It’s well documented that I love radio- it has been my career since leaving school and something I’ve waxed lyrical about from time to time.
That doesn’t mean I’m blind to radio’s mistakes, problems and mis-steps. I was reminded of a particular moment the other week on a call I was on, when the issue of podcasts was being discussed.
Radio really missed the boat on podcasts initially. Sweeping generalisation I know, and of course there are some good examples of radio having done very good podcasts but by and large, radio missed the boat. The general offerings from radio stations when it came to podcasts was a “Best of Breakfast” compilation once a week- edited together by the producer on a Friday after the show and released almost as an after thought. I did the same thing for quite some time.
The podcast was the victim of radio’s “sixth show syndrome”. For those that don’t know- that refers to when a presenter would do a Monday to Friday show and then a 6th show at the weekend- usually once for which a lesser level of effort might have been applied!
Now I agree that in the early podcast days there was a fairly scant list of good examples and to be fair, a lot of those “Best of” type shows did pretty well. Radio largely failed to see that other stuff, the personal, the connection stuff and the story telling material which grew and started to dominate. I think music radio generally struggled to think of ways it would be able to grasp the medium of podcasts without being able to play music- having spent years trying to limit and cut back on talk, it had almost forgotten the ability to speak.
To be absolutely fair- radio has started to catch up and produce some excellent material, and is learning lessons from other non broadcast leaders in the game of podcasting. That’s not to say those others don’t have radio experience, often thats the very thing that makes them great at podcasting. They get the skills required, the production value and the art of putting together radio output in the form of a podcast. More on that thought here.
An example to make my point perhaps. I’ve praised it before, but it amazes me that a newspaper is able to produce a great news podcast and consistently well when some of the world’s broadcasters of news and speech have not assailed those heights of success. I’m referring to “The Daily” from the New York Times of course, again I know I have gone on about this podcast before now so sorry for the fanboy going on here. Let me explain my praise a little.
The Daily is sort of news, but also current affairs- nothing shockingly unexpected about that or original when it comes to concept. When Trump was voted into the White House in 2016 the NYT audio team produced a series of podcasts called “The New Washington” which I think was a bit of a precursor to The Daily. Within those podcasts there was a production technique which the Daily has employed ever since to great success and makes a difference.
The New Washington featured interviews with many of the new people in the new administration, but rather than just roll the interview which many radio broadcasters would have done, they interviewed the person who did the interview about that interview and played clips. Rather than just producing an interview with, say, Steve Bannon- they annotated that interview by playing the clips and getting the insight and underlying feeling, thought and emotion and explained elements of the discussion, with the interviewer who did the interview, an NYT reporter. The use of audio in this way made it more interesting and insightful than just rolling the tape. The Daily still uses this technique today.
They also understand time. Each episode is under 30 mins roughly- at a time when radio was producing hour long “Best Of” pods of repeated material.
What do we take from this? As I say, radio has started to catch up and produce some excellent podcasts and that will only get better since the skills are baked in. Invention, alternative thinking and trying something new and giving it a go will produce some interesting results.
I’m reminded of the story of a podcast- “Up & Vanished” which was inspired by “Serial” from This American Life (Serial now bought by the New York Times– funny that!). Just listen to the first episode when the host Payne Lyndsey talks about how he wanted to see if he could do a true crime podcast and just had a go… ending up in helping to solve a cold case murder, produce a US wide tour filling venues with Q&A sessions and now a TV show.
The next huge hit, might be just a “give it a go” waiting to happen- if only we stop thinking of it as a sixth show.