Podcast Plan B: The Kelly Alexander Show

Podcast Plan B is a blog series about four Montreal radio personalities that have begun independent podcasts over the past few months. It’s an expansion of a Gazette article I wrote on the topic, explained here.

Kelly Alexander Show logo

  • Name: Kelly Alexander
  • Radio job: Afternoon traffic reporter for Astral Media radio stations in Montreal (CJAD, CHOM, CJFM), and host of The Jump with Kelly A, a Sunday show on CJFM.
  • Podcast: The Kelly Alexander Show
  • Podcast URLhttp://kellyalexandershow.com/
  • Podcast feed URL: None yet
  • Length: One hour, broken up in two half-hour segments
  • Format: MP3
  • Frequency: Weekly (Thursdays)
  • Subject: Popular music, interviews and trivia

Kelly Alexander

The Kelly Alexander Show differs from the other three I’ve profiled this week for two main reasons: it includes a lot of music (and popular music at that), and it’s the only one whose host I haven’t had an hour-long conversation with.

It’s like commercial radio, only not

If you’ve listened to Mix 96 or Q92 (or whatever they’re called now), you have an idea what commercial radio sounds like. It’s active. It pumps out hit music, it has a brand and throws it out between every song. When there is talk, it’s short, fluffy, non-threatening. And no matter what, it’s always happy.

That’s kind of what you get from the Kelly Alexander Show, for better or for worse. In fact, listening to it while I was out running errands, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t listening to the radio. It even has an 80s-90s retro segment similar to the old Mix 80s-90s Nooner and Virgin’s 80s 90s On Demand.

If you’re one of those people who think that commercial radio sucks, then the Kelly Alexander Show is definitely not for you.

But commercial radio and popular music have evolved into what they are precisely because they attract the largest audience possible without alienating too many people on the fringes of their target demographics.

Besides popular music (its first song was a heavily overplayed single by the Black Eyed Peas), the Kelly Alexander Show features interviews with people in the entertainment industry, sometimes people she already knows (like her publicist David Jones) or people who have had brushes with celebrity, even if they aren’t celebrities themselves. It also has a regular segment with Alexander’s mother (“Mummy Alexander”), who throws out rapid-fire “fast facts” trivia.

When it first launched on Oct. 16, the show also featured a rant by Murray Sherriffs, who had been pretty quiet since being dumped by CJFM in January. But a month later, Sherriffs joined CFQR as a morning host, and he hasn’t returned to Alexander’s show since.

Why?

My first, biggest question was why would someone want to recreate a podcast that sounds so much like commercial radio?

This, verbatim, is the answer that came via email:

When we launched the podcast we started at a certain point of familiarity, knowing things would be tweaked as we went along. Since the initial launch of the program, it has been a fascinating time for the Kelly Alexander Show team as we have moved to new levels. As a podcast, we focus more on entertaining and informative interviews that are of interest to our demographic. We’ve dealt with breast cancer and diabetes issues, we’ve also had fun with celebrities such as The Mission District and Jamal Story, (an author and professional dancer for Cher and Madonna who’s also had his book read by Oprah).

If that all sounds a bit too press-releasey to you, then I’m glad I’m not the only one. Most of the other answers had that same feel to them, and I know it’s not Alexander herself because she sounds perfectly normal in the podcast.

The problem, I think, is that the Kelly Alexander Show takes itself a bit too seriously. It lists four producers, including Alexander herself, and has a publicist (his official title is “Marketing and Promotions Director”).

When I first approached Alexander wanting to talk to her about her show (back then I was only considering a blog post introducing it – the Gazette article came later), I got handed to the publicist and was told to send my questions via email to him. It’s not that I mind sending questions to people via email (I do it all the time), but the ensuing exchange has lasted over two months and still isn’t finished yet (I’ve sent her some more questions and will update this post as necessary when she gets a chance to respond).

It’s a forgivable offence, and I’m not taking it personally (she’s actually very friendly). You want to look professional from the get-go, and if you’re not going to send nosy reporters and bloggers to your publicist, what’s the point of having one?

To her credit, Alexander apologized profusely for a three-week delay that coincided with her mother receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. An understandable crisis that puts everything else lower on the priority list.

But even discounting that, this was still a headache, partly because of the needless middleman, partly because of the overly formal language that used a lot of words but said little, and partly because some of the more difficult questions were evaded (I’m hoping I’m wrong on that last point, and more clarity will be forthcoming).

Anyway, Alexander is clearly new to this, and she and her team have a lot to learn. That’s partially why they’re doing this. It’s “an effort by a few young broadcasters to gain experience and further develop our skills with an eye to career growth,” she said. And the technical production quality of the show is actually very good. In the new year, they’ll just have to start focusing on matters beyond that.

Technical difficulties

They can start with an iTunes feed. Or a feed of any kind. Neither is currently available, though Alexander says they have plans for one “in the near future.”

The show also isn’t available (not easily, anyway) for direct MP3 download, which means people can’t put it on their iPods, they can only listen to it on the website. Early episodes had a roundabout way of downloading an MP3, but later ones required some serious hacking, something the stats at divShare (where the show hosts its MP3s) show I was the only one to successfully accomplish.

I also question the necessity of having the show in two half-hour segments. I guess it makes sense when you’re listening to it on the website, but on iPods and other players, it’s simple to hit pause and return to a podcast later. Still, Alexander explains the practice:

“I know that listening to the show in two segments makes their life easier because they are not committed to giving me one full hour of their time in one shot. They can listen at their leisure to the first half and then return for the second half at a later time. The team and I also believe the two segments make us focus on providing the best entertainment and information we can in 30 minute sections. Also, it gives me the host, a real focus to shaping the show and making it as interesting as possible.”

It would be simple enough to combine the two, and it’s simple enough for me to just download two files instead of one, so it’s not a major concern.

On the marketing side, the basics have been taken care of. Alexander has a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account, and videos on YouTube. The next step is to find some way of becoming known by people who don’t already know about her show (without spending too much money), something they’re doing by targetting the target audience of their guests:

“We also focus heavily on promoting the show to people we know would be interested on certain topics & interviews. For example, when we interviewed Grammy Award winning artist Jody Watley, we posted the info on her FB fan page, her Twitter and Myspace accounts, not to mention her own web site and fan forums. That strategy is working for us as we now have fans from across the globe including Taiwan, Barbados, and the U.S.”

The host

Kelly Alexander is currently an afternoon traffic reporter at the three Astral Media radio stations in Montreal. On Sundays, she hosts The Jump on CJFM*. She’s worked in radio since the late ’90s, in Toronto and Montreal, at 940 News (before it became whatever it is now) and at K103. She’s also worked as a copywriter, technical producer and imaging producer, she said. “It has been quite the ride so far and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”

But despite being a full-time Astral Media employee, this project is entirely independent of the radio giant, and she isn’t using her voice at Virgin Radio to promote her side project.

The show

Like David Tyler and Peter Anthony Holder, Kelly Alexander records her show at home, except when she’s “on location,” like being on the farm or making cookies with mummy. Editing is handled by Alexander and technical producer Esteban Vargas.

“I get to bring attention to topics and discussions that are of interest to me and to my listeners,” Alexander says of the content. “When I sit down with the team to produce the show we always ask ourselves if this matters to people? Will they laugh, cry, get angry, get proactive, think differently, find an answer to a question or just plain enjoy themselves for a minute?”

“I completely value my listeners’  time, I take it extremely seriously that they would give their time to me and I want everything that comes out of my mouth to mean something. Whether I introduce them to a new way to take care of themselves through health and medical information, fascinate them with a compelling interview on a topic they want to know more about, or entertain them with a new or relatively unheard of piece of music, I want them to know that Kelly Alexander cares about them and wants to help get them through their day.”

Alexander also points to the advantages that come with being freed from traditional radio, its time constraints and constant breaks for traffic, weather and commercials.

“Due to time constraints on traditional radio, the length and depth that I go to on the podcast could never happen. There just isn’t enough time on conventional radio because of programming and advertising responsibilities, etc. However, I love being on the radio because it is so fast-paced and exciting. The podcast has just been a step in another direction to allow my creative thoughts and ideas to be brought forth in a different way. I live and breathe audio and it is wonderful to be a part of both sides of the spectrum.”

The Kelly Alexander Show starts off with pretty lame technical jargon, the kind of stuff you’d see in a B movie: “Stand by … transmitting sound … download complete … now launching audio stream” – to some people who think computers work through voodoo magic it might sound cool, but it’s a waste of my time (and my intelligence) to play pretend-computer like this, especially when I’m listening to something I downloaded an hour ago. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a crotchety old man about stuff like this.

If the voice introducing the show sounds familiar, that’s because it’s Nat Lauzon, host of The Nat Show weekday mornings on CJFM and a prolific voiceover artist. She’s one of a few people whose professional services the show uses. Another is Ian Campbell, who composes original music for the show.

The music

Oh yeah, the music. Music licensing is a complicated (and expensive) business, so I was a bit surprised to hear lots of hit singles on this show. I asked Alexander about how she was securing rights to this music, and this was her response in its entirety:

In the absence of clear tariffs in this area we are awaiting clarification from the process currently being carried out by the Copyright Board of Canada. We are strong believers in the importance of intellectual property and are ready and willing to pay the appropriate performing rights for the music we use.

It’s true that the Copyright Board is complicated to deal with, and their proposed tariffs aren’t clear when they come to podcasting. I asked SOCAN, which administers group licensing for music artists, to clarify fees for podcasters, but never got a response.

Alexander’s answer sounds a lot like they’re just using the music and will pay for it if they’re asked. That sounds so ass-backwards when it comes to fairness in copyright, and yet because of the insane system we have here for music copyright, it still makes sense. Radio stations don’t pay artists directly for the rights to their music, but rather into a quasi-governmental body that redistributes the money to the artists.

Still, I have a feeling the music labels won’t be too thrilled that this situation is occurring and will take action if the Kelly Alexander Show gains popularity.

The numbers

Alexander was coy when asked about the numbers her podcast gets, saying they’re “currently collecting data, but so far the results look promising.” At DivShare, where her podcasts are hosted and streamed from, they’re small: a few dozen for each, averaging about 50. On the bright side, they have nowhere to go but up.

The small audience (which is still nonetheless present and loyal, if her Facebook page is any indication), is also supportive. “It has been wonderful to receive personal emails from listeners telling me how much they enjoy the show and can’t wait to hear more,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to have such a loyal fanbase, it means the world to me.”

Part of that is because the show is somewhat personal. Not only is her mom a regular, but she talks a bit about life on a farm, and recently discussed her mother’s breast cancer scare in detail. It’s hardly intimate, but at least we know there’s a person behind the microphone, which is much better than I could say for many commercial radio DJs these days (a fault of the stations, not the DJs themselves).

The future

Like other podcasts, the Kelly Alexander Show is on a holiday break, but is planning to return in January. Alexander promises more blog posts and videos. She also promises “new features coming in the first quarter of 2010, but nothing that I can divulge just yet.”

Fagstein’s review

The good: Kelly Alexander is upbeat, the show is professionally produced, and the music is popular. If you like commercial radio, you’ll probably like this.

The bad: It’s too upbeat, and the music is too popular. Even with Sherriffs, it was pretty forgettable. Now it’s even more so.

The ugly: If you like commercial radio, you’re probably listening to commercial radio and won’t bother with the effort of downloading a podcast. And Alexander’s answer about music licensing is a bit worrisome, especially for an operation that takes itself so seriously. This can’t be the proper way to do this.

*An earlier version of this post got the schedule for Kelly Alexander’s show on CJFM wrong. It’s Sunday mornings and afternoons.

Also in this series:

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