The radio has been around for quite a while. Podcasts are newer, but they share a lot of characteristics. I’m here today to evaluate this genre called podcasting and give you some key information on how to make your very own radio show successful. You won’t be able to charm your audience with your great looks, so pay close attention if you want to keep the listeners coming back for more.
The first thing you have to know when creating a podcast is pretty obvious. What are you going to talk about? Are you going to conduct interviews like Terry Gross on Fresh Air? Are you going to make it like The View and have multiple hosts having conversations? Or will it be like the new hit podcast series, Serial, where the show takes on a narrative and acts more like an audio recording? The genres within podcasts are endless. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these genres do well and where they each fall short.
Fresh Air, a form of interview podcasts, is something I’ve fallen asleep to in the car for as long as I can remember. My parents worship Terry Gross and the ground she walks on. She is the master of her genre, and I want to tell you why. She fears no political stance, she backs down from no debate. She speaks into her microphone and examines some of the most influential and known people, as well as lesser known but still influential people. Terry Gross takes no BS and gives no BS. She conducts interviews. People listen to these interviews. They are pre-recorded and she doesn’t solely talk to those interviewed but also plays clips of other past interviews and scenes from movies. She brings the interviews alive even though it’s only voiced through earbuds or an aux cord.
A negative I see to NPR’s hit Fresh Air would be its audience reach. Clearly, it isn’t captivating a lot of children in the backseat of a car, but aside from that her interviews are highly educational and informative but are not getting the kind of reach they should. Because NPR is a (liberal) radio station there are a lot of people who don’t know and don’t care to tune in. These are the people the interviews would benefit most. Then again, not every genre can hit every kind of audience, so perhaps NPR is okay with their high volume of nerdy, curious adults who savor every minute. The big takeaway from Terry Gross? PICK AN AUDIENCE, AND MAKE THEM HAPPY.
Next up, let’s talk about story-speaking. That’s what I’m calling the narrative podcast. It’s when a podcast is like a TV series, except there’s nothing to watch, you just have to listen. If you’re thinking this sounds like a book on tape, you’re right. Except these are crafted specifically for being told through a podcast. This is a crowd favorite for commuters mostly because of one series that is taking the Interstate by storm. It’s called Serial. It’s really more of investigative journalism, but the suspenseful plot of it makes it quite a captivating story. Think of Law and Order SVU and how you get to solve the crime right alongside Mariska Hargitay and Ice T. The podcast would be nothing without its cliffhangers. The big takeaway from narrative podcasting? LEAVE YOUR FOLLOWERS WANTING MORE AND MORE AND MORE. They should have questions developing the whole time, and when you say goodbye they should be angry. They should be fuming! They should be commenting furiously asking for answers. Play an episode of Serial you’ll get what I am saying.
Obviously, there is balance in these two major takeaways. For example, Fresh Air interviews span such a wide array of topics, that there are no doubt episodes that attract a new set of people, or that the usual listeners choose to skip. Interviews are wide-ranging. At the same time, not everything can be a cliffhanger about a murder, so not every podcast can actually leave the readers furiously typing questions. As in just about everything in life, balance is best. I am going to borrow cliff-hanger in my podcasts in the sense of leaving my listeners with a single question. They won’t be calling me to find out, but they’ll have just enough reason to tune in the next week. Maybe a better word than cliff-hanger is seduction.
Multi-modality is tricky when it comes to a podcast. The people can only hear but this audio mode has a lot of intricacies within it. Sound effects, word patterns, and external clips are all ways to make this more multi-modal within the mode. Podcasts can have theme songs, music breaks, closing “credits” and more. No need to be boring, the ears are your oyster!
I am pretty excited about the idea of podcasting. We’ll see as I keep developing ideas if it is what I want to pursue. One thing’s for sure though, all those Terry Gross car naps definitely just paid off.