After working in satellite and broadcast radio, programming veteran Tim Sabean joined the fast-growing world of on-demand audio in January 2018. As senior VP of Digital Content for Westwood One, Sabean heads up talent discovery, content partnership development and audience growth strategies at the radio network with a focus on the podcast space.
Sabean’s extensive radio career includes managing both AM and FM, rock, oldies, news/talk, and sports formats. As VP, Rock Programming at the former Infinity Broadcasting, he oversaw WYSP Philadelphia, WBCN Boston, WRKZ Pittsburgh, KUFO Portland, KRSX San Antonio, WAZU Columbus and WXRK New York. Sabean was VP of Programming for Howard Stern affiliate WYSP for 14 years and, in October 2005, followed Stern to SiriusXM Radio as senior VP for its two Howard Stern channels. During a nearly nine-year stretch with the satcaster, Sabean also worked as senior VP, Comedy and Entertainment.
Fresh from speaking at Podcast Movement in Philadelphia, Inside Radio caught up with Sabean to talk about finding and developing podcast talent, content creation for a digital world, and what he learned from working in satellite radio. An edited transcript follows.
Tell us about your day-to-day responsibilities at WWO and what you consider your biggest accomplishments in the first seven months on the job.
I spend a majority of my time identifying high-value talent targets that will bring a return to Westwood One Podcast Network. We have a vision on the end game of building the “Mount Rushmore” of podcasters which delivers unique and unduplicated content that engages audiences and advertisers. My biggest accomplishments to date are signing major talent like Eric Bischoff of “83 Weeks,” “Opie Radio,” “Total Soccer,” “The Rubin Report,” Judith Regan, and others.
Sports, wrestling, politics, pop culture, K-Pop – how does the breadth of content you’re free to develop for digital differ from the constraints of over the air radio?
My time in terrestrial radio taught me to hyper-focus on format and ratings. After moving to satellite radio, I was able to shake off that obsessive drive for ratings and start to create and develop content that attracted community and a loyal following of listeners. There are a lot of untapped areas of interest with hugely-loyal fan bases who want to embrace content that’s relevant to their interests and passions.
Most WWO podcasts are available for free. What’s the revenue model for the podcast network?
It’s case by case. Some deals involve a revenue share while others are evaluated based on the unique attributes of the talent and what they bring to the table. Westwood One offers an enormous value to podcasters, talent, and content creators. We have massive audio distribution reaching 245 million listeners a week, a savvy and determined national sales force, and a full suite of promotion, syndication, and monetization capabilities.
Discovering and developing new talent is a big part of your job. Where are you looking to find new talent?
I have deep relationships and ties throughout the media business, especially after working with Mel Karmazin, Don Buchwald, and Howard Stern over the past 30 years. I also spend hours combing through social media platforms for standout talent and influencers, have ongoing conversations with agents and personalities. I just love the hunt! I’m a real people person. I love connecting with folks who share the same heart, soul, and passion for the business that I have.
You brought Opie & Anthony to SiriusXM and now you helped launch “Opie Radio” for WWO. How are you working to leverage the large following that already exists for Gregg “Opie” Hughes and how are you enjoying serving as the show’s sometimes punching bag?
Gregg “Opie” Hughes is one of the most skillful and underestimated talents in the business. Now that “Opie Radio” is on Westwood One Podcast Network, we are taking the time to properly develop, distribute, and expand his unique brand of storytelling and comic relief. We’re just getting started with Opie, and we have big plans for his brand.
You started in broadcast radio, went to satellite, and now are back on the broadcast side. What did you learn from each experience that helped you with the next platform you went to work at?
I learned about discipline in broadcast radio and I honed my creativity in satellite radio. Now I’m learning the network business, which is a totally new challenge. It’s much more complex than broadcast or satellite radio, and I have a way to go on the learning curve.
You were brought on board when Cumulus was going through a financial reorganization in bankruptcy court. Did that give you pause?
Not at all. I was brought on to create digital opportunities that attract listeners and advertisers and to put our Westwood One Podcast Network firmly at the forefront. That in itself was enough of a lure.
While radio personalities are expanding their reach by adding podcasting to their repertoire, the platform is also creating opportunities in the opposite direction, such as Ben Shapiro and Clay Travis. What role do you expect Westwood One Podcast Network to play in developing the next generation of network talent superstars?
We have a Cumulus portfolio of 441 radio stations brimming with talent, a promotional swat team, dynamic sellers, and massive audio distribution channels, which will collectively help us to develop rock stars on both sides of the coin – broadcast and podcast.
What’s the most important lesson you learned from working with Howard Stern?
I’ll save this for the book!
Building content partnerships is part of your job description. Is a Howard Stern podcast with Westwood One on your wish list?
Not at this time.
What’s your take from Podcast Movement?
Podcasting is to radio as Uber is to the transportation industry -- it’s the new gold rush of audio entertainment. It has allowed us to engage new platforms, targeted audiences, and revenue streams.
Smart speakers and podcasting are showing explosive growth. It seems everyone wants in on the podcast action, from publications to brands to internet stars. Radio is the original audio medium. How can it become a bigger player in this budding space?
Terrestrial radio has limited growth, yet podcasting has unlimited growth. Broadcasters have to wake up and stop being one-dimensional, and radio has to better leverage its content across multiple distribution platforms. I’m always spinning ideas and thinking about opportunities. If anyone wants to reach out, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.