"Free Talk Live" is a "hometown" Sarasota talk-radio program that's an international hit, too.
The Genesis Communications Network radio syndicate picked up the "pro-freedom"/Libertarian talkers nearly 18 months ago. FTL has expanded to 15 terrestrial stations, eight Internet-only spots and two satellite feeds.
It also was one of the first podcasters (simply, a broadcaster whose spiel is sent by computer to subscribers who load it onto a portable device -- such as an iPod -- for listening at their leisure).
FTL ranked among the top five out of 20,000 -- or more -- podcasts (on Podcast Alley, a tracker of such things), and frequently hits No. 1.
It's currently ninth of 16,736 podcasts.
Co-host Manwich, said FTL, which airs live from 7 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, averages around 4,000 uploads a day.
Show originator/Webmaster Ian Bernard said, "Pretty much you just have to put it out there and give people what they want and they'll give you what you want. People want this message."
In fact, Talkers Magazine culled FTL from more than 5,000 talk-formatted programs nationwide, among every medium, placing it in the annual "Talkers 250 Most Important Radio Talk Show Hosts in America."
Talkers mag based its rankings on "courage, effort, impact, longevity, potential, ranking, recognition, revenue, service, talent and uniqueness." FTL wasn't given a number; the magazine didn't assign ranking numbers after the first "Heavy 100" hosts.
Bernard jokingly said they must all be tied for No. 101.
"The really cool thing was that it happened after just 18, 17 months after syndication. So, to break into the top 250 that soon is, from what I've been told by the Talkers' people, pretty good, a pretty good thing," he said.
Bernard has plugged away at various radio endeavors for nearly seven years, since age 17, before starting FTL in 2002.
Manwich, who previously worked for area radio stations and is currently an account executive selling ads, said, "It's a fun gig, and it looks like it's going to pay full time now."
Credit the ingenious funding method they have; dedicated fans pay them.
Called "AMP -- Advertise, Market, Promote," listeners donate a minimum of $3 per month and become an "AMPlifier" -- but only if they want to.
And when AMPlifier funds reach designated levels, the Free Talkers obligate themselves; selves; for example, they began releasing archival broadcasts at $750; at $2,500, they'll add a webcam, etc.
The goal is $10,000 per month; the payout now is $1,394.13 monthly.
"We're essentially bypassing the traditional advertising model of radio. The old model is ... you have to find advertisers to support the station so the listeners can listen for free" Bernard said. "We're essentially allowing the listeners to buy out four minutes per hour of airtime.
"The people at public radio have been doing it for a long time. But it certainly hasn't applied to commercial talk radio."
Also different about FTL is its entire premise of allowing free talk: anyone's ability to call in, any time, and change the topic. Just like that.
(One can also interact with a "rotating third man," according to Bernard, depending on the day; "mystery" co-hosts Torgo, Jason and Johnson appear Monday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively.)
Bernard said, "We've always allowed people to, as we say, 'take control of the show'; take control of the topic, essentially. So people take advantage of that from time to time and ... people will throw in a question about hamburgers. It doesn't happen as often these days. We're on one FM and it's only on Saturday. We don't have that younger FM audience like we used to when we were on in Sarasota."
Speaking of Sarasota, FTL used to be on 105.9 FM before the station switched back to rock music (from talk). "Free Talk Live" then went Internet-only for a while. Next up was WTMY (1280 AM), then WIBQ (1220 AM) until syndication, then it disappeared from Southwest Florida airwaves.
However, Bradenton's WWPR (1490 AM) just contracted FTL, Bernard said (details are still tenuous).
Access the Web site, www.freetalklive.com, for time and day specifics.
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