Reporting Frank Vascellaro
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Tom Barnard is talking. That’s not a surprise, since he does it for a living.
But the reclusive broadcaster hasn’t granted a TV interview in nearly 23 years, until now.
“I don’t like to do TV most people have no idea what I look like, none. But I look like a radio guy, I look like most radio guys look I just do. That’s the way it is,” Barnard said.
He has dominated morning drive radio in the Twin Cities for decades since his move to KQRS in 1986.
He’s been paid millions to attract and sustain an audience that media advertisers crave. So why does he need to, or want to, do something new and different?
Barnard has converted the theatre room in the basement of his home into a temporary recording studio, complete with state of the art equipment.
“As a matter of fact, I did all the voice over for George [Michael] Dukakis when he ran for president. Dukakis. You remember? He’s the one who got crushed because of me,” he said.
From here, he launched the Tom Barnard Podcast less than two weeks ago.
“I want to be around my family and my friends and…I love it. I just love it,” he said.
The family affair features nephew Sean as the podcast general manager. Son Andy helps run the technical side. Daughter Alex, and wife of 27 years Kathryn, are on-air contributors.
Barnard is so proud of his wife and kids he wants them to share in his success.
“They’re as funny or…funnier than I am, that’s for sure. And they’re really good people, and they’re sweethearts, and…that part I want to share with the world I do. I really do,” Barnard said.
But a global podcast can invite scrutiny, especially on social media.
“You just don’t want your kids to be ripped to shreds because someone didn’t like and you’re the one who wanted them on the show, and I think he was very nervous about that,” he said.
A podcast is essentially a radio show recorded on the internet for someone to listen to whenever they like over a smartphone, iPod, or computer. Think of it like TiVo for radio. It’s free for listeners.
“We were the number one ‘News and Noteworthy’ in iTunes this week,” he said.
According to Blois Olson of Fluence Media, there are thousands of podcast and most of them fail. It’s difficult to consistently produce quality shows and draw a large audience.
Barnard hired former radio producer, Tony Lee, to work on the podcast. On this day, KP Anderson, head writer of cable show “The Soup”, was a guest.
Barnard’s team says they experiencing tremendous initial success, with more than 55,000 podcast downloads already.
“I think he will be successful. One of the reasons is folks who’ve been successful in podcasting get to be themselves,” Olson said.
Barnard’s podcast could eventually make money by getting sponsors and advertisers, similar to how KQRS makes money.
He says he’s surprised the podcast has taken off so quickly and is grateful to his loyal fans. But it doesn’t mean the 60 year old is giving up traditional radio.
“I just signed a 4-year extension and I could have stuck with the radio and just kind of fade out. But I can never shut up, I just can’t. I just have to have some venue. I hope to continue in radio, it might be in afternoon drive some day because getting up is just tough, it really is,” he said.
If you like him on radio, you may love him at home. He’s relaxed, uncensored, and very funny while surrounded by his family.
“My wife thinks that I’m going to fire her within the first five shows. This is now number 4. She’s trying really hard right now,” Barnard said.
It’s more of a conversation than a show. Kathryn has seen a metamorphosis in Tom when he doesn’t have the pressure of carrying a live radio show.
“He’s kind of getting into a new personality which is himself more for this. And it makes us feel like we’re talking to my husband, their father, rather than Tom the radio guy,” Kathryn said.
Not to say he’s lost his edge. It’s just that in the comfort of his own home, Tom is in control. He doesn’t have to tone it up or tone it down for radio executives or advertisers. Barnard is just doing what he’s done best for years, being brutally honest.
“Hey, you know what? I do a radio show and if you like that that’s really nice of you. If you don’t like it and you think I’m an idiot? I understand that. That’s your opinion, I have no problem with that,” he said.
The aforementioned 4-year deal he recently signed is with KQRS.
If the podcast eventually makes money, he’s donating part of the proceeds to the Smile Network.
Click here to find Barnard’s podcast.