Beck hails Cash Cab host for podcast

Every time Adam Growe tries to get out of a cab, they keep pulling him back in. The popular host of Cash Cab, which ran for eight seasons and remains a mainstay of Canadian specialty television, is returning to the taxi world, this time as the host of a new branded podcast from Toronto’s Beck Taxi called Taxi Driver True Tales.

The series was developed by Canadian content creator Stewart Reynolds (best known by his online persona Brittlestar), who likened its format to taking a ride with Growe and having him relay stories that have been submitted by some of the taxi company’s approximately 1,700 drivers and millions of customers.

The first season of Taxi Driver True Tales will consist of six weekly episodes and, according to Reynolds, will be closer to an “audio drama” rather than a traditional podcast featuring a discussion between a host and a guest. “My whole schtick has been entertain first, sell second,” he said. “Whether it’s a 30-second video or a half-hour podcast, you’re purchasing peoples time, so they’ve got to get something in exchange for that.”

It’s been several years since Beck embarked on a major marketing push, said Kristine Hubbard, Beck Taxi operations manager (and granddaughter of company founder Jim Beck). The company eliminated marketing entirely during the pandemic, she said, instead putting its resources into supporting drivers.

The company does maintain an active Twitter account, however, and Hubbard said that the biggest consumer response tends to come from posts highlighting interesting stories about drivers. “You’re not just sitting behind a head—there’s actually a person attached,” she said. “These stories kind of lift the veil.”

The podcast represents a perfect way for Beck to get back into marketing and advertising through a unique format that highlights its key asset: people. “The human element is so important to me, and a podcast is a really good way to express stories,” she said. “There’s something about the spoken word and the ability to share stories that way that connects with people in a more meaningful way.”

Growe’s radio and stage experience, coupled with more than 200 episodes of Cash Cab, made him a “no-brainer” when it came to finding a host for the podcast, said Reynolds. “I could see him leaning over the back seat or looking in the rearview mirror and telling these stories,” he said. “His voice is perfect for that, and he also has a pretty wide range in that he’s able to deliver stories in a sentimental and serious way, and he knows how to be silly.”

Hubbard also knew Growe from years back, when the City of Toronto required him to acquire his taxi license before he could become the host of Cash Cab. He and Hubbard ended up engaging in a friendly competition around the driving portion of the licensing test. “I won,” she said. “I mean, it would be embarrassing if I didn’t.”

Reynolds developed the podcast with his son Owen, a digital media producer who has also amassed considerable expertise in the podcast realm—including partnering with Amber Mac Media and The Ontario Mining Association on the award-winning This is Mining podcast, and serving as co-producer and audio lead on Property Brother Jonathan Scott and Zooey Deschanel’s 12-part vlog Park House.

Reynolds will use his extensive social media reach (which includes more than 155,000 followers on Twitter, more than 33,000 Instagram followers, and 26,000 YouTube subscribers) to promote it.

From its instantly recognizable orange and green cabs and more than 8.7 million dispatches per year (not including street hails), Beck isn’t looking to the podcast to build brand awareness, said Hubbard. Rather, the goal is for customers and would-be customers to have a greater understand of the people behind the brand.

“People know Beck, and they think they know what we do,” she said. “But there are just so many spectacularly special people who have done so many great things.” They include driver Bealy Wolderufael (known to Beck staffers as “Mr. Wonderful”) who stopped to rescue a dog that had jumped out of the car in front of him. That story will likely be included in the podcast, said Hubbard.

Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have not only turned the industry upside down in recent years, they intentionally tried to undermine the reputation of traditional taxi drivers (“their cars are dirty, the drivers are grumpy” etc.) in order to build their own brand, said Hubbard.

“That was the hardest part. Why are you attacking these people, when 99.9% of them are simply going to work every day, doing an amazing but very often thankless job, raising their families and putting their kids through school like everybody else.

“I just want to build back that reputation,” she said. “It was very heartbreaking to see people’s reaction. There are so many more questions to ask a taxi driver other than ‘Where are you from?’ I think everybody feels good when they hear a good story, and there are just so many.”

Chris Powell