We need a new term. We need a new word- but also we don’t. The one we have works fine- we just need to update what it means a bit.
Radio is called radio based on the delivery mechanism- radio waves. It’s not the most efficient terminology to describe the art and science of radio output generation- which is what we generally come to mean when we refer to utilising “radio skills”. When we say someone is good on the radio, we are not referring to their ability to generate electromagnetic radio waveforms we are referring to their ability to create listenable content after all. It seems a fairly academic point until you evolve the medium over a few decades and you have more traditional radio broadcasting and along side that, podcasting. Where does radio end and something else begin?
I’m a bit torn if I’m honest. I think, rather like having protected status for Hierbas Ibicencas on the island of Ibiza (throwback on former blog post), meaning it can’t be called that unless its actually made there, I kind of want the term RADIO to be kept clean for use when talking about, well, actual radio.
At the same time I also think that we need to evolve it and include the use and evolution of radio skills- after all the very best podcasts utilise all the skills that good radio broadcasting does… its radio without the traditional broadcast spectrum usage. If we don’t update, then could radio die away or lose its relevance?
It’s possible to have two thoughts at the same time and, like I said, I’m torn.
The best podcasts I’ve heard utilise the same skills that the very best radio practitioners use when doing what they do. The production values in the best podcasts and the actual audio production, are the same as producing a bit of radio output. The opposite is also true- the worst bits of podcasts are the same as the worst bits of radio output and the bad habits are the same- the turn off points are the same. If it isn’t radio, then it sure smells like it. Don’t set up what you are talking about, introduce it effectively and simply and you have lost me. If you assume knowledge and that I’ve heard something earlier or even from a different podcast – you have lost me. Go on too long on one particular bit without making it easy to consume and you have lost me. It’s all radio production.
Frequently reset what you are talking about and who you are talking to, and you can engage me. Break up items with use of audio, music at the right point to create thinking time, punctuation and flow markers- all the kinds of things that happen inside radio studios and are just as important in podcasts.
If you make me focus on the delivery, then I can’t focus on the content as well as I might. If I’m distracted by something about the delivery of what you are saying- a bit of distortion perhaps or bad mic technique or noises off mic, then I’m going to lose focus on what you are actually saying. Just like on the radio.
There are other similarities – I can consume podcasts whilst doing something else, I’m using audio and the listeners emotions and senses rather than pictures or video. So much of the passion or the trigger points from radio are also true in podcasting.
The volume of competition is huge though- I mean there are a lot of radio stations around the world but there are A LOT of podcasts!
One final point.
I’ve noted something about my own podcast listening. I used to subscribe to a fair few and I’ve noticed that the frequency of listening for some has dropped and I’ve unsubscribed from some too. I’ll not mention the specific ones by name, but the reasons why I’ve just not “felt it”, when it came to the option to listen are interesting and relate to the above.
One podcast I really liked had two people on it. One of them I really liked and was quite amusing and controversial which I found fun. Interestingly, the other person sort of got in the way a bit too much, added a level of clutter that wasn’t needed and the overall length was a tad on the long side but not enough to drive me away. Then they increased the frequency of the podcasts and that tipped me over the edge- it all became too much to keep up and I unsubscribed when the barriers to listening became too high.
Another podcast I subscribe to, (and still do) increased the number of episodes to 7 days a week and I’ve found I delete the weekend ones and continue on the same delivery frequency as before.
I’ve done the same thing with radio before now. We have a “thing” which works and seems successful so lets have MORE of it and people will love it more- or thats what we think. What normally happens is that people get fed up of it quicker, or they liked it because of all the reasons it existed before and giving them excessive amounts is like serving someone several plates of their favourite food because its their favourite and expecting them to eat it all every time. Gluttony of audio. Killed the golden goose.
Regular Podcasts to which I still subscribe worthy of note:
- The Daily – The New York Times. The production values, the story telling and the length all work.
- Sway– Kara Swisher- The New York Times. I was “swayed” by an ad within the Daily for this. I used to listen to Pivot and Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. This production is cleaner I think, stays on point and so far I’m enjoying.
- Ear Hustle – Radiotopia. Life in California’s San Quentin prison in the US. Great production and story telling from Nigel Poor (who sounds like Sarah Koenig from Serial to my ear) and Earlonne Woods.