Blunt Q&A: Cannabis Radio’s Brandy Shapiro-Babin on Broadcasting Weed
By Jeff Klingman, theBluntness Feature Writer
Like many of the best ideas, a podcast network devoted to all things cannabis seems obvious in retrospect. When Daron and Brandy Shapiro-Babin founded Cannabis Radio in 2015, as podcast listening was solidifying into a mainstream obsession and legal weed continued its steady creep across the country, they identified both trends at a key point of upward growth.
Today, the radio and podcasts network features over 50 distinct programs available on their own streaming site, or via popular platforms like iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher. Programs range from insights for industry professionals, advice for curious patients, and entertainment for enthusiasts. Their on-air personalities include experts in the field like Dr. Dina (the Hollywood medical MJ expert who inspired the Showtime series, Weeds) and longtime ganja celebrities like Tommy Chong. It’s a broad spectrum of content that provides lots of customized options for the cannabis businesses who advertise on their shows.
While both Babins came from distinguished careers in digital broadcasting, the decision to apply their expertise to cannabis content was a deeply personal one for company president (and Daron’s wife), Brandy Shapiro-Babin. She observed the positive effects of weed on her late mother’s Alzheimer’s symptoms compared to pharmaceuticals that carried a much graver downside risk. The experience galvanized the couple towards their mission to spread correct information on cannabis—health, law, and business—to the widest possible audience.
“We made a commitment that no other family should go through what we went through,” Shapiro-Babin says. “We believe deeply that education is power, the wrong information is horribly debilitating.”
“Thus was born Cannabis Radio.”
We chatted about the many programs CR features, the multiplying ways their podcasts reach the listening audience, and all the work needed to make sure a new host gets their best chance to make a real difference.
How do you measure success for each of the individual podcasts that you are putting out? What lets you know that something is resonating?
Obviously, the numbers speak volumes, but also the way that people interact with us and the content. We’ve found that people want the ability to be intimate, yet anonymous. There’s a tremendous amount of people who call, they email, a lot of people send feedback via direct message. They don’t always want to get on social media and say, “Hey, here’s what’s happening with my business,” “here’s what’s happening in my family,” or “here’s the disease I’ve been battling.” People try to make more direct contact. It feels like we’re running a hotline, sometimes.
Is there any different value to you in how people consume your content? Is a download any more valuable than a stream?
Both are equally valuable, to be honest. People consume media, and they are consuming media in the ways that they feel comfortable with. A lot of people will listen to us in their work environment if they are in the cannabis space. We have people who will download us and take us to the gym, they take us on a plane ride. Some people listen in real time, and there are some people who like to wait. I think for us, we just care that people get the proper information and it’s information that they can play today and then refer back to, as well.
Analyzing the wealth of varied data involved, different people coming to you through different channels, different ways that people listen is an evolving art. How do you make sense of what you are seeing?
It’s pretty fascinating on the back-end, and it’s a pain in the neck. There’s no system out there that’s super accurate. The majority of it is done very much by hand, [checking listener data] from many different outlets. A lot of the “dashboard companies”, they’re just not accurate. Like your mama said, “Do it yourself if you want it done right.”
How important are the distribution relationships you’ve made with different delivery platforms, like Spotify or Apple? Has that become a much bigger focus for your business?
We want the barriers to entry to be as easy as possible for people, and we want to make sure that our media is anywhere where people consume media. So that’s good, because the easier we make it for people to participate, the more people that will participate. I think we’ve been on Spotify for six months, and it’s doing well. But it wasn’t like “Oh My God, we’re on Spotify and it exploded the next day!” It’s doing well, it’s steady and nice. It’s not steady amazing.
The biggest category among your podcast roster are industry and state regulations. Is that a result of data you guys seeing that suggests potential listeners are most interested in those subjects? Or are there more there because that’s the trickiest space, where people have the most to learn?
Both reasons. Each state has its own nuances and the industry is growing up really, really, really quickly. So it’s important for companies who are looking to have a large footprint in multiple states to really, really, really understand before they go and execute. It’s a combination of this is what people are telling us that they want to hear, but also what people need to hear.
Is the sheer size of the Cannabis Radio network advantageous in terms of selling advertising across the scope of it?
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s say you come on to advertise: We’ll write and produce a 30-second commercial spot for you, it can have any voice, any theme, any anything. The plan is giving people exposure across the entire network. If people come to me and say, “You know what, I don’t like so and so, or I don’t want to be associated with the business category,” then we won’t have you there. But we believe we’re incredibly cost-effective, and allow you to make a targeted ad buy while casting your net wider.
When you are considering bringing something new onto the network, a new show or host, what are you looking for?
It depends on what the topic is. We either like someone who has a big platform, who has a nice following and is respected in the industry, or [someone who] has something really authentic to say, has an amazing product and an amazing wealth of knowledge, but just hasn’t been given that second wind to fly. We really look for people, who are all about being and curating good stewards for the industry.
At this point, you probably have a good feeling for when someone’s going to be really good at this?
Well, no, that’s not true. [laughs] Let’s say you come to me and you’re like, “Hey Brandy, I want to host a show.” Alright!
We can get you media trained by a seven-time Emmy award winning producer. Then you are assigned a producer in house, and that producer is your point of contact to all the other departments. We design a page on our website for you, we create the RSS feed into all our distribution points. We create a media player that auto-populates with content as it occurs, highly optimized for the search engines. Guests and hosts can be anywhere in the world, your producer connects the calls and then handles the sound quality. The producer goes out, she researches the guest, books the guest, puts together a whole storyboard so that when you show up wherever, you can do it out of your bathroom no one’s gonna know, you’ve got this list of questions, and the producer will be in your ear or over chat, whatever you’re more comfortable with, guiding you through the process. We have to put a lot of work in!
If you’re a nice person and you stay on our radar, there’s nothing we won’t do for you. We just want you to be your best sense of self. we’re not going to let you put out shoddy work. Hate us today, love us tomorrow. There’s nothing that makes me personally happier than some new person that’s come into the industry, that has a tremendous amount of knowledge or insight, and see them making that awesome ascent, doing that good that they were intended to do.