Media World: Jersey talker Judi Franco goes digital

To her millions of radio listeners in New Jersey, she is simply known as "Judi," a wise-cracking mother of four who can make even the most casual of listeners feel like a close friend. Now broadcaster Judi Franco is embarking on a new role: podcaster.

Franco left her gig co-hosting the afternoon show on NJ 101.5, the No. 1 FM talk station in the U.S., after 11 years in November to care for her ailing husband. She also has a special-needs son and a daughter who was recovering from extensive surgeries. Her abrupt departure made it appear that she was forced out. In fact, she left on her own volition and even helped choose her replacement. Her only complaint is that the station never gave her a chance to say goodbye to her fans.

"I don't agree with the way that they handled my departure," said Franco, an observant Jew, in a recent interview. "They snuck me out and snuck somebody else back in. ...They were afraid that sponsors would be worried about their investments."

Franco, who said she still has no hard feelings toward her old bosses, was now faced with what to do next. The 47-year-old was not interested in a full-time radio gig because of her family obligations. A few years ago, she turned down an offer to do satellite radio, and discussions about a local cable TV show went nowhere.

Among the options available to radio personalities, most of whom are making nowhere near the $38 million yearly salary earned by Rush Limbaugh, are to become a radio consultant or do voice-over work. Franco, though, decided to try broadcasting herself. Over the Internet.

Franco is charging 99 cents per episode and $6.99 for a month's worth of shows. Podcasting is something she can do on her own terms, which Franco says is part of its appeal.

"I wasn't looking to make another commitment to an employer," she said. "I knew I wanted to do something on my own."

Some of her fans may be turned off by paying to hear a show they were used to getting for free. If people don't want to pay to hear her theories about the benefits of "sex for boots" or hear the musings of her elderly father, Joe, Franco said she can understand. But she asks, what choice did she have?

Franco did not want to invest her own money in the program and had no desire to sell advertising. Her approach was echoed recently by Adam Corolla, one of the Web's most popular podcasters, whose show is now attracting 400,000 listeners.

Like most radio personalities, Franco was not making big money. She was well-known enough, however, that her colleagues will be watching closely to see how her new venture goes. Her expectations are not to create a one-woman media conglomerate -- at least not yet. In fact, she would be "very happy" with about 500 subscribers. The show has been on the air for about two weeks.

"I am not interested in making a killing in podcasting," she said. "I just want to talk."

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