As I work with different radio stations across the country, many of them dip their toe into the podcasting pool by repurposing their on-air shows as on-demand shows. The results are often less than spectacular.
That’s because while radio shows and podcasts are similar, they’re not the same. There are important differences between the two mediums. These differences make it easier to repurpose some radio shows than others. For example, public radio shows like Fresh Air, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and The Moth can be published as podcast episodes with little or no changes, but five-hour commercial morning shows or music-driven radio shifts don’t work as well as podcasts.
Here are the key difference between radio shows and podcasts:
1. Mass Appeal vs. Niche Topics
Generally speaking, radio shows aim to cover a wide range of mass appeal topics, including sports, celebrity news, and general interest topics. It’s common for radio stations to use the “morning zoo” format: a collection of likable hosts discussing popular subjects.
Radio stations do this because the audience they reach is already limited by two factors: the station format and geographic reach. When you’re a country station in Los Angeles or a rock station in Topeka, you don’t want to further whittle down to your audience by focusing on niche topics.
Podcasts, on the other hand, are not limited by station format or geographic reach, so they can focus on specific niches. While it makes no sense to launch a radio station that focuses on knitting in Los Angeles, a knitting podcast could be successful because it has the potential to attract knitters from around the globe.
Moreover, when people go to a “podcatcher” (a podcast listening app) to find a new podcast, they often search by topic. If your podcast covers a wide range of topics, instead of focusing on a specific area like beer or parenting or politics, it may have a hard time getting discovered.
Your station’s radio shows should be mass appeal, but its podcasts should focus on a specific niche.
2. Tune In Anytime vs. Listen From the Beginning
With radio, different people tune in at different times. As broadcasters, we never know whether a listener heard our last break, so we must constantly repeat elements, like the call letters.
But with a podcast, everybody starts at the same point: the beginning of the episode. This means that the first minute of a podcast episode is crucial, because that’s when listeners decide if they will commit to the entire thing.
Although listeners all start at the beginning of the episode, they don’t all start with the first podcast episode. As a listener, my first episode of Marc Maron’s WTF may be his 300th episode. (The exception is serialized podcasts like, well, Serial, which set the expectation that listeners should start with episode one.) Because people may start listening to a podcast with any given episode, the first 60 seconds of every episode should repeat the same basic information: What the podcast is about, what the episode is about, who the host is, etc.
3. Time Constraints vs. No Time Constraints
On a radio show, you’ve got time constraints. If you’re hosting a morning show with no music, you may have 45+ minutes per hour to fill, while the host of a music-driven show may have only a few minutes. With a podcast, you can make your episodes as long or as short as you want.
Which is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, if you have tons of compelling content, you don’t have to worry about not being able to include it all.
On the other hand, there’s less incentive to edit your show down to just the best material because it’s so easy to upload everything.
4. Music vs. Right Issues
On the radio, we obviously play lots of music, but you can’t in a podcast because of rights issues. (I’m not a lawyer, so if you want to quibble about the finer points of copyright law, go find somebody who is; but the short answer to the question, “Can I play Shakira in my podcast?,” is “No.”)
This means that in a podcast, not only can we talk more that most of us do on the radio, we actually have to. When it comes to podcasts, broadcasters who don’t host talk shows probably don’t create enough on-air content to repurpose it as a podcast, so they’ll have to create some new audio content.
5. Fleeting vs. Long Shelf Life
On the radio, we do our break and then move on to the next one. Once a break is over, it disappears into the ether, never to be heard again, and we turn our attention to the next one. DJ breaks on the radio are disposable.
That’s not the case with podcast episodes. Years from now, people may listen to old episodes of Grammar Girl or Hardcore History. Podcast episodes can have a long shelf life. Of course, some contain content that is evergreen, while others tend to be more ephemeral. But unlike radio, they can all be listened to weeks, months, or even years later.
In fact, some podcasts don’t gain traction until long after their first episodes were published. My food and travel podcast saw its highest download numbers last fall — a year and a half after I stopped producing it! Creating podcasts that age well can be an effective long-term strategy, but it requires a different mindset for most radio broadcasters.
We’ve teamed up with the organizers of Podcast Movement to produce a special track at this year’s conference designed especially for radio broadcasters. The conference is in Anaheim at the end of August. Program directors, on-air talent, and digital team members are invited to come learn how your radio station can thrive in the world of podcasting.
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