We have written a lot here lately about podcasts and how radio stations can make the most of their digital products. What can you do to build an identity online that is about more than just replays of your on air product? How do you stand out in a VERY crowded space?
I will tell you something that dawned on me a couple of weeks ago and was crystalized for me over the weekend. You want to stand out in the podcasting space? Quit interviewing people. Every podcast is “an in-depth conversation” with someone that you’ve already heard an in-depth conversation with on a dozen other platforms.
Radio groups should always look at a podcast as a chance to do something that they could never put on the air. That could mean letting talented, compelling talkers have an unencumbered conversation that begins with the NFL Draft and ends up becoming about something entirely different like adopting a child. That could mean a deeply researched story with interviews and ambient sound to set the mood.
Turn on sports radio and you will usually hear an interview. Taking someone and giving them thirty minutes to talk about the home team’s coaching search instead of just ten minutes isn’t really anything new or different.
My wife and I have been building a little home gym in our basement. This weekend, I started putting together some equipment – a bench, a dumbbell rack, and a heavy bag stand. It took me about three hours on Saturday. During that time, I listened (or at least planned to listen) to three podcasts that really hammered this thought home for me.
First, after pushing it to the back of the cue over and over again, I finally started Grant Wahl’s American Prodigy: Freddy Adu. My soccer fandom is mostly just getting very patriotic every four years for the men’s and women’s World Cups and then forgetting the sport exists until the next World Cup outside of my son occasionally embarrassing me at FIFA on the Switch.
The podcast really gripped me though. It wasn’t so much a story about soccer that I was listening to. It was the human interest piece. How did this can’t miss prospect miss? How, at 31, do you live a normal life when most people hear your name and think about the hype around you when you were just 16? Those answers combined with interviews with people that played with Freddy or worked with some of his sponsors that could speak to how much hope was pinned on a teenager and how much business was done around him made American Prodigy hard to turn off.
I also listened to two episodes of The Right Time with Bomani Jones. Bo and I have been friends for a long time and I will always support anything he does. It helps that he is one of the most talented and interesting talkers in our business for sure, but honestly it is one of the three sports podcasts I listen to every week.
Bomani’s Tuesday podcast is him and his producer Gabe talking about the news of the day, telling personal stories, and taking listener phone calls about the designated topic. It is always fun. Thursdays, Bo brings in a guest. If it is an old friend like comedian Roy Wood Jr. or Slate’s Joel Anderson, they will do a lot of the same kind of storytelling. If it is a sports or rap legend though, Bo will usually do a good, in-depth interview.
Again, I want to reiterate that I love Bo, both as a talent and as a friend, but the fact is I get bored with the Thursday podcast real fast. Compared to the other two shows I had listened to while tightening screws with an Allen wrench, the podcast interview just did nothing for me.
Whenever a talent asks me for advice about a radio show I always start by reminding them that listeners are coming to the show because they value the talent. You don’t turn on Adam Schein everyday because you hope he’ll have a great guest. If you turn on Adam Schein everyday, it is because you like what it is that Adam Schein does. It doesn’t mean you don’t value the guest list. It means that you aren’t even thinking about the guest list if you don’t have any investment in the person leading the show.
Look, Bill Simmons, Ryen Russillo, Peter King, and Dan Le Batard are all really good at what they do. They have built loyal followings by being good interviewers, and that is fine. Their success is no less valid because of the style of show their podcast is.
I will point out though that all four of those hosts are on digital-specific platforms. They are not trying to think about how to create a podcast that is something unique compared to their other audio products. For radio stations, that is something that is always worth asking.
When your listeners think about sports talk or interviews, their minds usually go straight to radio. It’s how they are used to consuming you everyday. For most listeners, radio is where they have been going to get that content for most of their lives. If you want them to make the extra effort of going online, finding a podcast, subscribing to that podcast, and then listening to it each week, you have to give them something worth their time that exists only on that podcast.
We are talking about an extremely crowded market. Even the biggest names in digital audio are trying to find content every week. With so many of those shows relying on guests, how many of those episodes do you think are the exact same thing? Even if we narrow the field down to just the professionally produced and engineered shows, I bet the answer is still probably a lot.
Interview podcasts can be entertaining, but for that to be true, the interviewer him/herself has to be entertaining. Entertaining people can do so much more than just ask questions. Frankly, I wonder if just asking questions is a waste of their talents.
Here’s the truth about interview podcasts. They are easy to turn off. They don’t have a built in reason for listeners to keep coming back. In fact, it is so much easier for listeners to give up on interview podcasts because there is no through line, no guarantee of quality from episode to episode.
On radio, our success is built on developing a relationship with our listeners. Their loyalty comes from the confidence that you will provide the kind of content they are interested in. Building on that confidence in a way that listeners trust they can rely on you to entertain them with content that they aren’t used to coming to you for is a sign of true loyalty. Focus on the kind of digital content that does that instead of the digital content that is everywhere because it is the easiest to produce.