So…..continuing my Janifesto…and anyone reading this knows I have an inherent conflict of interest regarding Steve Dahl’s podcast because I am married to the subject (There- I have fulfilled the Trib’s guideline for bloggers’ disclosure)
It is now the summer of 2011, and Steve has been off terrestrial radio for 30 months. He missed it. At one time, he figured he would be tired of the daily demands of broadcasting when his deal with CBS was over. And so he paid off the house, got us private health care in case we went to crap before Medicare eligibility. He started to golf, figuring that it would take up the slack.
He packed his bags for Florida in early 2009 to mull, stew, and watch over my Dad. Dad died in March with Steve there to buttress my sister and brother. He came back to Chicago with a goal of re-connecting with his audience, and keeping his employees paid. Since CBS was paying off his contract, he figured he would try to “keep the team together” as long as he could. He conceived of the podcast over the summer, and launched it in dog days of summer in 2009. At the same time, my brother had a heart attack. I listened to the early version on my I pod as I drove to Detroit. Hearing him in the car comforted me. I like having him to ride along with. I missed it. I know many others do, too.
Every weekday since then, the Dahl team members have migrated from their own worlds to our little corner of suburbia. Whether Steve is here, or in Florida, he turns on a mic and reaches out. The basement is no longer my collection of crafts and junk. It is the home of a podcast. He has never resented this self imposed obligation. He appreciates the structure it lends his life, and the contact with a larger world. He has only taken 5 days off. I have grown accustomed to sharing my home with a cadre of Dahlcasters. They try to ignore my bad bathrobe, or the vacuum noises. It is a collaborative organism. We are a secondary “family” – they are my step kids. They are afraid to sass me, unlike my own boys. That helps matters.
The Dahlcast started as a labor of love. The outreach satisfied Steve’s desire to build a community. He knows how precious it is to be a part of someone’s day. He was grateful that so many people participated in the new technology. He knew he was in an extended Beta test, and that fulfilled the curious part of him. He may hate to read, but he is a life long learner.
Aside from his “people” costs, there were legal expenses, technological expenses, equipment costs. He took them on because he was still being paid. And then one day Steve’s CBS boss called and informed him that he was not going to allow him to podcast anymore. What would it take to allow him to continue? Of course, you guessed it. Money.
And so Steve started paying a monthly fee of 7500 dollars for the ability to podcast. At the same moment he also began trying to figure out what he would do at the end of the contract. I got my knee fixed. He embarked on a profound life change, eating better, and exercising himself into good health. He wanted to be in a position of strength as his contract closed.
He emerges as a free agent as the radio landscape is pitted with change and instability. He does not see a slot that is welcoming at this snapshot moment.
He does not wish to do straight sports. He is a fan, not a dissector of stance and style.
WGN is bankrupt, with new managers, and facing a court ruling that indicates that Tribune’s holdings violate cross-ownership regulations. It is doubtful that divestment is in the future, but there is paralysis there. And not much innovation.
WLS AM/FM is bankrupt, and being merged with Citadel. In my perfect world, Steve would slide into Rush’s Limbaugh’s gas-bag spot-but that would never happen at the top of an election cycle. Too many angry ad dollars are at stake.
History indicated that a talk drive time does not meld with a music format as far as people meters go. That takes all kinds of opportunities off the deck. So here we are.
Steve’s dream- to launch an independent “podcast”- is the result of his clear eyed view of his options.
It is brave. It is expensive. There are no guarantees. But he has earned the right to try.
Is this the final destination for Steve? Will he ever be on my car radio again?
I do not know. I DO know he relishes the ability to speak freely after years of FCC micromanaging. He has observed FCC mandated discipline for the past few years, because compliance was demanded by his contract. He knew that CBS would love to void it, and he followed every contractual prohibition to the letter. Now he is navigating new parameters. It is scary fun.
The podcast is the Wild West, unregulated. He likes pushing the boundaries, and being unfiltered..though old habits die hard, and he is not aiming to offend. He is newly emancipated, and is finding his comfort zone. It is a work in progress.
He knows the gravy days of radio are past, but he hopes the fun, free form days will resurface in alternative forms. He would like to be part of this brave new world. We’ll see.
In the meantime, when I hear people saying that he is not worth 10 bucks a month, I am defensive. If $ 10 is truly going to impact a family budget, then I understand. But after Steve has worked so hard, spent so much money he could have banked for retirement, and dreamed so big- I think he is worth a $10 try out. Or even a more civilized farewell than the charmer who left a voice mail that “if you’re not on the radio, we don’t give a F****” I hate that guy. Steve was ending every podcast with it as a funny drop in, but as a shareholder, I hereby delete him from existence. I am Steve’s new FCC. I like the power, and I will wield it judiciously.
In the meantime, Steve is now allowed to pop up on TV, or to speak with non-CBS outlets. He likes dabbling. He has loved sitting in with Roe Conn when Richard Roeper is out of town. He’ll continue to explore and experiment, and he will retain autonomy for at least the next year. He will be able to go to Florida for another winter, escaping the gray and the cold, saving his mental health and keeping him healthy and sober. I know the team will be adding features at Dahl.com and via the podcast to reward the loyalty of the listeners who will work a little harder to share part of their day with Steve. The show is a seedling, and with nurture, it just may end up being sturdy enough to climb.
It’s like my school-hating husband is getting his PhD. in new media. All the start up costs are tuition… at the most expensive school in the galaxy.
He is an early adopter. He has, in the past, embodied the saying that a pioneer gets the arrows, and the settler gets the land. I hope he can carve out a patch for himself here. But you know what? I am inspired by his spirit, and his ability to expand his dream when he could just watch Access Hollywood and go to seed. I am honored to subsidize his tuition. There are no guarantees at graduation, but there are no regrets either. The dignity is in the effort.
I may be finished now with this subject…but I may not. Come back to check, if I have not bored you into a trance.