Last week, I had the honor of speaking at the Alaska Broadcasters Association in Anchorage. This is one of those rare state broadcaster associations where commercial and public radio stations act in total partnership to work on lifting broadcast radio in the 49th state.
Now I know what you're thinking: Alaska? In November? Seriously?
It was a great experience.
When you spend a few days with radio people in Alaska, it gives you a whole new appreciation and understanding of what community service and commitment are all about. To put it this way, “So you think YOU got it tough.”
And once you get out of Anchorage – “the big city” – a career in radio is an even more arduous, but very rewarding task. Much of the state, of course, is rural. And in “The Last Frontier,” that means serving areas that simply do not have the basics of comfort we all take for granted here in the “Lower 48.” I met some wonderful broadcasters this past week who are engaged, energized, curious, and excited about the industry and how it's changing. And I was impressed with the stories of ingenuity I heard from a number of radio (and TV) professionals who made the trek to participate in this conference.
I'm no stranger to Alaska. Back around 1990, I signed on KBFX – the state's first Classic Rocker. And what a great story it turned out to be. I was approached by the owner of the station, Tom Tierney, who tracked me down at the Radio Show that fall in New Orleans. Tom showed up wearing a wool sport jacket, imploring me to work with him to bring Classic Rock to his beloved state.
I had the good fortune of talking him into hiring my former intern, David Moore, who made the drive to Anchorage all the way from West Virginia – the site of his previous job. Dave ate this opportunity up, dove into the market, and quickly assembled a dedicated, hungry staff of Gung-ho radio people, battling it out with market leader KWHL – K-Whale.
The station shot to #1 in the market because of that great team that also included Jacobs Media's Mike Stern, and morning man extraordinaire, Rick Rydell. I had worked with Rick (one half of the “Rick & Todd” team) in both Portland and Cleveland. And I knew how talented he was. With him in mornings and Floyd and Zeppelin all day long, we had a great run. Tierney eventually sold the station, but I'm proud to tell you it's still in the format nearly 30 years later (now owned by iHeart), and continues to be a ratings leader.
Dave Moore, Mike Stern, and several other “alumni” from KBFX haven't stopped excelling, building great careers that started in “The Last Frontier.”
Rick Rydell is still doing radio in Anchorage, but pivoted to talk a number of years ago. Today, he is the best known personality in the market (OK, the state), and is at the center of every political issue and controversy in Alaska. There are always fascinating issues, dynamic politics, weird stories, and opinionated, passionate people who can't stop talking about what it means to be live and work in Alaska. Even though Sarah Palin left the state to move to Arizona.
I did a number of sessions at the ABA convention, but the one that may have resonated the most was about podcasting. As radio has learned these past few years, the secret to producing effective podcasts often comes down to storytelling ability. Believe me, there are no better storytellers than in Alaska, where everyone has a story and seemingly, the ability to spin a great yarn.
One of the questions that always comes up in any discussion of podcasting is why it's not growing faster. And for those theories, I invite you to click back on last week's post, “Why Are There So Many ‘Podcast Nevers?'”
But the most-frequently asked question is this one:
What's the ideal length for a podcast?
Type that into Google, and you'll get more than 5 million “answers,” most of which contradict one another.
The question is symptomatic of a bigger problem – the lack of reliable and useful metrics in the podcasting space. Because if podcasters, big and small, had more data that provided true insights, people would have stopped asking this question years ago.
But there aren't so they don't. At every single podcast session, throughout the Podcast Movement conference, and at these state broadcaster association get-togethers, it's almost always the first question when Q&A begins.
So, let me answer it for you, so we can move on. And in fact, all of you have the smarts to answer it for yourselves.
Because it's like the question of what's the perfect run time for a movie? Or how many courses should a meal contain?
It comes down to the quality of the content, not its quantity.
How can I be so sure? Because the two podcasts pictured at the top of this post are both history-based programs. And when it comes to their length, they are polar opposites.
BBC America's “Witness” podcasts are very well done – and they're just 10 minutes long.
Dan Carlin's episodes in his highly successful “Hardcore History” podcast are typically in the 4-6 hour range.
And they're both brilliant.
Like the old Paul Harvey radio feature, “The Rest of the Story,” podcasts don't have to be long to work – they have to be great, interesting, riveting, engaging, and all the other attributes content creators and storytellers intuitively know works.
Some of the best Classic Rock songs of all time are excessively long: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Won't Get Fooled Again,” and “Free Bird.”
They clock in at 8:02, 8:32, and 9:02 – nowhere near the ideal 3 minute length that is allegedly “radio friendly.”
So, perhaps podcasts should be long enough to suck you in and entertain, but not so long they make you start looking for the exits.
Maybe the better question to ponder is how to be sure podcasts open in a quick-hitting, compelling way that draws listeners into the episode. While it may be true that once you become accustomed to a podcast (like a morning show), you'll tolerate a certain amount of rambling conversation because you're invested in the personality. But listening to a radio show for the very first time is a lot like downloading a new podcast. True, the listener has some level of interest and curiosity. But the clock is ticking, and there's a palpable need to effectively engage the listener. Quickly.
We have all kinds of good questions we're planning on asking about podcasting in 2019's Techsurvey set to launch in January.
But I can tell you, “How long is the ideal podcast?” will not be one of them.
Thanks to Cathy Hiebert, Mollie Kabler, and the Alaska Broadcasters Association.
Signs up for Techsurvey 2019 here.