Keeping Podcasts Interesting: Getting Better Ideas

by Dan Blank on December 3, 2008

Guest column by Peter Welander, Control Engineering process industries editor.

When trying to generate podcast ideas, you should be thinking like a radio producer: How can you deliver editorial or custom content in a way that people will want to listen to it? Start by surrounding yourself with good examples.

Most radio isn’t worth listening to. The standard DJ, talk radio, or news radio fare is pretty boring from a production standpoint. To get better ideas, listen to better stations, like public radio. Regardless of your political views, most public radio stations produce good material. You can hear interviews, individual stories, and regular programs with excellent production values. Anything they can do on the radio can be done in a podcast.

These shows should give you ideas of things you can do to make audio production more interesting which should translate into more clicks. That’s what we’re all here for, right?
For example: This American Life, The World, Fresh Air, Marketplace, All Things Considered, the list goes on and on. These can be your models:

  • Keeping simple interviews interesting;
  • Keeping monologues interesting;
  • Talking to a group or panel;
  • Integrating quotes with a narrator’s commentary;
  • Covering events;
  • Presenting multiple sides of an argument;
  • Field recording; and
  • Other techniques that we tend to forget about.

When you hear something that seems particularly successful, create mental or written notes as to what it was that impressed you. How did they do that? Can I do the same thing? Maybe you’ll hear a technique that solves a production problem you’ve been struggling with.

There are dozens of public radio station Websites, including the big ones for NPR and PRI. You can listen to many features online and there are oodles of podcasts, so you aren’t bound by local radio programming schedules. There’s also an interesting Website called Transom for public radio producers that you probably won’t find by normal searching (let’s talk to them about SEO). You can find some really useful stuff there that relates directly to the kind of audio we do.

“That’s all well and good,” you say. “Those people are pros, and doing top notch production is their main job. Moreover, those big shows have studios and staffs helping put things together. I’m just me, and there are higher things on my to-do list. Doing podcasts has to take a back seat to more pressing responsibilities.”

Yes, you probably have other things to do that are more important. But that shouldn’t stop you from wanting to improve your skills when possible. If you can help yourself by spending your commuting time listening to a different radio station, isn’t that worth it? You may pick up some ideas without even noticing it, and you probably won’t get that from listening to people calling in and ranting at a political gasbag.

If you want to improve your level of quality, approach your next project as if you were doing it as an audition to get a job on a program like Marketplace. That might boost your level of performance.

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