It’s 15 minutes before show time and Dan Loney’s brain is spinning like a top. For the next two hours, he will be zigzagging between interviews on four wildly different topics: corporate “inversions,” those tax-dodging schemes in which headquarters are moved to foreign countries; the proper way to be a father; the demise of print journalism; and whether meat consumption is sustainable in the modern world.
“I like to think that I have prepared myself for this for my entire working life,” says Loney, the anchor for Knowledge@Wharton’s show on one of SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s newest channels, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School.
Given Wharton’s endless quest to be a thought leader in the business realm, SiriusXM’s pitch for the school to headline a new channel was too good to turn down, says Karl Ulrich, Wharton’s vice dean for innovation. “The only roadblock seemed to be whether we could get enough people on the faculty to participate,” he adds. “But when we asked, there was a resounding Yes—and a lot of enthusiasm.”
So in January the first four programs launched on SiriusXM Channel 111, and others soon followed. Currently, nearly two dozen programs are broadcast live once a week, and then replayed several times thereafter. Wharton faculty and alumni account for the majority of the hosts. They range from associate professor Kevin Werbach on technology and the media to Boettner Professor Kent Smetters on personal finance. The show formats are based on interviews with experts about the topic of the day, with listener call-in opportunities during the live broadcasts. Knowledge@Wharton’s offering serves as a sort of anchor program, airing live every Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon (and replayed at 10 p.m.).
“The market position we wanted to take is that it would be more in-depth than what you would hear on CNBC or Bloomberg,” Ulrich explains. “When you hear Behind the Markets with Jeremy Schwartz [W’03, the director of research at WisdomTree] and Jeremy Siegel [the Russell E. Palmer Professor of Finance], you find yourself listening to the highest level of discussion about investments.
“Your average listener is not just a consumer,” Ulrich adds. “We know investment managers are listening.”
So far, the professors who are giving their time seem happy to be on board. (Loney is paid, but faculty and alumni hosts are not.)
“There is tons to like about it,” says Stewart Friedman, a practice professor of management who does a program on Thursdays at 2 p.m. about the intersection of work and family life. “I get to engage people interested in the business world in an entirely different medium than I had been used to. And we have listeners from all around the country, which is exciting.”
Knowledge@Wharton, the school’s online business analysis journal, wanted a radio professional to host its show, since it would be a full-time job. Loney, a divorced father of three, had spent the last five years working in various positions for the Wall Street Journal radio network. He had also done sports broadcasting, primarily as a minor-league baseball announcer, but also for the Princeton University football, women’s basketball, and men’s lacrosse teams, which he plans to continue doing.
“The minor-league broadcasting, strangely enough, has prepared me for this,” says Loney, who called games for the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate. “You have to fill three-and-a-half hours a night, and it can’t all just be play-by-play, so you have to do your research on a number of things. The show we are doing will require the same skills.”
SiriusXM president and chief content officer Scott Greenstein says that developing medical, financial, and educational information channels has been a priority for several years. Sirius has about 150 channels, half of which are devoted to music and half to talk of some kind, but few of them are academically oriented. Doctor Radio, which debuted eight years ago, was developed in partnership with New York University. About two years ago, Greenstein turned his focus to the financial channel.
“We were looking for a national brand,” he says, and Wharton “was the obvious choice.”
Sirius does not publish data on audience figures; since the company’s service is subscription-based, its revenues are not dependent on advertising and daily listenership. But Greenstein says that based on audience surveys and monitoring of phone calls, the company is bullish on the Wharton channel.
“We feel we are getting business executives who have graduated college or business school or law school [and] who otherwise don’t have access to education or advice like this,” he said. “Plus, we are getting potential entrepreneurs or even general listeners who otherwise would never be able to access people like Wharton professors and whomever else they bring on.”
Friedman, for instance, has hosted guests including former Campbell Soup CEO Douglas Conant and former State Department policy-planning director Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose 2012 Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” continues to reverberate in discussions about work-life balance.
“I do research on the intersection between work and the rest of life,” Friedman says, “and to have interesting people come on and tell of their work and their experiences is really thrilling even just for me—so I assume it is for the listeners.”
Shane Jensen, an associate professor of statistics, is part of a four-professor team doing the sports-oriented Wharton Moneyball program. He admits he was slightly skeptical that a non-traditional, not-quite-business program could succeed on what is seen as an upscale medium, but he has been pleasantly surprised.
“We are getting calls from people who are, sure, sports fans, but those who want an analytical edge,” says Jensen. Indeed, the audience has stretched Jenson to apply his stats skills to sports outside his native area of interest. This summer found him delving into analytics for the World Cup, in addition to Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins and the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
Greenstein says the Wharton connection is encouraging people outside the school’s orbit to want to contribute. In late July, for instance, Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the company’s original marketing honcho, started a show called Dot Complicated, covering topics ranging from women and tech to social media and children.
Zuckerberg’s show is broadcast out of a mobile studio in San Francisco, which gives the Wharton channel a West Coast presence. The Philadelphia-based programs were initially made in a makeshift space in the basement of Vance Hall, but in September moved to a custom-built state-of-the-art studio in Huntsman Hall overlooking Locust Walk.
Though neither Ulrich nor Greenstein would discuss the financial arrangement between SiriusXM and Wharton, Ulrich characterized it as “a good deal for everyone,” adding that while professors do not get paid, their radio exposure enhances their profiles.
“We are always looking for things to enhance Wharton,” says Ulrich, who also has his own program, “Launch Pad,” in which he talks about starting companies with Robert Coneybeer WG’96, co-founder of the venture-capital fund Shasta Ventures.
“The number of people who have tuned in is in the millions, which is a pretty big number,” he asserts. “The efficiency of that outreach is a really big deal, and helps cement Wharton as the authoritative source of business knowledge.”