A child actor turned professional wrestler turned media personality is steering his high-decibel energy toward building what he hopes will become a Long Island podcasting giant.
Will Kucmierowski, whose wrestling name was "Brimstone," started The Grindhouse Radio in July 2015. These days the company's podcasts are carried on Apple's iTunes, Google Play, iHeart Media, Spotify and other outlets, posting about $250,000 in 2018 revenue, said Kucmierowski, who goes by the name Brim.
The Levittown-based startup is seeking to ride the rising tide of podcast listeners.
A survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital released in March found that 32% of Americans ages 12 and older — 90 million people — said they had listened to a podcast in the past month, up from 26% in 2018.
Audience growth for the pre-recorded, downloadable shows is driving increased advertising revenue. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP forecasts that podcast advertising will jump from $1.3 billion in 2019 to $2.3 billion in 2021.
Streaming music giant Spotify Technology S.A. has taken note and gone on a podcasting shopping spree. In 2019, Spotify spent about $400 million to snap up podcast networks Parcast (owned by Cutler Media LLC) and Gimlet Media Inc. and podcast production app Anchor FM Inc.
"Some people liken it to a second golden age of radio because there's so much attention and the market is growing," said Mario Alfonso Murillo, a professor of radio and vice dean of Hofstra University's Lawrence Herbert School of Communication.
The road to Grindhouse Radio began in 2014 when Brim pitched a show to radio executives.
"I always wanted to do broadcasting," he said. "I enjoy engaging with people."
When that proposal went nowhere, Brim decided to find his own path to listeners.
The flagship show, also called The Grindhouse Radio, began as a live one-hour Internet radio show in July 2015. About six months later, the show expanded to two hours and added a podcast format.
These days, the abbreviated live show streams Monday evenings from Facebook Live, but the full two-hour podcast drops Thursday evenings. The podcast audience averages 3.5 million to 4 million weekly listeners worldwide, Brim said.
It features casual, breezy, rapid-fire banter from Mineola-born Brim and his co-hosts Kim Adragna, Stephen "Zambo" Zambito and Tom Greer II, who came to him as interns from Farmingdale State College, Five Towns College and The Connecticut School of Broadcasting.
Topics usually center on pop culture. "Anything from Batman to 'The Masked Singer,' " Brim said. Guests have ranged from Phil Lamarr ("Mad TV" and "Futurama") to Lou Ferrigno ("The Incredible Hulk").
Crucially, the show also includes advertising spots ("Kikkoman traditionally brewed soy sauce; making soy sauce cool again").
Brim, 45, said the soy sauce maker has an annual contract for a spot on Grindhouse Radio based on listener numbers.
The company also is developing companion shows, Within Brim's Skin and The Magic KimTom, a podcast hosted by Adragna and Greer devoted to all things Disney and Pixar.
When he's not podcasting, Brim, who wrestled from 1996 to 2016, is promoting and working his many side gigs.
"We do a tremendous amount of social media," Brim said. "You've got to be in it."
The onetime child actor ("Sesame Street" and "Romper Room") also serves as a SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) mentor to entrepreneurs.
He is the owner and CEO of Hound Comics Inc. One of Hound's titles chronicles a character named Brimstone who battles evildoers in Heaven, Hell and places in between. ("Hell is just a place in another reality, like Long Island, but not as annoying," according to the narrative.)
He also rents studio space to other podcasters, has a line of chocolate bars and makes personal appearances at colleges and other venues, which create separate revenue streams.
But the Grindhouse podcasting business, with a headcount of six-plus interns and volunteers, offers a path into the future, Brim said.
"It's a new way," Brim said. "Broadcasting on AM and FM, it's dying out. We're aiming to create a full network. We'll be adding shows for all different genres. It's like a snowball at the top of a mountain. That's what we've become."