Radio Journalist and Entrepreneur Alex Blumberg ’89 Talks Future of Audio

March 12, 2020
Amanda Nagy
Man talking into microphone.
Alex Blumberg '89 reflects on the Oberlin entrepreneurial spirit, his experience with storytelling and podcasting, and the recent acquisition of his company by Spotify. Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

Radio journalist and podcast entrepreneur Alex Blumberg ‘89 told students that narrative storytelling skills will be critical for anyone hoping to break into a career in audio during a recent talk sponsored by Oberlin’s Center for Innovation and Impact. 

Blumberg is the cofounder of Gimlet Media , an award-winning podcast network that has produced the critically acclaimed shows Reply All, Startup, Homecoming, and Heavyweight. He got his start in public radio as a producer for This American Life and creator of Planet Money

Blumberg spoke about his experiences as a radio journalist, podcast producer, and entrepreneur as a prelude to Oberlin’s annual LaunchU pitch competition.  

“I think we’re in the second ‘golden age’ of radio,” said Blumberg, explaining that on-demand audio changed the media landscape drastically, and it’s the reason why serialized storytelling is so common today. “The path for audio will continue to widen, but the biggest thing we need is talent.” 

Blumberg shared with students the important elements of narrative storytelling—skills that he acquired on the job at This American Life

“When I started Planet Money, we were watching digital audio take off. Seeing the trends happening, I decided to start a company. I had learned the narrative bootcamp of This American Life with Ira Glass; I had learned a lot of tricks about ‘what is audio good at.’ I thought I could make a business out of that knowledge.”

In 2019, his company Gimlet Media was acquired by Spotify for more than $200 million. Blumberg told students he didn’t see himself as an entrepreneur, though.

“I was in nonprofits my entire life. My first job in the public sector was when I started Gimlet. What Oberlin taught me was to care about things other than money. That’s really important for entrepreneurship. What makes you a good entrepreneur is that the money is secondary—because you’re trying to do something differently or solve a problem or address a need. 

“The world changed around me by the time I became really good at what I was doing. All the conditions were in place, and I kept saying, ‘somebody should do this.’ Once I jumped into the waters, I realized that what was helping me was that I wasn’t in it for the money. I was in it for the craft and the vision.”

Blumberg was invited to campus by fourth-years Johan Cavert and Sarah Dalgleish, producers of The Weekly , a podcast in collaboration with the Oberlin Review and Oberlin College and community radio station WOBC-FM. 

 

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