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The Most Powerful People In Podcasting: 2020

The iHeartPodcast Network has grown into the biggest commercial podcast network with more than four hundred shows.  And the network has been #1 on the Podtrac chart 3 out of the past 4 months.  Byrne, President of iHeartPodcast Network, has a distribution and promotional machine that includes 850 radio stations including a handful of stations that air nothing but podcasts, and the iHeartRadio app where podcast listening doubled in the first three months of the year.

Sam Dolnick is an Assistant Managing Editor who oversees The New York Times’ growing audio, film and television work, as well as a growing list other digital projects.  Dolnick helped launch the newspaper’s flagship The Daily, one of the most listened-to podcasts with about three million downloads each day.  Based on the success of that show the Times has become a serious player in the podcast industry, a point driven home by its recent deal to buy Serial Productions and bring the much-loved Serial podcast under its banner.

Ostroff, former president of entertainment of The CW and president of Condé Nast Entertainment, is seeing big success at Spotify. Today, one in five Spotify listeners tune to a podcast, but growth has not come cheap. The company has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy up companies like The Ringer, Gimlet Media, Parcast and Anchor FM. It has also captured headlines with exclusive licensing of The Joe Rogan Show and podcasts by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground.

Public radio’s NPR was the first broadcaster to fully embrace podcasting and that investment has paid off.  Now under Anya Grundmann’s direction, about a third of Podtrac’s most downloaded shows each month are produced by NPR. The list includes radio-on demand like Fresh Air and Planet Money but also podcast originals like NPR Politics, Code Switch and How I Built This. Grundmann says a big part of their creation strategy is simply “unleashing” the talent that the public radio broadcast already has within its organization. 

Apple has sent signals it may have bigger plans for the medium which it invented, and Ben Cave, Apple’s Global Head of Podcasts, is the man in charge of the future. Apple has recently made some podcast-specific hires and even launched its own morning news podcast.  Apple has so far been mum about its long-term plans for podcasting, but whatever happens inside its Cupertino, CA headquarters is sure to have a big impact on the industry.

Kerri Hoffman, the CEO of PRX, continues to not only be champion for innovations in podcasting but also for opening the medium to new audiences. That includes the launch of Trax, the company’s unit that creates shows for kids and families. Under Hoffman’s direction PRX continues to work with Google on what is now a virtual incubator program to bring new voices to the medium from around the world. PRX is a top five podcast publisher with more than 81 million downloads. 

Stitcher CEO Erik Diehn is about to have a lot more resources at his disposal after SiriusXM announced it is buying the company from E. W. Scripps and it will soon be a sister to content and distribution sources like Pandora and SiriusXM Radio. Stitcher currently produces original podcasts under the Stitcher brand and is the parent of Earwolf, which has built a portfolio of comedy podcasts. Midroll is the advertising sales and podcaster services arm for about 300 shows.

Eaton just left her position as Senior Manager of Programming Acquisitions at NPR to lead the development of original podcasts for Apple. Apple recently said it will produce about 20 audio stories a week across a wide range of interests.  In an NPR interview, she recently said, "I've always been more interested in supporting multiple storytellers at a time rather than working on my own projects. I have to be the kind of person who wants to stay out of the spotlight and champion the work of others."

A two-decade veteran of the television industry, Hernan Lopez founded the podcast studio Wondery in 2016. Today, Lopez and Wondery are one of the big reasons podcasting has captured the interest of Hollywood during the past several years.  Wondery has created podcasts like Dirty John, Dr. Death, Over My Dead Body and WeCrashed that have morphed into shows for television with stories that not only looked good but pulled in viewers. 

The creative force behind hit TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Private Practice, and Station 19, mega-producer and writer Shonda Rhimes has set her sights on podcasting. This spring she created Shondaland Audio, the company's new podcast division, with plans to produce a full slate of podcasts over the next three years as part of the iHeartPodcast Network.  

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Podcast Power Players - 2020

Audiochuck founder and CEO Ashley Flowers made her mark (with co-host Brit Prawat) with the popular Crime Junkie podcast, but didn’t stop there. In the past year, Ashley has launched Supernatural, and Park Predators, and has just launched Very Presidential, which will examine the well-kept secrets of some of the country’s past presidents. She’s come a long way from weekly appearance on an Indianapolis radio station For Crime Stoppers. Crime Junkie remains a hit, with over 31 million monthly downloads.

Ben Davis, a WME Entertainment agent since 2011, works with clients to develop digital content strategies, sourcing, and negotiating deals in the entertainment space.  He works with several podcasts, including Freakonomics Radio; Tell Me Something I Don’t Know; Pod Save America (and the Crooked Media network); Limetown; 36 Questions; Crimetown; Missing Richard Simmons; Revisionist History; Lebron James’ Uninterrupted Network; Under the Skin with Russell Brand; The Tony Kornheiser Show; and Unsolved Murders.

The Ben Shapiro Show is a daily political podcast produced by The Daily Wire and hosted by Ben, who also has a daily radio show on over 200 U.S. stations. Shapiro entered UCLA at the age of 16, and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in June 2004 with a BA in Political Science. He graduated from Harvard Law School cum laude in June 2007.  In his spare time, he has written eleven books.  Podtrac says the five shows produced by The Daily Wire get 40 million worldwide downloads a month.

Brendan Monaghan is CEO of Megaphone, the industry-leading podcast technology and targeted ad sales company for publishers and advertisers. As CEO, Brendan is responsible for leading the company’s strategic vision, partner development, business operations and overall growth.  Before joining Megaphone, he served in several position, including General Manager of Slate Magazine, and prior to that worked at The Washington Post.

Brian Mayfield, EVP of Ramsey Media, leads the engine that powers the growing Ramsey Network, which is home to some of the top podcasts in the industry. The Dave Ramsey Show was Apple's fourth most popular podcast of 2019, and the eight other Ramsey Network programs (The Ken Coleman Show, The Rachel Cruze Show, The Chris Hogan Show, etc.) consistently rank in the Top 20 of the business, careers, and investing categories. 

In addition to podcasting, Charlamagne tha God is part of a radio show, television personality, and author. He is a co-host of nationally syndicated The Breakfast Club with DJ Envy and Angela Yee. Most recently Charlamagne Tha God and Andrew Schulz (both formerly of MTV's Guy Code) started The Brilliant Idiots podcast.  They've been quoted as saying the show allows them to express uncensored opinions they cannot express on a 'regular' radio show.

Morrow is co-founder and CEO of The Loud Speakers Podcast Network, home to such award winning podcasts as The Read, The Brilliant Idiots, Combat Jack Show and Angela Yee's Lip Service. The company currently produces 13 shows and averages over 4 million listens per month.  He's also the author of six New York Times Bestsellers, including Black Privilege with Charlamange Tha God, Success Through Stillness, with Russell Simmons and Manology with Rev Run and Tyrese Gibson.

We reported in late 2019 that Sony Music Entertainment was building a podcast business in the U.S. and beyond, and plan to expand the overall number of shows it produces in collaboration with Sony Music, beginning with a slate of new shows across multiple genres this year. Christy Mirabal moved over from Stitcher in July and is vice president of marketing, podcasting for Sony. Mirabal will guide planning, development and execution of marketing initiatives for Sony's podcast projects. 

Colin Thomson is the founder and CEO of Kast Media, which was launched in 2016 as a production company for the creation of premium podcast content. In the latest Podtrac Publisher Ranking, Kast Media has 46 shows that produced almost 33 million downloads and streams (7/20).  Thomson has an interesting background.  A graduate of Indiana's Wheaton College, he's owned a sight reading academy, taught piano and worked as a plumber, and seems to have found his niche with Kast Media.

Courtney Holt serves as the Head of Studios and Video at Spotify, and is charged with leading its efforts to develop original video and podcast programming. According to Variety, Holt has a long resume in digital media, with extensive exposure to the music industry. He began his career with stints at Atlantic Records and A&M Records before taking on key roles in the development of digital-facing businesses at MTV Networks in 2006 and then MySpace Music in 2008.

Atlanta director and independent filmmaker Payne Lindsey, and music industry veteran Donald Albright, founded Tenderfoot in 2016 and launched onto the podcasting scene with the award winning true crime podcast, “Up and Vanished.” The viral sensation became an international news story after influencing 2 arrests in a decade-old cold case. Tenderfoot’s flagship show has received over 330 million downloads to date. Other shows include the critically acclaimed “Atlanta Monster,” “To Live and Die in LA,” “Culpable,” and “Sworn,” accounting for 5 #1 podcasts.

Enrique Santos, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of iHeartLatino is bringing Latino focused podcasts to the iHeart Neworks. The first podcast is Hola, My Name Is. Other Santos-supervised podcasts will encompass the health, fashion and beauty, sports and supernatural genres. “Being able to help elevate stories from my community is an enormous privilege,” said Santos. “Through iHeartMedia’s network, I’m able to tell these stories in new ways while reaching listeners who may not always feel represented in media.”

Erika Nardini currently serves as CEO of Barstool Sports, the digital media juggernaut delivering 24/7 unfiltered, authentic, and satirical sports and entertainment content to over a billion followers on social media and millions of people through its website, app, podcasts, and Sirius XM channel. Erika joined Barstool in July 2016 as the company's first CEO. Under Erika's leadership, Barstool Sports is almost always in the top 5 among podcast publishers, and most recently recorded a monthly total of 65 million global downloads and streams among 42 shows.

Gary Coichy launched Pod Digital Media, a first-of-its-kind podcast agency targeting a gap in the audio marketplace for African American, LGBTQ and female-hosted podcasts. Mindshare, the GroupM media buying agency, announced an initiative to financially support Black journalism and community voices across the U.S., and podcasting is part of the mix. Among the publishers that Mindshare is connecting with is Coichy’s Pod Digital Media with a goal to expand the media brand’s products and popularity.

Few people are paid to be funny, or at least recognize funny. Jack O'Brien is one of them. He’s the Creative Director and Head of Comedy at the iHeart Podcast Network. O’Brien is also the cohost of The Daily Zeitgeist podcast along with Miles Gray. Before joining Stuff Media in 2017, which is now part of the iHeart Podcast Network, O’Brien launched the humor website Cracked.com in 2006 and was a driving force behind the site’s editorial and video content until he left to work in podcasting.

Weisberg, former CEO of the Slate Group, co-founder of Panoply, and past editor-in-chief of Slate Magazine, teamed with journalist, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author Gladwell in 2018 to found Pushkin Industries, an audio content company. Their mission includes putting artists and creators first and their roster includes Revisionist History, Broken Record, Solvable, and Food Actually. Gladwell has been included in the TIME 100 Most Influential People list. 

Jenna remains a driving force for the company she co-founded after Entercom acquired the Brooklyn, NY-based podcast studio last year for $18 million. Entercom, the parent of Cadence13 and Pineapple Street Studios, reported its digital revenue grew 19% during the second quarter (2020) despite the impact of the pandemic. Jenna made the move to podcasting after nearly a decade working in public radio on shows like Story Corp. and The Moth. Pineapple Street Studio is home to Catch & Kill with Ronan Farrow, and The C-Word, with Lena Dunham.

Minneapolis-based Jessica Cordova Kramer is the executive producer of the Pod Save the People podcast, which has won multiple Webby awards. Cordova Kramer lost her brother Stefano to a long battle with addiction, subsequently co-creating Lemonada with Stephanie Wittels Wachs, who also lost her brother to an overdose. Its goal is, she says, “to make shows that help people get out of bed in the morning, that help people deal with the hardest shit in their real lives.”

Favreau is a former speechwriter for President Obama, while Vietor was a spokesperson for Obama and the United States National Security Council, and Lovett was a fellow speechwriter.  During the previous administration they started a podcast, Keepin' It 1600, as a hobby.  But after Obama left office, the group moved from hobby to business with Crooked Media's flagship show, Pod Save America.  Dan Pfeiffer joined the team, and they've expanded to live shows and live streams.

Josh Lindgren is a leading podcast agent with an exclusive roster of high-end clients including creators, producers, networks, and on-air talent.  Creative Artists Agency initially brought on Lindgren as an agent in the company’s touring department, and he now represents many of the most successful properties, creators, and production companies in the podcasting space.”

Since 2015 Julie Shapiro has been Executive Producer for Radiotopia, the podcast network created by Public Radio Exchange (PRX).   She's also executive producer of the Ear Hustle podcast. Shapiro has been working in audio for nearly two decades, spending a good part of that as Artistic Director of the Third Coast International Audio Festival.  She’s credited with coining the term “Radiotopia” in a speech at the Third Coast Festival, describing it as a place where awesome stories live.

Julie Snyder has been the guiding force behind two of the most successful ventures in podcasting: she is the co-creator of the podcast Serial, which debuted in October 2014 and has been downloaded more than 420 million times, making it the most listened-to podcast in the history of the form; and for many years, she was the senior producer of the public radio show This American Life, which is heard by more than 4 million listeners each week.

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark host the hit podcast “My Favorite Murder”. They formed the Exactly Right Podcast network to provide a platform for bold, creative voices.  Hardstark’s background includes appearances on multiple Cooking Channel shows and writing for ELLE and Food Network online. Kilgariff is a stand-up comedian, known for her work as a cast member on HBO's Mr. Show and as the creative judge on TruTV's Talk Show: The Game Show

Spohrer is a radio producer and the co-creator of the award-winning podcast Criminal, which won the 2020 Webby Award for Crime & Justice, and This is Love, a highly-acclaimed podcast series investigating stories of love. Founder of the online literary magazine Two Serious Ladies, Spohrer previously was a producer at NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR’s Bryant Park Project and American Public Media’s The Story with Dick Gordon.  

Cutler grew up in an audio-loving family; his dad was a radio producer.  In 2016, Cutler launched Parcast, aiming to give a mainstream audience an alternative to the podcast market's quirky comedians and NPR imitators. The network’s first two series, "Unsolved Murders" and "Remarkable Lives, Tragic Deaths," quickly found success. Since beginning, Parcast has totaled over 80 million downloads. Cutler was recognized in Forbes 30 Under 30 Media list in 2019. 

Rosenbaum showed up on Forbes 30 Under 30 Hollywood & Entertainment list in 2017. His current role at UTA has him representing a variety of podcast networks, creators and early stage companies, including Wondery, Tenderfoot, iHeartMedia/HowStuffWorks, Guy Raz of TED Radio Hour and How I Built This, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark of My Favorite Murder, Marc Smerling of Crimetown and The Jinx, and DJ Khaled among others.  

A 2017 Inductee into The Academy of Podcasters Hall of Fame, Greenlee’s nationally syndicated WebTalk World Radio Show is recognized as the first broadcast radio program to make the transition to podcasting.  Prior roles include VP Podcaster Relations with Voxnest, Head of Content at Spreaker and EVP at PodcastOne. Greenlee is currently the VP of Content and Partnerships at Lisbyn expanding the company’s relationships with podcast producers and developing industry partnerships. 

Recognized by Fortune Magazine as an innovator in the advertising and digital space, Steelberg launched his career co-founding AdForce with his brother Chad in 1995.  In 2002 the Steelbergs founded dMarc Broadcasting, the largest centralized radio ad network and digital automation company servicing more than 4600 radio stations. In 2014 the brothers co-founded Veritone, an Artificial Intelligence leader, recognized by some of the industry’s most prestigious forums, including the Red Herring Top 100 Award.

Entercom has become a podcast player in the past year as it spent millions and brought podcast studios Cadence13 and Pineapple Street Studios under the same roof as the Radio.com streaming app. Brown, who was CEO at Cadence13, now hold a similar title over a much larger portfolio of assets. Brown’s roots are in radio, having co-founded DGital Media in 2015 after leaving the radio network Dial Global.  

With over 15 years of audio production experience, T. Square is an award winning Executive Producer at Stitcher where she conceptualizes and oversees development and production for original content, specifically chat shows and scripted fiction. T.Square collaborates closely with hosts to bring their vision to life, some of those shows include Dead Ass with Khadeen and Devale Ellis, Imani State of Mind and The Suga.  Prior to joining Stitcher, T. Square produced talk programming for the Oprah Radio network formerly on SiriusXM.

Pearson joined iHeartPodcast Network in 2019 as Chief Operating Officer. The network is the #1 commercial podcast publisher globally and home to The Ron Burgundy podcast, Disgraceland and Chelsea Handler: Life Will Be The Death Of Me among others. Pearson co-created the Part-time Genius podcast and co-founded the magazine Mental Floss with fellow Duke student Mangesh Hattikudur. Pearson and Hattikudur have been named two of thirty promising entrepreneurs in Inc. magazine. 

Zack Reneau-Wedeen, the Product Manager for Google Podcasts, began working at Google as an Associate Product Manager after graduating from Yale. Zack realized that there wasn’t an easy way to find podcasts while he was working on Google’s search engine, but he found a fix.  "We've redesigned the Google Podcasts app to make it easier to discover podcasts you'll love, build your list of go-to podcasts, and customize your listening."