached where I am today. I was a student of each of them. And if you look at us all today. We were the best!

 In Closing, I will be a guest on Gordon Borrell Podcast, the top media research guy in the country on May2 . Thanks for letting me be a part of your team it’s an honor.

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