BlogTalkRadio: Internet Saved the Radio Star

By Josh Catone
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BlogTalkRadio, a two year old company from New Jersey, literally gives a voice to thousands of bloggers each month by allowing anyone to host their own live radio call-in show for free. Since it was founded in 2006, the site has broadcast over 140,000 Internet radio shows and reaches over 3.5 million listeners each month.

What sets BlogTalkRadio apart from competitors, beyond the superior tools that allow hosts to do things like accept calls via telephone or VoIP live or screen callers before putting them on air, is the social network that the site has built around its content. CEO Alan Levy gave me a tour of the site earlier this week.

BlogTalkRadio’s 5,000 hosts can use the site to connect with listeners even when they’re not broadcasting via a built-in MySpace-like social network. Each user has a control panel with a news feed keying them into the type of things their friends are listening to or when they’re broadcasting new shows. BlogTalkRadio also offers embeddable widgets that allow hosts to stream their shows live on any other web page or social network profile — so they can interact with listeners from anywhere.

About 600 shows per day stream across the BlogTalkRadio servers, 100 or so simultaneously on air during peak times, and the company has amassed a fairly impressive list of clients and guests. Radio shows are being hosted by Sun, CNN’s Golf.com, Fox News, Intel, and the US Department of Defense, and guests and hosts have included film directors Oliver Stone and Brian de Palma, actors Frank Caliendo, Brad Pitt, and Jennifer Hudson, startup founders Craig Newmark and Matt Mullenweg, and politician John McCain.

But it is the long tail content that BlogTalkRadio is amassing that makes the site shine. There are over 70 categories of content at BlogTalkRadio and someone is broadcasting live 24/7 — there is really something for everyone on the site. Often, it is the small, independent publishers that land the biggest scoops and the most compelling guests. Levy told me that BlogTalkRadio has begun rolling up some of the most successful user generated content into themed channels that schedule archived versions of live daily or weekly shows into specific time blocks — much like a traditional radio station. So far, the site has two channels of political banter, one for fantasy sports, and one called the “FlyLady Channel” — I’m not really sure what that one is about.

BlogTalkRadio makes money in two ways: 1. advertising, banner ads it places on the site itself, and pre- and post-roll audio ads placed on some broadcasts, with revenue shared with hosts, and 2. via premium services. Some of BlogTalkRadio’s corporate clients have a need to go beyond the free service and create their own branded radio stations, on top of which they can sell their own advertising. Premium services start at $7,500 per month, according to a sales sheet.

One of the next frontiers for the company, Levy told me, in addition to building out their channel content rollups, will be to get all of that long tail content they have indexed more easily found. Levy said that there is already a ton of valuable meta data about shows included on the BlogTalkRadio pages, but audio indexing will eventually make all of the BlogTalkRadio content searchable. As we’ve reported here in the past, speech-to-text is something that Google has already been playing with, and Levy tells me that he is talking to Google and others about indexing the BlogTalkRadio content audio archive.

Below author Paulo Coelho and actor Lawrence Fishburne discuss Coelho’s book The Alchemist and the upcoming movie adaptation on a BlogTalkRadio show in September.

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