Phil Valentine was a skeptic of wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 and suggested that only those with underlying health conditions should be vaccinated against the illness.
During his daily radio show, he performed a parody song, "Vaxman", in the style of the 1966 Beatles song "Taxman", altering the lyrics to parody vaccination efforts. He compared vaccination status badges worn by medical workers with the yellow badges German Jews were ordered to wear by the Nazis. He spread misinformation on the virus.
Valentine predicted his chance of dying from COVID-19 was less than one percent.
On July 11, 2021, he announced he had COVID-19. To battle the illness, he took Vitamin D and the anti-parasite drug ivermectin, despite warnings against the medication by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
All of this played out in real time during his daily broadcasts, until he was admitted to the hospital, ultimately being placed on mechanical ventilation and requiring extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
He died on August 21, 2021.
Phil Valentine was always great to me. And he was a great radio host as far as his ability to connect with an audience and deliver a message.
But his message was factually wrong. And he paid for it with his life, as did many of his listeners.
This is the downside of having a powerful platform, like radio or podcasting. Just as we can lift people up, we can also hurt them.
Still, there’s something we can learn from him, beyond “don’t buy into and spread misinformation.” So I’ve decided to leave up this Q&A I did with him about what podcasters can learn from broadcast radio.
In addition to his award-winning show on WWTN, Phil works with Cumulus Nashville on a variety of projects, including the development and creation of original-content podcasts. One is a collaboration with his son, Campbell Valentine, called PodGOATs.
PodGOATs is a conversation between a Baby Boomer and a Millennial on topics ranging from what would happen if the electric grid went down, to spies, to religion. It's a much different show than what Phil Valentine is known for, so I asked him some questions about this new direction as well as what podcasters can learn from broadcast radio.
What can podcasting learn from broadcast radio?
I think technical quality is where radio has a leg up, although many FM signals are over-processed. I've heard too many podcasts try to emulate that processing and it sounds dirty. Even some of the big boys like some of the NPR stuff is taken from their on-air feed and the processing sounds muddy. But the processing is designed to cut through the road noise in your car. That means a podcast has to be compressed to a certain degree.
I've heard too many podcasts where the levels were way off. One person is too hot, another sounds like he or she is off-mic. I listened to one of the most popular podcasts on spies and the woman being interviewed sounded like she was on the other side of the room. I had to punch out because I just couldn't hear her. There's really no excuse for this in a podcast. You have plenty of time to tinker with levels in post-production. There are channel strippers and noise reducers that can help fix room noise, although you're much better served if you get the levels right on the front end. The problem is some podcasts go way overboard on the processing and it starts to sound crunchy.
Aside from the technical aspects, I think what broadcasters do right that podcasters could learn from is forward momentum. There are certain things like "ums" and "you knows" that tend to kill that momentum. These are natural in our everyday conversation, but they are killers in a broadcast or podcast. I really had to work on that when I first started in talk radio. I listened to my first day's tape and cringed. It was "um" after every sentence. That's not to say that you have to eliminate all the "ums." You just have to be aware when you're editing that you have the power to make the podcast cleaner than a broadcast.
I micro-edit. What I mean by that is I zoom in to the exact point where the "um" is and then micro-edit to the next word. What that does is it leaves in natural breaths. The last thing you want in a podcast is one that sounds edited. Even if the listener isn't savvy enough to know how to edit, a bad edit takes them out of the moment. If I can hear an edit in my podcast then I've made a mistake. We usually ramble on for 50 minutes or more when we record. That gets edited down to about 33 minutes.
What can broadcast radio learn from podcasting?
The main thing I think broadcast radio can learn from podcasting is that's where all the personality has gone. Music radio has become so generic that they've sucked the personality out of the broadcast. Podcasting allows you to set your personality free. Now, that can be good or bad, depending on your personality.
As far as how broadcasting has changed, it's funny. Podcasting used to be looked at as the Branson of the broadcast world. It's where old broadcasters went to die. Now it's where the stars are being born. And that's radio's fault.
Radio loves to play it safe. Podcasting is the Wild West. An even better analogy is podcasting is now the Gold Rush. But remember during the Gold Rush the main people who were striking it rich were the ones selling pickaxes. It's similar now in podcasting. There are now 700.000 podcasts on Apple Podcasts .
Unless you're a Joe Rogan your chances of striking it rich in the podcast world are still slim. But that's not why people should be podcasting. If you're podcasting to strike it rich, there are better uses of your time. You should be doing it because it allows you to express yourself just like anybody on the radio, and you don't have to invest in an FCC license and a broadcast tower.
If you're podcasting you should be podcasting for the love of it. I got into radio making $6000 a year because it was my passion. The fact that I've become financially successful at it is just gravy to me. Podcasting gives me that same feeling of when I first started out in radio. There's an energy and excitement there.
Authenticity and "The Broadcast Persona"
I've known some people who were totally different off the air than they were on. I think they're rare and becoming rarer. If I were to give anyone a singular piece of advice for success it would be to be yourself.
I'm the exact same guy off the air that I am on. Now, my wife will tell you that I'm that same guy at home, but not necessarily when we go out socially. Believe it or not I'm rather shy. I can talk for four hours each day on the air, but I'm not that way when we go out. But I am the same person on and off the air. I guess there's just less of me off the air.
Why the change of direction after so many years and such a reputation in conservative talk?
PodGOATs was something my son, Campbell, wanted to do. He doesn't much care for politics. And, quite frankly, I get sick of talking politics after doing it four hours a day, five days a week. There are so many other things to talk about that interest me. I'm a huge fan of history. I write novels and I'm a huge fan of fiction. I love good storytelling.
Campbell originally wanted to get into broadcasting, but since we've been doing the podcast he feels it's his calling. I'm teaching him all the skills I've learned as a broadcaster. As for me, right now this is another side project, like writing novels. My bread and butter is the radio show. But that could change. We'll see.
Podcast Episode Prep vs. Broadcast Episode Prep
The beautiful thing about The PodGOATs is Campbell does most of the prep. He comes up with the episode ideas. I mainly just react to what he brings to the table.
PodGOATs is a natural process. We never talk about what we're going to say or how we're going to react. That would spoil it. He just tells me the name of the episode and I hang on.
Now, that doesn't mean everyone doing a podcast should simply wing it. Somebody has to be doing the leg work. In our case that's Campbell. He has an outline of where he wants to go and he keeps it going in that direction. He's really good with keeping that forward momentum going.
There's a lot of humor in our podcasts and that's something you cannot rehearse. Once you've told a joke it's never as funny the second time. Trying to fake a first reaction never works. So, I would say that if you're doing a two-person podcast at least one person needs to be driving. In our case that's Campbell. That way you get the natural conversation and reactions and keep the forward momentum.
Also, and this is important, know when to get the heck out. A good belly laugh is usually a great place. If that belly laugh happens in the middle or toward the beginning you have the luxury of moving it to the end. That's the main thing podcasting has over broadcasting. Think of this like any show. It has a set-up, an unfolding of the story, and a climax. In that order. When that outro music hits, I want people going, "Oh, no. It's over?" Better to leave them wanting more than looking at their watch wondering when this thing is going to end.