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Media | NEW MEDIA

`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

"I always said the funniest stuff on MTV never went on the air," he added. "I have outtake reels that could make me a millionaire again, but they will never see the light of day."

He made the bulk of his fortune in 1999 with the sale of a Web design company, co-founded with Ron Bloom, called THINK New Ideas Inc. Curry, who served as its chief technology officer, saw the company grow to 700 employees before finally selling it to another firm called Answerthink Inc.

"Everyone said we were crazy to sell, but we did and we sold it for a lot of money," said Curry, who briefly starred with his wife and daughter in a Dutch reality television show called "Adam's Family." "I bought a castle in Belgium, I learned to fly helicopters, and I retired."

For him, podcasting is the perfect antidote to what he regarded as the repressive atmosphere at MTV. Not even 2 years old, the nascent medium has attracted tens of thousands of podcasters and many more listeners around the globe by offering immense creative freedom in what amounts to time-shifted radio broadcasts.

With a computer and the appropriate software, anyone can become a radio programmer; Curry, along with software pioneer Dave Winer, developed the computer programs that make podcasting possible. Essentially, the pair's combined work in programming was instrumental in allowing audio clips and shows to be successfully downloaded by listeners onto iPods and MP3 devices.

But what caused an online uproar was when it was discovered that Curry had edited his own Wikipedia biography, an online ethical no-no.

Curry later admitted he deleted information that gave credit to another podcast developer only because he thought it was incorrect. He subsequently offered an apology on his podcast called "Daily Source Code," which has been averaging more than 1 million downloads a month since the last quarter of 2005, according to PodShow.

"I could really give a crap who invented podcasting," he said of the past controversy. "I didn't know you couldn't go into your own bio and not change something you thought was wrong. There really was no malice there at all."

PodShow Inc., the privately held company Curry co-founded with business partner Ron Bloom, is a big tent, packed with thousands of podcasts that juggle topics including comedy and culture, education and technology. Curry helps develop all the programming; among the most downloaded are Curry's own tech-heavy "Daily Source Code" and the "MommyCast," a weekly podcast by two stay-at-home moms in the Washington, D.C., area with seven children between them and who dispense parental advice. But its crown jewel is "The Dawn and Drew Show!," two self-described ex-gutter punks who now podcast from a 19th century dairy farm in southeast Wisconsin and talk raunchy about love, sex and even farm animals.

"He's building an audio version of MySpace.com," said Mark Ramsey, president of Mercury, a San Diego-based radio research and marketing company. "Whether he can pull that off in the mass market, who knows?"

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A more democratic playlist

NOT surprisingly, Curry is confident he can. Like all great rebellions, his is one that pits an army of tech-savvy Davids against a lumbering and bland Goliath as represented by the nation's media conglomerates. To Curry and his followers, corporate media isn't necessarily evil -- well, maybe a little evil -- but it certainly can't be trusted to judge what we should see and hear. And as media companies, particularly in radio, have merged, they've become bloated and, even worse, boring, argues Curry.

In place of a mainstream media, or at least alongside it, will be companies like his and the others that will inevitably follow, Curry believes. They offer what the mainstream media never would or could -- a way for regular folk to create and consume their own media content.

"We don't have water cooler conversations anymore," said Curry. The mainstream media "is so diluted, so packaged, so predictable. There's so very little that is new or interesting. We've lost a lot of social connectedness that used to come from that. And what we're building here is a social media network for human beings."

When asked about profitability -- the question in podcasting and all new media, for that matter -- Curry is somewhat vague. He gave no firm date for showing solid returns. But PodShow is attracting advertisers, he noted, a recent coup being the signing of paper product company Dixie for $200,000 as a sponsor for "MommyCast."

PodShow also has reeled in impressive venture capital money as well. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital -- the parties who invested in Yahoo and Google before most people ever heard of an Internet search engine -- have pumped nearly $9 million into PodShow.

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