Grant Lawrence, host of CBC Radio 3, is centre stage in one of broadcasting’s biggest phenomena: podcasting.
Podcast popularity is steadily growing, attracting listeners seeking convenience and unique, independent radio.
CBC Radio 3 is Canada’s most downloaded podcast, with 3.4 million downloads and at least 125,000 listeners a week. Lawrence says he didn’t foresee a career in broadcasting, let alone podcasting.
Lawrence’s broadcasting career began when he would call into CBC’s David Wisdom’s late night show, Night Lines.
“I was on tour with my band, The Smugglers, and I would call in with stories from the road,” Lawrence says. “I’m able to tell a joke, or tell a story; you know, it was rock ‘n’ roll touring, so there was a lot of action going on.”
After hearing his on air stories, Leora Cornfeld, of CBC’s Real Time, offered Lawrence a job as a researcher and he began working his way up.
When Steven Pratt, the director of CBC Radio 3, first approached him with the podcast idea, Lawrence admits he thought it was “Internet nonsense.” However, Pratt convinced him it was a good opportunity.
“Not only was he right, it has now become the biggest I’ve ever been involved with in my life,” Lawrence concedes. “I was in a band for 18 years [and] we put out a lot of records, but this thing is heard by more people in one week than all the people who ever bought a Smugglers’ record.”
Lawrence’s podcast is known and loved for its passion.
“Basically what I have is a passion for music, a knowledge of music, and I know how to communicate that,” he says. “So I know how to speak into a microphone and tell people about music as if they are sitting in my living room.
“It’s a very intimate experience because for the most part. It’s not so much background as it is foreground listening, so people pay attention more when it’s that sort of intimate experience.”
Lawrence says podcasts’ accessibility has also contributed to his show’s success.
“You can listen to it whenever you want wherever you want literally on planet Earth. It’s instantly downloadable for free — the best Canadian music, wherever you want to hear it.”
CBC Radio 3 is also pod-safe, meaning bands have agreed to have their music on it.
Lawrence, however, credits the podcast’s success to the strength of Canada’s current music scene.
“We are in a ‘golden age,’ and I am starting to see signs it may be waning because there are a rash of [band] breakups lately, but basically we are still in a glorious age for Canadian music,” he says.
“The bands, the strength of the music alone week after week, floats the boat and people just trip over themselves to hear it.”
All the podcast’s music comes from New Music Canada, one of Canada’s largest music databases. Lawrence sees his podcast as a noise filter of NMC’s staff picks.
“The Podcast gives you that filter,” he says. “It’s like ‘here’s where you start, here’s our favourite bands for the week, here’s 12 of them in about three or four different genres that we care about. We are really passionate that these are amazing tracks and hopefully you like them too.’”
Lawrence says his podcast is the opposite of corporate stations pre selected play lists and cookie cutter hosts.
“The beauty of the CBC Radio 3 Podcast is everything that comes out of my mouth is honest and it’s honest passion for what we are playing and an honest interest.
“I think it does harken back to the original purpose of radio, which was a discovery factor.”
Lawrence’s honesty and passion show when he discusses his favourite musical discovery from the podcast.
“My favourite stuff is out-of-the-blue, from some small town and it’s genius,” Lawrence says.
“There is one called Decompsure, and he is a one man act; he’s a kid who grew up in a tiny town in Saskatchewan and now he lives in Elmira, Ontario and has some desk day job, but he creates this absolutely wild pop break beat. It is completely unhinged, just joyful.”
Lawrence says he’s received some interesting fan responses.
“I play hockey and I’m a goalie,” he explains. “I remember some player crashed into me and my defenceman jumped on top of him and somehow the player ended up on top of me.
“I am lying on my back on the ice and he’s face-to-face with me and it’s a very aggressive moment. Usually the player will say ‘fuck you, buddy’ or some nonsense, and he whispers to me, face-to-face, ‘I really like your Podcast.’
“It snapped me right out of the moment, and I think I let in about six straight goals after that.”