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`Podfather' plots a radio hit of his own

Brash Adam Curry is betting on the podcast as he tries launching a nation of DIY DJs.

May 21, 2006|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

San Francisco — ADAM CURRY may be known to new media types as the "Podfather," but these days the former MTV VJ and disc jockey talks more like a spokesman for the chamber of commerce.

While striding through his hipster, post-industrial South of Market office space where some of his 40 employees are lost in a computer or ear-bud-induced haze, Curry, who's rarely at a loss for words, explained why he and his new company set up shop here and his pro-growth philosophy.

"I love doing business in America," said Curry, who was born in Virginia, grew up in Amsterdam, and today splits his time between London and the Bay Area. "I've lived in welfare states -- Netherlands is a welfare state, the U.K. is moving toward it. You can't fire anyone in a welfare state. But Americans are motivated. They want to work."

His entrepreneurial foray into podcasting -- the downloading of audio and video programs onto a digital device such as an iPod -- seeks to be among the first to generate big money off the up-and-coming medium that threatens to further erode terrestrial radio's power. Though there have been a few failures, Curry has a good track record in the business world. PodShow Inc., founded in January 2005, is only the latest in a series of company-building ventures for Curry that began in the dot-com boom of the 1990s, a time that made him wealthy enough to purchase and move his family into a European castle.

Curry's fame and bravado helped push podcasting into mainstream consciousness and earned him the Podfather nickname among those in the fledgling new media industry.

"Adam is the figurehead and the face of podcasting," said Tim Bourquin, founder and CEO of TNC New Media, an Orange County-based company. "He's definitely got a big following."

"Big" is the operative word for Curry, who is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and isn't afraid of thinking on a grand scale.

"If you're going to start a media revolution, which is what this is totally about, it's harder to do it in New York, because it's the capital of publishing. You can't do it Los Angeles either, because of Hollywood," he said during a recent tour of his PodShow offices. "It had to be here, where we're media scientists."

His doubters regard that kind of talk as overblown, somewhat like Curry himself, they say. They're bothered that while Curry promotes himself as a would-be revolutionary for the little guy, he's actually as profit mad as the corporate giants. He's just smaller, say his online critics who fire off scathing barbs unstoppable on the Web and in podcasts but not permissible in family newspapers.

After all, they add, it was an oversized ego that led to a 2005 scandal on Wikipedia -- the popular online encyclopedia in which Curry was found to have edited his own profile and exaggerated his role in the development of podcasting. That episode, and his new company's drive to monetize a medium that prides itself on being above something so crass, has earned Curry his share of detractors.

"It's unbelievable what comes out of people's mouths and fingers," said Curry. "Sometimes, it's like, 'I'm the evil demon, the overlord, trying to control history and create an evil PodShow empire.' It's unbelievable how unhappy some people must be with their own lives because they jump on stuff with such vigor, anger and hate."

*

Maverick with a makeover

IT all sounds like something out of "Headbangers Ball," the weekly MTV late-night tribute to heavy metal music that Curry once hosted. Today, the 41-year-old seems as conventional as a company man and certainly a long way from the distorted electric guitar solos and death-obsessed lyrics of the hard rock genre.

He long ago shed his black leather jacket and cut back his shoulder-length, dirty blond locks, and at a recent interview, he sported black slacks, a pink shirt and conspicuous golden-framed glasses. He's been married to Dutch singer Patricia Paay for more than 20 years, time enough in his former world for at least two or three marriages; the couple have a teenage daughter.

But this is the same young man who in 1987 was hired by the upstart musical channel just as it began popping up in 40 million households nationwide. The experience brought him immediate fame in America and gave him an invaluable ground-floor view of a certifiable cultural revolution.

His MTV days influenced his current business path in an odd way. Instead of functioning as a blueprint for success as one might expect, the high-profile stint stands out only as the anti-model for his new company.

"I hated it.... It was such a restrictive place for creativity," he said of MTV. "There were just so many things you couldn't say," said Curry, who also once hosted MTV's "Top 20 Countdown." "It'd be like, 'Oh, you can't say that, we'll get kicked off basic cable.' Or I'd make a joke about Madonna and it would be, 'Oh, you can't say that, she might not perform in the music video awards.'

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