Charlamagne Tha God, co-host of Premiere Networks’ syndicated “The Breakfast Club” radio show is among the most successful radio personalities in the podcasting world. Based at iHeartMedia urban contemporary “Power 105.1” WWPR-FM New York, the show’s podcast has been the only on-demand radio show to crack Podtrac’s ranker of most listened-to podcasts – most recently in August.
Why’s podcasting catching fire? “It’s the same reason people love radio,” Charlamagne said on the latest Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing episode. Podcasts are creating more friends for people to ride with in their cars, he told host Bob Pittman, who as CEO of iHeartMedia also happens to be Charlamagne’s boss. But during the candid conversation, Charlamagne—whose real name is Lenard Larry McKelvey—told Pittman that podcasts are helping to fix one of AM/FM’s shortcomings.
“One problem radio has going into the new decade is we haven’t done a great job of grooming personalities—radio got a little too vanilla. I think podcasts allow you be a personality,” said Charlamagne. “You’re really taking these kids off the street the same way I was back in 1998. I was off the street and nobody taught me how to do radio, I just started talking and that’s what these kids are doing with their podcasts. They’re just talking, they’re talking about their life experiences and talking about things from their point of view and I think people find it refreshing and entertaining.”
One reason Charlamagne thinks audio formats connect with people more than television is that the conversations tend to run longer. He says his longest interview ever was with comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, which ran an hour and 47 minutes.
“Audio is more intimate, when you're sitting down having a conversation with somebody, you can get more comfortable,” Charlamagne said on the podcast. “I think when they come on television, they know that the segment is only going to be six, seven minutes. When you think about the compelling interviews that you saw on TV back in the day, of the compelling interviewers it was the Larry King’s, the Oprah Winfrey’s, the Diane Sawyer’s, the Barbara Walters. Why were their interviews so compelling? Because they actually took time. They actually sat down and had long-form conversations with these people.”
The radio star, who is also a best-selling author, television host, and an advocate for mental health, speaks of his challenging upbringing in the rural town of Monks Corner, SC. As a young man, Charlamagne took to the streets selling drugs and attempted to hold down various jobs, including a two-week stint at Taco Bell, where his sister was the one to fire him. Eventually he realized, “the dirt road I lived on… I was much bigger than that.”
Charlamagne’s radio career started in Charleston, SC when he got a job as an intern at “Z-93 Jamz” WWWZ, where he was one of the most-sought-after promotion crew members because he admittedly was selling marijuana to the staff. Hanging around in the studio, he was asked from time to time for his input on the topic at hand, which led to him voice-tracking Sunday mornings and eventually hosting a Saturday night program.
“The best thing that ever happened to me was that I didn’t have any radio skills,” Charlamagne told Pittman. Now the host is part of one of the biggest morning shows on urban radio. Charlamagne and co-hosts with DJ Envy and Angela Yee just picked up an additional 10 new affiliates to start 2020.