Sports media: At 57, Lane goes new-school — and it's working
Twenty-five years ago this week, "Drew and Mike" debuted on the Detroit radio airwaves, and quickly turned the morning talk-rock show on the WRIF (101.1-FM) into the top program in the market, where it would remain for many years.
These days, Drew Lane is starting over — and excited about the potential of his blossoming, daily podcast.
"When we started it, we just wanted to kind of get back on the air and remind people that we did a rock-and-roll show," Lane said this week.
"It was really just a labor of love, at first. And it started catching on — 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, a lot of them listened every day.
"It's about 27,000, 28,000 now."
Working nightly Sunday through Thursday out of Lane's recently finished basement in Ferndale, much of the old gang is back together, including his longtime cohort Marc Fellhauer, who worked alongside Lane during his two-plus-run at now-defunct Detroit Sports 105.1 (WMGC-FM).
They've been at it for about seven months now, focusing on fine-tuning the show at first — before just recently turning for ways to make some money.
They've just added a donate button to their website, which drew a stunning response, and have plans to begin selling advertising and merchandise in the coming weeks to, at least in a small way, help line the pockets of the podcast's daily staff of four.
"I never dreamed I would be asking people to send me money for a radio show," Lane, 57, said with a laugh. "But people are donating, which is incredible and unbelievably flattering."
Lane and Mike Clark — who has taken a leave of absence from the podcast for personal reasons — drew huge ratings at the WRIF before they were let go in 2013. Lane quickly caught on as the big name for the Detroit Sports 105.1 startup, working afternoon drive time. While not all of his morning audience moved over with him, a chunk did — plus a new segment, earning him easily the largest ratings at 105.1.
That said, in 2015, management wanted to add a new voice, a "sports" voice, to the booth, Lane vehemently objected, saying it was a mess with the chemistry, and he left.
As former host Ryan Ermanni told me this past June, when 105.1 pulled the plug on sports after less than three years, and switched to "The Bounce," or old-school hip-hop and R&B, the sports format at 105.1 died when Lane departed. It always was bizarre 105.1 higher-ups went after the only show that was getting good ratings.
Lane, though, has many of his listeners back, people tuning in all over the country, as evidenced by his Facebook page, full of photos of folks holding up the "Drew & Mike" app from a variety of locales. Some of the original audience was loyal listeners; it's grown beyond that, too, with some excellent interviews — including a fantastic, wide-ranging and hilarious segment with Charlie Sheen (who apologized to Detroit for his hideous show during the out-of-control, "Tiger Blood" days), and a chat with disgraced former baseball star Lenny Dykstra. Part of the Dykstra clips even ended up on TMZ and the "Howard Stern Show," helping shoot the podcast well up the iTunes rankings for a bit.
"How cool is that?" Lane said.
There are big plans in the works for the future of the podcast. Short-term, this week, Lane is bringing back much of his old WRIF pals — including Trudi Daniels, Zip and master impressionist Mark Patrick (who does a great Keith Jackson and Bobby Knight, among many others) to reminisce about the old days.
Meanwhile, the focus continues to be mostly on the new days ahead.
Lane is frustrated that the show's not yet airing live, but he expects it to be, in some format, before too long, maybe even airing on Facebook Live, so they can take calls. He misses the impromptu and unpredictable interaction with the listeners.
What he doesn't miss? The FCC looking over his shoulder. He can discuss any topic he wants now, and can use whatever language he wants, without the threat of fine.
And that's been liberating.
"It's so intoxicating," said Lane, "not having any restrictions."
A big sports fan, and a former baseball player at Virginia Tech, Lane sticks mostly to pop culture and politics on the podcast — Charlie LeDuff and M.L. Elrick are regular guests — but will get into the big sports news, like the Tigers' potential fire sale, or the injury to Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight.
But on the subject front, Lane's much more partial to the WRIF show format than what he did at 105.1.
Lane said this week he's optimistic the podcast can start making some money.
That said, he's not ruled out a return to terrestrial radio, if the right situation comes along. He's acknowledged there is some interest, but that nothing's imminent — noting that there's not as much money out there.
"Diminishing budgets, or my diminishing value," Lane said with his trademark chuckle, always oddly high-pitched for a smoker. "(This allows) more opportunity to do great radio because of the technology.
"But when you get to the part where there's no paycheck every other week and you have technical problems and there aren't four engineers in the building ... there are some frustrations."
The podcast usually is posted around 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and can be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, the TuneIn app and DrewandMikePodcast.com.
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