I love podcasts. I love radio too, but in recent years, I have found the hosts and shows I am most passionate about, most dedicated to, are the ones that give me long form, thought-provoking content. Besides, when I run or go grocery shopping, Apple has made it easier to listen to podcasts than terrestrial radio.
Every week here at BSM I read what Tyler McComas has to say about the podcasting world. I like Tyler. If I may be so bold, I dare say I think he likes me too. So it seems like a natural thing for us to collaborate on an article.
What follows is a conversation, not an interview. We discuss why strategies that work for podcasting don’t always work for radio, the natural advantages of each format, and how stations can get the most out of their own digital products.
DR: Since you started reviewing podcasts for BSM I have been thinking a lot about the difference between podcasts and radio. Don’t get me wrong, radio will always be my first love and Lebatard and Bomani will always be appointment listening for me, but there’s a perfect example. Bomani is making the move exclusively to podcasting. I know Bo well, and I believe him when he says that ESPN didn’t push him out and he recognized that what he does works better as a podcast than on the radio.
My question is “why?” Why, if we agree that shows like Shutdown Fullcast or JJ Redick’s Chronicles of Reddick are entertaining in podcast form, would they not work as radio shows?
TM: I do think those would work as radio shows, but not as well. I find myself thinking that I learn more about someone’s true personality on a podcast than I do a radio show. Also, I think there’s a lot of podcasts that thrive on being unfiltered. Obviously, there’s a line to what you can do on radio, but there’s something about the feel that you can say and do whatever you want on a podcast. Being unfiltered doesn’t mean just dropping F bombs whenever you want to, it’s also the feel of being able to say certain things and be critical towards certain people that may earn you a suspension if you’re doing a radio show. Something else I’ve wondered, do you think there’s an element of the unexpected? Does it make it more fun and entertaining to listen to certain podcasts over radio because anything and everything is in play and you don’t know what’s coming next?
DR: That theory makes some sense. I think the best podcasts feel like listening in on friends hanging out. In the history of the format, that’s kinda how so many great shows come together.
I often wonder if that is a flaw of radio that podcasting has exploited or just pointed out. Radio shows are so often “cast” in particular ways. Rarely is it two friends that were buddies that just liked the same team and started recording their conversations. The lack of natural chemistry, or the building of chemistry, can force talented people into roles sometimes. That’s why we have so many expert-and-former-jock shows or buttoned-down-professional-and-unhinged-voice-of-the-fan shows.
TM: That’s a really good point. Think about it, for a new radio show, establishing chemistry is often the most difficult obstacle to overcome. It can’t be forced, it has to come natural. When you’re combining a former athlete and someone who’s never played sports at a high level, you often hit challenges. However, a couple of regular guys doing a podcast just feels more natural. Mostly, like you pointed out, because they’re familiar with each other and often get along. Podcasts really do the trick for me because I can listen whenever I please. Most nights, I’m listening to 2-3 a night, trying to pick up on something I can use for my own career. The accessibility of podcasts puts the listener in charge in terms of when they consume it. That’s important in today’s age.
DR: Accessibility is a huge difference! I would also argue no clocks is an advantage of podcasting. I think as that format has become more professional you have seen more shows set a hard cap. Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody, for instance, often apologizes for going over the 45 minute mark.
On a whole though, podcasts are allowed to do deeper dives. It would never work on radio because radio has to keep appealing to as many people as possible, and that is the right move for radio. I love what the 30-for-30 podcasts are doing though. Radio doesn’t give you time to get lost in a story or interview the way podcasts do.
TM: Since attention spans are short and most people just read the headlines, do you think podcasts need to set a time limit cap? Or are you fine with a podcast episode that lasts over an hour? Again, bringing up accessibility, I have no problem with longer episodes. And when I’m lost in a good story or good conversation on a podcast, I’m fine with listening to one that extends over an hour.
DR: As long as the story is a good one or the hosts are particularly compelling, I don’t see a need for a cap. That was always my frustration working in the rock format, where I had a three minute cap for bits. It was hard for me to imagine anyone was sitting in his car thinking “Demetri is doing a really funny bit. I sure hope he shuts up and plays “Paradise City” for the fifth time today soon.”
Let’s change the direction of this conversation for a moment. What do you want from a radio show’s podcast? You mentioned accessibility being one of podcasting’s advantages over radio. Is a best of show enough? I always advocate for giving the guy that is dedicated to the show a reason to go to the podcast too. If I listen to you all three hours, I am going to want some original content on the podcast in order for me to consider downloading it.
TM: That’s tough but it’s a good problem to have. If you have a big-name guest on and they provide a great segment, I’d suggest including that in a radio show’s podcast. But how do you cater to the person that’s loyal and listens to your show on a daily basis? Most successful radio shows I listen to, either podcast the entire show or do a one-hour best of. Personally, I like a one-hour podcast that hits the best segments of the day. You can appease more loyal listeners in other ways such as a pre-show video on Facebook Live or Periscope. To me, that may be the best way to get the best of worlds.
DR: I think we’re on the same page. Supplemental content is a better way to grow your show’s digital presence than strictly best of material. Hell, even recording introductions for some of the day’s best content would count.
So let me ask you this. Where do you stand on stations producing their own podcasts that are never meant to be played on air? What is the right environment and situation that could produce the best podcast possible? I look at what Lauren Brownlow did earlier this year for 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh with her NC State Stuff podcast. It was amazingly good, and I don’t know if it could have been if Lauren were doing a three hour show every day. She is an on air contributor, so that gave her more time to work on this project. If a station wants to create its own prestige podcast, what are the conditions that have to exist in order for it to live up to management’s vision?
TM: Great question. I recently reviewed the Purple Podcast and thought it was outstanding. What they did, was use their Vikings reporter to steer the podcast. However, they’d also bring on an on-air host, as well. I think that’s a great balance. Do a podcast with the reporter that covers the team and isn’t on for three hours a day. Pair them up with one of your on-air hosts and you should end up with a pretty good product.
So there you have it. Radio = good. Podcasting = good. Radio + podcasting = gooder.
Podcasting obviously isn’t going away, but it’s not exactly competition for radio either. It’s a whole separate medium, so there’s no reason you cannot view it as supplemental material. Think of it sort of like having a radio or print partner.
You should always strive to produce great content for your podcasts. I still stand by my thought that exclusive content for a podcast is better than just a replay or best of. Understand though that great podcasting content takes as much prep, if not more than creating great radio content does. So, if you want your talent to produce engaging and unique podcast content, give them the support to make it happen.