In August 2006, Alan Levy's father was suffering from a serious illness, so he started a blog to keep family members informed. The process of maintaining the blog gave Levy insight into the power of social networking and eventually led him to start BlogTalkRadio.com, a blog and social networking site that doubles as an Internet radio network that allows its members to be radio show hosts. Levy has focused on attracting new individual users to BTR, but he is now rolling out a new “station” infrastructure aimed at persuading companies and organizations—including book publishers—to set up their own Internet radio networks through BTR.
The site has grown rapidly into an extensive network of discussion shows focused on a seemingly endless number of topics. BTR currently offers programs on more than 60 topics, including a books category that has more than 300 shows. The scheduled broadcasts can be heard live before they are archived to be streamed online later or downloaded as podcasts.
The company is based in New Jersey and has about 14 employees. Levy, who has a background in the telecommunications industry, said, “Anyone can host their own show. All you need is a phone.” Signing up for BTR is free. New members get a logon that provides access to the site's “switchboard” technology, which allows each show to field up to six live phone calls and upload music or recordings. Hosts can offer weekly, monthly or occasional shows. “Our hosts can have a panel discussion or a live call-in,” said Levy, who said the site has about 4,000 active hosts and has broadcast more than 41,000 programs since its launch. On a recent visit to the site, BTR was offering more than 250 live shows in a single day; Levy said the site broadcast 6,000 shows in November.
Levy was quick to note the importance of books on BTR, which offers a daily update of featured authors either hosting their own shows or being interviewed on the network. Authors on the site recently included rock drummer Martin Atkins discussing his new book, Tour Smart; conservative authors L. Brent Bozell and Tim Graham discussing Whitewash, their book on Hillary Clinton, on Ed Morrisey's BTR show; and New York Times columnist Frank Rich being interviewed on a teen BTR show about his book The Greatest Story Ever Sold.
“BTR offers opportunities to promote authors,” Levy said. “Writers can do an online tour right from their own homes and publishers can create their own branded shows.” Levy is in discussions with traditional book publishers to use the service and has already signed several online publishers like BlogCritics.org, an online journal on pop culture that is syndicated to national newspaper sites, including the Boston Globe. BlogCritics publisher Eric Olsen said that after using the service for a month, “we're extremely happy with BTR. It's super easy to use.” The BlogCritics.org Radio Network currently offers 15 or 16 show, Olsen said, including a twice-monthly book program, and he plans to add a weekly discussion show on books. “Book review content is some of our most requested syndication material,” explained Olsen. “Our new network is mostly about marketing right now, but I believe that Web sites have to be hybrid—you need to offer text, audio and video—if they expect to rise to prominence in the future.”
BTR is ad-supported, and individual hosts can sign up to share ad revenue. Levy said the site had 1.7 million listeners in November. “We have targeted banner ads for sports, politics, technology—I can tell Nike that I can deliver 500,000 targeted impressions in basketball or football, and our hosts can help do the marketing and share in the revenue.”
Levy said BTR is “perfect for publishers looking to connect with their audience. Our hosts can engage people from around the world.”