By Mike Kinosian
LOS ANGELES — On-air personalities have enhanced their “celebrity status” in recent years via personal websites; social media and professional homepages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.); and by becoming bloggers.
Such platforms have also simultaneously provided a strong voice heretofore largely unavailable to the non-broadcaster.
If not in the traditional over-the-air or satellite-delivered sense, virtually anyone with a computer can achieve their own degree of “stardom” on the internet and there’s been no shortage of those giving it a go through podcasting.
Turn to Stone
So, what sources are supplying the massive tidal wave of podcasters?
Exceptionally compelling microphone techniques have aided in catapulting the names of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Chris Jericho, John Cena, and (older school) Hulk Hogan into the pop culture lexicon. It’s, therefore, not that far of a stretch to summon up sports entertainment – still known to some as professional wrestling – as a potential hot podcasting industry farm system. In fact, “Stone Cold,” widely regarded as the most significant attraction in the history of Vince McMahon’s vast WWE empire, was an early podcasting adopter and is among the centerpieces of Norm Pattiz’s PodcastOne.
Also successfully transitioning from the squared circle to podcasting is 44-year-old William Kucmierowski. “I always thought it would be fun to get into broadcasting and to do a show,” deadpans Kucmierowski, better known by his “Brimstone” ring name and professional persona. “I had the opportunity to put it together and it happened. I like to talk and don’t get tired of it – I figured doing a radio show would be a cool thing. We got into podcasting as it was continuing to grow. It’s such a beast right now and even much bigger than it was when we began. We chose podcasting because it was easier to get started [compared to terrestrial radio] and more people can hear us.”
Two interns at his publishing and entertainment business had radio/broadcasting experience, so Brimstone proposed that the three of them (he, Kim Adragna and Steve “Zambo” Zambito) do a test run for a radio show to gauge their chemistry. They clicked with each other and the podcast resulted, as well as a companion television series, which presently (per IMDb) has pumped out 161 episodes. Aforementioned Brimstone (billed as the show’s creator/producer); head writer/co-executive producer Adragna; and writer/co-executive producer Zambito have been on all 161, as has Kevin Dempsey. Having appeared on at least 100 shows to date are Tom Greer and Scott Eisenberg (154 each), Desi Sanchez (148), and Guy Brogna (118).
Perpetually on the “grind,” Brimstone came to the conclusion that “Grindhouse Radio” would be the logical choice for his once-weekly (Thursday), two-hour podcast that will celebrate its fourth birthday early next year (2019). “We work hard – that’s the way I am,” proclaims the president and chief executive officer of Hound Comics and the Hound Entertainment Group. “I love to draw but my true love is music. For many years, I was a drummer. Before touring in pro wrestling, I toured as a musician, but when you’re in a band, it’s like being in a five-way marriage and I got sick of the business. I was the guy who wanted to get paid, be able to eat while on tour, and not sleep in a van.”
Shortly after graduating from Nassau Community College in the mid-1990s, Brimstone became senior account manager for the Long Island Voice, then the sister publication of the Village Voice.
While on a photography assignment at a small wrestling convention, he had a chance encounter with former WWE world champion “The Iron Sheik,” whose real name is Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri. “He sized me up and thought I could be a wrestler,” Brimstone recalls. In separate ensuing discussions with “The Iron Sheik” and another icon in the business, Canada’s Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Kucmierowski pursued the idea of going through a wrestling training program. “I wanted to have a tough-guy, larger-than-life, brandable name that I could have even when I was done with wrestling,” explains Kucmierowskiwho enrolled in the infamous “Dog House” at the Long Island Wrestling Federation. “My list [of potential ring names] went from the top thousand to the top 100 to the top 50 to the top ten – ‘Brimstone’ was always there. That was [approximately 22 years ago] and I’ve been ‘Brimstone’ ever since.”
Years later (2007 – 2009), Brimstone – who appeared in the documentary “Wrestling Then & Now” – turned the tables and became Pro Wrestling Revolution’s head trainer, where he coached a number of professional wrestling hopefuls.
Strict, non-political structure
Understandably, people can be overwhelmed by the plethora of available podcast choices. “Some are amazing and others aren’t so good,” Brimstone succinctly evaluates. “Podcasting gives people a taste of the grandeur of show business. People can do it from their phone or from one microphone in their bedroom. It is fantastic that podcasts can be done at so many different levels. Many other podcasts don’t take pride in sound quality like we do. Our show is classified as ‘comedy,’ [but] we are all about popular culture. While we aren’t comedians, we are fun and funny. Friends of mine I’ve met throughout my entire career want to come on the show and support us. They talk about and promote us, which helps out tremendously.”
Included in that group are names that World Wrestling Entertainment partisans will recognize such as Ed “Brutus The Barber Beefcake” Leslie; Battle Creek native and master of the “five-star frog splash” Rob Van Dam; Fred “Typhoon”/“Tugboat” Ottman; and Lisa Marie Varon, who was known in the WWE as “Victoria.”
References to politics and religion are conspicuously absent from “The Grindhouse Radio,” with Brimstone stressing, “We don’t want any part of that. Unlike many other podcasts, we have a structure and we are very strict on how the show is put together. We want it to feel like ‘regular’ talk radio. We have offices and a six-person studio in [Levittown] Long Island with the highest-end ‘everything.’ It’s not just for broadcasting and podcasting. We can do vocal tracks and voiceover work, so it’s far more advanced than what others have.”
Nine people comprise the staff of the podcast, which is done in six, 15-minute segments. Mini-bits lasting approximately three minutes are inserted between each main portion and ads are sandwiched between every segment. “We have had this formula for quite some time and it helps to ‘train’ our listeners,” Brimstone contends. “They know what we are doing; how we are doing it; and what comes next. We have an undeniably talented crew and we run like a well-oiled machine – not every other podcast can say that.”
An all-music spotlight is the first mini-segment. It is followed by Kevin Dempsey’s “Kevin’s Corner,” Kim Adragna’s “Kim’s Questions,” and then a sports-related piece. The sixth miniature component alternates between Desi Sanchez’s “Games Geek Tech” and the latest addition, “Leading Ladies,” overseen by Carissa Clark. ” I’m a father of three – two daughters and one son,” notes Brimstone. “I want my daughters to know they can be just as strong and important as men [which is why] getting that across [in the podcast] is so important.”
The blueprint Brimstone has instituted seems to have caught on, considering that in the 13thannual “Best of Long Island” competition (2018), “The Grindhouse Radio” scored top honors as “Best Radio Station.” At the same time, Brimstone emerged victorious in the “Best Twitter Account” and “Best Long Island Personality” categories. In the latter, he defeated a slate of nominees that included “Grindhouse Radio” co-star Kim Adragna, as well as Alec Baldwin, Billy Joel, and Jerry Seinfeld.
Masterful brand management
Marketing and syndication for “The Grindhouse Radio” is handled internally and, as Brimstone points out, the podcast is currently on among others, “iHeartRadio, iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify, [in addition to] some terrestrial radio stations. The business is more than sustainable and we are very close to being solvent.”
Everyone on staff “sells,” but Brimstone is the “lead salesperson” and handles all the major accounts. “We deal with a number of large companies, as well as some smaller ones,” he discloses. “We have about four million worldwide weekly listeners, including about 650,000 here in Long Island. I like long-term relationships because that’s what makes the world go round. You don’t just jump in and charge $2,500 for an episode. We waited a good [18 months] before we allowed anyone to sponsor the show. I didn’t want to take someone’s money unless I knew they would be getting something in return.”
Primary listenership for “The Grindhouse Radio,” which is syndicated in 145 countries, is in North America (40%). It is estimated that the podcast has a slightly more female (52%) than male (48%) lean. By being one of three 2018 American Small Business Championship (ASBC) grand champions, it walked away with $15,000 to further grow the business.
Other revenue streams – over and above the two-hour weekly podcast – have been built. “The show brought us to the dance [but] is just the starting point – not the end game,” explains Brimstone, who for the past five years, has been advancing the cause of literacy in children as a celebrity spokesperson for The Stan Lee Foundation.“Our corporation is more than just the show. We do studio rentals and produce other podcasts. In the little free time I have, I’m a SCORE mentor – which keeps me busy. On top of that, I have my own lines of coffee, chocolate bars, sauce, and seasonings.”
Sales, marketing, and promotion for the “Brimstone” brand are run by WK Promotions, of which entertainment entrepreneurKucmierowskiis president.
Among the menu items at Buffalo’s My Burger Bar is “The Brimstone Spiked Milkshake.” Patrons at Long Island’s Mulberry Street Restaurant can order “The Brimstone Pizza,” while “The Brimstone Philly Grindhouse Burger” is available at Long Island City’s Baroness Bar.
Self-described “very hands-on” Brimstone never wants to be “that lazy celeb who doesn’t do” anything. “When my name is on something, I want to be 200% sure I am on top of that brand, “he empathetically asserts. “If I’m not touring, I’m in the office because I want to be close to the business. There is a very family-oriented environment here where everyone gets along very well. We do appearances at comic book conventions and hit all worlds – we are relevant in all of them.”
Envisioning that podcasting, in general, is a viable threat to terrestrial radio, Brimstone elaborates, “It isn’t because podcasting is better, it’s just easier and more widely available. In addition, you can get to know the hosts.”
Music-intensive terrestrial stations, in particular, he opines, don’t allow their on-air talent sufficient time to talk and to establish an identity. “The only reason they are known is that they’ve been there for [many years]. Anyone who podcasts [can he heard] on a cell phone, in the car, on a computer, or in an office. Listeners want to hear people [with whom they can] empathize. The most common [feedback we receive] is that our podcast is like hanging out and listening to a bunch of friends around a table – that’s why we are different from everyone else.”
While he admits to occasionally having the urge to make one more run in the ring, Brimstone further concedes, “I don’t know if I want to take that step. It’s a very big deal and would [require] a lot of time away from what I’m doing. I loved the [wrestling] business for what it was, but not necessarily thrilled about what it is right now. I could talk a lot about the business, but prefer not to. Wrestlers call themselves ‘workers,’ and – at the end of the day – once a ‘worker,’ always a ‘worker,’ [so] I probably would like to toss someone around for a good five or ten minutes.”
Ever the optimist, he’s also a realist. “The best-laid plans can go to crap so fast,” Brimstone acknowledges. “I’m very superstitious and don’t like jinxing all the positives that are happening for us right now. That said, all of our numbers are up from last year and from six months ago. Within the next year, I plan to put together a proper business plan with the goal of having ‘The Grindhouse Radio’ as a fulltime 24/7 network.”
Email managing editor Mike Kinosian at Kinosian@TALKERS.com