Tom Barnard’s Exit Strategy

Tom Barnard’s Exit Strategy

The legendary radio personality starts a podcast—a business venture he contends is designed to pave his path out of radio.

Tom Barnard has talked about leaving morning radio before. But the man who has earned countless millions for KQRS’ ever-changing stable of owners and dominated morning radio in the Twin Cities for two decades is finally doing something about it—and we’re not talking negotiating with WCCO about afternoon drive.

Earlier this summer, Barnard debuted a podcast—an Internet-based, downloadable (or streamable) program designed for listening at leisure, as opposed to on a radio station’s schedule. Barnard is producing five a week, each roughly an hour long. Most feature Tom and wife Kathryn Brandt interviewing one or two guests, initially a stable heavy on standup comedians. Barnard’s two adult children, Alex and Andy, also are a presence on the show.

Barnard, 61, has his sights on leaving morning radio when his current contract with KQ owner Cumulus Media expires in 2016, citing weariness over the hours, the “lack of full creative control,” getting beyond comedy, and the language constraints of terrestrial radio. He has no interest in retiring, though, and invested a quarter-million dollars of his own money to get the podcast off the ground.

Cumulus turned down the opportunity to partner with Barnard in the venture, seeing its potential as limited. But what sounds to Cumulus like an expensive family hobby may actually cost them their golden goose.

Despite his powerful market presence, Barnard’s image evolved from edgy comic to a polarizing conservative during the Bush years. He’s hoping for a reset on the Internet. “I want to get back to my roots in humor,” he says. “This is really a fresh start.” Barnard says he spoke to several of the nation’s leading podcasters, mostly comics and ex-radio hosts, such as Marc Maron and Adam Carolla, before deciding on the venture. He says the medium is generating $3 million-plus yearly for its most successful practitioners.

Barnard’s early efforts have been free-form, light on advertising relative to radio, and geared to a national audience, which he expects will make up a majority of listeners. More than 250,000 fans had signed up for the podcast at press time, Barnard reports.