Arthur Frommer first took to the airwaves some 30 years ago, dispensing travel advice on New York City’s WOR radio station and creating a distinctive voice for his guidebook series. Other publishers have followed suit, and in the podcast era, radio’s reach is even more profound, with previously broadcast episodes getting a second life on demand.
Frommer continues to hold forth on The Travel Show, now nationally syndicated and cohosted by Pauline Frommer, his daughter and the editorial director of Frommer’s. On the weekly two-hour program, the pair might discuss the charms of Japanese ryokans, for instance, or the appeal of hotel chains that take their cues from Airbnb.
Pauline also joins Jason Cochran, editor-in-chief at Frommers.com, for the weekly, hour-long Frommer’s Travel Show, which airs on WABC radio in New York City and is heard in 17 states, as well as via podcast. The live call-in program is driven by vacation planners’ questions, allowing listeners more direct access to the brand’s years of travel experience and reinforcing, Pauline says, that “we’re on the side of the traveler.”
The show has also had an effect on guidebook content, Pauline says. If the same questions about Paris keep coming up, for instance, she’ll make sure the author of that guide is made aware and considers incorporating the information into the next edition.
Another industry name, Rick Steves, launched his hour-long travel talk show on Seattle’s KUOW public radio station in 2005. Since then, Travel with Rick Steves has expanded to 400 North American stations, with about 40 episodes produced every year, each of which is archived as a podcast.
On the show, Steves, with the help of guest travel writers and tour guides, delves into destinations such as Copenhagen’s scruffy Christiania neighborhood, and cultural phenomena like German pop music. “For many of our listeners, including those unable to travel,” says Tim Tattan, the show’s executive producer, “the program serves as a virtual vacation.”
Other travel publishers have bypassed the broadcast radio format in favor of online programming.
Consider Monocle, the London-headquartered media brand whose diverse array of products includes its design-minded travel guides (see “Brand Extensions”). The company launched in 2007 with a print magazine devoted to business, culture, and design; four years later, Monocle introduced M24, an around-the-clock internet radio station that, from the get-go, archived much of its content in podcast form.
At the time, as Markus Hippi, who hosts and produces M24’s The Menu, recalls, “radio was dying” among Monocle’s intended audience, and podcasts were ascending. Venturing into new territory paid off: today, M24 broadcasts 44 new shows every week, drawing 1.3 million listeners a month, according to stats provided by Monocle.
The Menu, one of M24’s original programs, takes a weekly, international look at food and drink, and is perhaps the most fitting complement to Monocle’s travel guides. In October, for instance, readers who purchased the newly released Monocole guide to Lisbon could learn even more about the city via a new episode of Hippi’s show that centered on the Príncipe Real neighborhood. This fall, he says, episodes pegged to the releases of the Athens and Helsinki guides are likely.
The show offers a chance for Monocle to cater to niche interests—illuminating undertouristed spots such as Singapore’s Selegie Road, for instance, and top-notch local specialties such as Canberra flat whites. Limited word counts mean “guidebooks don’t often get to do restaurants justice,” Hippi says, but on the show, he can do more than just recommend an eatery: he can speak with the chef and tap into what makes it special. “An expensive price doesn’t guarantee anything,” he says. “When we think about our ideal restaurant, it’s somehow rooted in local culture and hospitality.”
That sort of deep dive is also a hallmark of The Rough Guide to Everywhere, the Rough Guides’ travel podcast, which launched in January 2017. The half-hour episodes resonate with listeners who skew younger than the publisher’s typical guidebook readers, says Rough Guides travel editor Rebecca Hallett, who produces and cohosts the podcast. “It’s not planning advice, but slice-of-life stories.”
Rough Guide to Everywhere is experiencing steady growth, she says, now surpassing 200,000 downloads; new listeners tend to make their way back to older episodes. Hallett sees the podcast primarily as an opportunity to broaden the brand’s presence and examine travel through a more investigative lens than the guidebooks do, tackling subjects including Malta’s overtourism problem and Haitian vodou culture.
“What we put in our guidebooks is not what we put on the web or in our videos, and what we feature on our podcasts are things that don’t fit into guidebooks,” she says. A destination or theme that might not justify an entire book from a sales perspective, such as Haiti, or DNA-inspired travel, could be a perfect fit for the podcast—and, as it is for other travel publishers, a powerful companion to guidebook offerings.