Elverage Allen, partner in Sunwise Media, got bad news from his doctor after a regular checkup in 2020. His PSA levels were up, indicating the possibility of prostate cancer.
“I remember the look on his face,” recalled Allen, who was head of sales for Bounce TV. Allen recalled. While shocking to Allen, prostate cancer is all too common in Black men. Black men are twice as likely to get prostate cancer and 50% more likely to die from it. “You’re trying to figure out all the reasons why, you know, this can't be. “
Four months later, another test showed PSA levels up even more. A biopsy was performed and it came back positive for prostate cancer. After a robotic prostatectomy, Allen is now clear of prostate cancer. But going through the experience made him think.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, but the disease remains something people don’t talk about, especially Black men. Allen himself said he had to build up the courage to tell his wife about the initial diagnosis.
He had so many questions about how prostate cancer could change his life and not many places to find answers to living after prostate cancer. How do you overcome the embarrassment to buy Depends in drugstores to deal with temporary “leakage?” Where do you keep them when you go to church or a restaurant? How do you get your Marvin Gaye groove back on?
Allen’s wife, Sheila, a real estate investor who flips houses, made a suggestion. She said “I think you can use your media background to help other people that are going through this,“ he recalled. “We need to start a podcast.”
“I went back and forth. I just didn’t know if I wanted to go public or not with this. It’s so personal so private,’ Allen said. “The thing that makes it so persona and private is it affects your sex life. Guys, particularly Black men, when you start talking about our sex life, well, we’re not talking about that.”
Podcast with a Mission
Allen and his wife decided to start a podcast hosted under the stage names El and Shay. “We made it our mission to help couples and men, and particularly Black men,” he said. “No one can tell this experience like someone who’s gone through it themselves.”
The Prostate Cancer Real Talk podcast started in June of 2021. It was on all the major platforms. “We were doing pretty good, but it wasn’t doing what I wanted,” Allen recalled. “We were getting maybe 2,000 to 3,000 views a month. I’m like, this is not working.
They added some video content to the podcast and put it on YouTube in February 2022. “When a guy is talking to the doctor, you see a guy talking to the doctor,“ he said. ”When a surgeon’s explaining what a prostate does you see the graphic depiction of exactly what he’s talking about,” he said.
Allen’s own surgeon was on the podcast. They had an African-American doctor from Northwestern Hospital who is not only a urologist, but he specializes in research for African-American men and prostate cancer. The podcast also had a white couple from Columbus who had his prostate surgery in 2002 and a doctor from Huntsville, Alabama, who does marriage counseling and talked about what happens to a relationship when a couple goes through a major life change like this.
“We talked about how this is not a death sentence,” Allen said.
With the visual elements, viewership skyrocketed. In 10-day tests at the beginning of each month, the podcast drew 2,000 YouTube views per day from February through April.
“I’m a media guy and media guys live and die on data,” Allen said. “The data on this is amazing. We have validated there is an endless need for this.”
On top of getting views, Prostate Cancer Real Talk was connecting with its audience. Its engagement rate — meaning the share of viewers interacting, forwarding, or commenting on the podcast — was 50%, far exceeding the YouTube average engagement rate of 1.7%.
Allen also boosted traffic by working with Buzzsprout, a podcast platform that for $250 promised 5,000 downloads in a 30-day period. Prostate Cancer Real Talk got its 5,000 downloads in just seven days.
Right now, Allen and his wife have suspended production of the podcast while Allen seeks out sponsors to support it. Allen, who is nothing if not persistent, says he’s in touch with a number of pharmaceutical companies, ad agencies and public relations agencies.
As a result of the conversations, both with sponsors and medical professionals, Allen is getting set to start another new podcast called Black Health, which will look at all aspects of how medical issues affect African-Americans.
Allen said the Black Health podcast is also being driven by data, but also by insight from Allen’s doctor at Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital.
“He sent me a health literacy map that the Centers for Disease Control put out,” Allen said. “I was horrified when I saw the health literacy levels within the African-American community.”
Allen is looking forward to getting the podcasts up and running again.
“We want to open up the dialogue, particularly within the African-American community,“ he said. ”We want to increase the number of Black men that are going to get their PSA tests, and we want to dispel myths.”
One myth: Prostate cancer is an old man’s disease. The podcast features Illinois State Rep. Lashawn Ford, who was in his 40s when he insisted his doctor give him a PSA test. The test came back showing he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer and had to have surgery immediately. “Had he not insisted on that test, it would have been terminal for him,” Allen said.
“If you are a man 40-plus, and particularly if you are a Black Man, please talk to your doctor about getting a PSA test,” he said. “It could save your life, like it did mine!” ■
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.