Burbank juggles TBTL podcast with life back on commercial radio

Just when Luke Burbank thought he’d left mainstream radio behind for good, KIRO came calling.

Burbank, known for his The Too Beautiful To Live podcast, signed on last week to join Dave Ross as co-host of KIRO’s mid-morning news and talk program.

While Burbank didn’t plan out his move back to commercial radio, he’s discovering he relishes the opportunity.

“It’s pretty cool having my mom and girlfriend listen to me on the radio each day again,” Burbank said. “I’m enjoying it more than I thought.”

Burbank was first approached by KIRO in September. At the time, he was happily riding the rising popularity of his podcast, which is known to listeners as TBTL. Since KIRO canceled his show by the same name late last year, Burbank had been producing it on his own.

By this fall, TBTL was pulling in an impressive 1.7 million downloads each month. Burbank loved having control of his on-air future, and figured he’d never need to work for commercial radio again.

But KIRO’s station leaders had other plans. About six months ago, Burbank started calling into the Dave Ross show every Tuesday for a chat and update on TBTL. In September, KIRO called Burbank and said they thought the conversations were going so well, would Luke be interested in sitting in with Dave on the show on a trial basis?

Burbank didn’t know if the gig would be permanent, but he decided to give it a whirl. And just last week, he was offered the formal co-host position.

Burbank didn’t take the decision to move back to KIRO lightly. He didn’t want to compromise the rising success of TBTL. And he also didn’t want to put the fate of his career back in the fickle hands of commercial radio.

“I think I’d talked myself into believing there was no benefit to being on commercial radio,” Burbank said. “But that was also probably partly because no one was offering me a job.”

Burbank decided that he would join Ross, but he wouldn’t end TBTL. With advertisers now paying for spots on TBTL, the podcast has become its own self-sustaining enterprise. Burbank didn’t want to give that up.

“TBTL is my baby,” Burbank said.

To keep TBTL running, Burbank brought back Jen Andrews as a producer. She helped Burbank start the show at KIRO, but didn’t stay on once it became a podcast. With TBTL pulling in large audiences and such high profile guests as Adam Carolla, David Sedaris, Ben Gibbard, and Ira Glass, Burbank figures he can afford to pay a producer.

Even with Andrews on board, Burbank’s days are hectic. He’s at KIRO by 7 a.m. to plan the day’s show with Ross, and goes on the air from 9 a.m. to noon. In the afternoon, he records the TBTL podcast, either from KIRO’s studio or from his house. Burbank also juggles voice over gigs and a regular role on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” His many roles means he’s now talking for a full four to six hours a day.

“My schedule is a little crazy right now,” Burbank said.

This marks the first time that Ross has taken on a permanent co-host since he began doing The Dave Ross Show in 1987. Ross said it’s inherently less natural to maintain a monologue alone in a studio, so he welcomes the new addition. Not only is Burbank smart and talented, Ross said, but he’s far younger and brings the perspective of another generation.

“It’s probably tougher on him because I make him explain his obscure cultural references,” Ross said. “I’m working on an iPhone app that can translate them in real time.”

Burbank, for his part, enjoys working with Ross. He finds his co-host “smart, flexible and level headed.” Burbank also commends Ross for not resorting to loud, fake outrage, as so many radio hosts tend to do.

“That kind of personality would be really hard for me,” Burbank said. “I really like Dave.”

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About Heidi Dietrich
HEIDI DIETRICH has worked as a journalist and writer for the past decade. She began blogging for the Washington News Council in spring 2010. Read Heidi's blog posts, see more about Heidi, or see more of what she's writing at http://heidiseattle.com/.