Podcasts have become a hot topic in the radio industry. Everybody’s buzzing about the need for broadcasters to embrace the medium, but there’s a side to it that also makes a lot of radio programmers apprehensive. For starters, most station staffers in the country are already stretched pretty thin.
But there’s more than just the workload causing concern among radio programmers. Many of them may quietly be thinking to themselves, “What if we’re not good at podcasting?” After all, we claim to be professionals in the audio content space. What if our podcasts suck?
I just launched a new podcast series, and trust me, I feel the same apprehension that you do. It’s a normal reaction to have when you take on something new. With podcasts, the stakes seem higher than radio shows. Bad radio shows can only be heard locally before they disappear into the ether. But bad podcast episodes can be heard around the world, and downloaded long after they were originally recorded.
This pressure can be intimidating. But the worst thing you can do is allow it to delay your radio station’s entry into the space. Here are some things you can do to lower the stakes and relieve some of the pressure:
1. Produce a pilot season.
When I first started podcasting, I assumed they were like The Tonight Show or The Today Show. That is, that new episodes came out on a regular basis from now until the end of time, and that if I wasn’t still producing the podcast in 20 years, it was a failure.
It was not until I listened to Serial I realized how wrong-headed this notion was. Serial was the first podcast that I encountered to produce a season with a limited number of episodes. This is a brilliant strategy. If the first season goes well, you can always come back for more. If it doesn’t, you aren’t committed to producing a failing show in perpetuity – or even a second season. It also give podcasters a natural break point at which they can stop, review, and tweak the show if necessary.
Instead of starting a podcast with an open-ended commitment, I strongly encourage radio stations launch with a “pilot season” consisting of a finite number of episodes (say, 6-12). Moreover, don’t call it “season one,” as that implicitly sets expectations there will be a “season two.” Instead, call it a “10-episode podcast series” and see how it goes. This will give you some breathing room and options.
2. Think of your station as a movie studio.
Not every movie is a hit. Some are huge flops. Movie studios realize this, and they build that expectation into their business model. Your radio station should do the same. Don’t bank everything on a single podcast. Instead, build a framework that allows you to launch multiple podcasts, and then run with the ones that gain traction, and drop the ones that don’t. Accept the idea that not every podcast is going to be a hit, and plan accordingly.
3. Pick a feasible show format.
My first podcast involved me going to protest sites, recording a series of interviews, editing those interviews, and compiling them into episodes. It could easily take 15 hours to produce a single episode. Not surprisingly, I was koverwhelmed by the workload, and that show “podfaded” after only a dozen episodes.
When I set out to launch my second podcast series, I gave a lot more thought to feasibility of the format. I wanted to focus on something I could realistically produce on a continual basis, so I settled on a show that involved one-on-one phone interviews. It began as a biweekly show, and I didn’t turn it into a weekly show until I was confident that I could keep up with the pace.
When you set out to create your first podcast, be realistic. Use a format that you know you can realistically produce given your limited resources.
4. Know your skills.
My first few podcast series involved one-on-one interviews. After a while, I wanted to move on to something more complex. Many of the podcasts I was a fan of come out of the Ira Glass This American Life storytelling journalism mold. So I set out to do something similar. The problem? As a commercial radio broadcaster, I have no experience with storytelling journalism. I quickly discovered that creating this type of podcast is not my forté.
When you set out to launch your radio station’s first podcast, take stock of which skills your staff possesses and which skills they don’t. You’re much more likely to succeed if you build a podcast on the foundation that’s already there instead of trying to emulate somebody else’s podcasting style.
5. Pick a passion topic.
On the radio, we try to talk about pop culture topics with broad appeal. Podcasts, on the other hand, often work best when they cover specific niches. But what niche should your podcast cover?
I’m going to recommend something that runs counter to everything we’ve learned as radio broadcasters: Pick a topic based on what the host wants, not necessarily what the audience wants. (I know, I know. As a radio programmer who begrudgingly played a lot of Nickelback in heavy rotation, I’m surprised to hear me say it, too.)
Down the road, of course, you may want to launch podcasts based around the audience’s interests. But in the beginning, when we’re all still learning, the stakes are still low, and there isn’t extra money for extra work, so let the host develop a podcast around something she is passionate about.
Talk to your staff. If you’ve got somebody who’s excited about craft beer, parenting, pets, wrestling, or science fiction, let them run with it and see what happens. It will make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.
6. Don’t sell it.
Too often, as radio broadcasters, we don’t do anything new unless we think we can monetize it. One of the first questions I often get about podcasting is, “How do we sell it?”
Here’s my answer: “Don’t. Yet.”
I realize a lot of managers may scoff at this, but for now, treat your podcasts as an R&D project: there’s not a ton of money to be made in the space right now anyway, but there will be in the future, so develop the skills and expertise to make a great product. If you launch your first podcast by making promises to clients that you can’t deliver on, you run the risk of killing the goose that will one day lay golden eggs.
Don’t sell a sponsorship around your first podcast. Instead…
7. Make the goal to learn.
Instead of quantifying a goal for your first podcast in terms of dollars or downloads, articulate a goal more like this:
“We want to learn how to produce a high-quality podcast.”
Trust me, after your first 10 episodes, you’re going to know a whole lot more than you did at the beginning. There is a lot of value in gaining this experience. It will allow you to produce better podcasts that earn more popularity and profit down the road.
Yes, the podcasting space can be intimidating at first, and it’s natural for radio broadcasters to be relunctnat. By adopting the right attitude and planning correctly, you can reduce the pressure and make podcasting fun and rewarding.
Guide to Podcasting
Looking to launch your radio station’s first podcast? Download our Podcasting Guide for Radio Stations.
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