What can radio learn from podcasts?
The vast majority of podcasts have very few listeners. Just as most books have very few readers. The podcasts that do well must have something special. With the same platform and distribution as everyone else, they attract huge audiences.
The title matters. Who would not be curious about My Dad wrote a Porno.
I thought much the same thing when I picked up a book at Christmas for a friend called How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you. At the Waterstones checkout, I mused how many of the million copies in print are purely attributable to its jaunty title. I know from my dabblings as an author, that publishers agonise about titles. The words on the cover translate to pounds.
Do we label our radio content as well as we can? In radio-land, we’ve long laboured alliteration - which can help memorability marvellously - but is it enough? How many on-air elements and programmes have lazy titles? Would you have come up with Sh**ged Married Annoyed or No Such Thing as a Fish?
Personality profile matters. Scan down the top podcasts chart - and witness the proportion hosted by established names - or leaning on familiar brands. Why does Kermode and Mayo's Film Review work?
Yes, it's annoying when a big name gets a top radio show over someone who’s been fading up songs in their bedroom since they were 6. It all seems very wrong. I share your pain. But radio names become great when their audience gets to know them; and already being known a little helps. You have a head start – and that helps sampling - and recall. And without sampling, in a world of endless choice, it'll be increasingly tough to amass a large, lasting audience no matter how good you are. Much as we all liked our face on the side of a bus when we got the breakfast show, an unknown face isn’t the most compelling reason to tune in.
This is the world we are now in - as media proliferates when barriers to entry fall. Alongside perfecting performance, working hard at growing profile is pretty important.
Of course, as a celeb, if you don’t then go on to truly master the medium once on-air, then your career will rightly likely be short. Audiences will confirm that fame is no alibi for being shit.
Whilst new radio talent must be nurtured, it should be aired as carefully as a new song. Listeners like familiarity - and they like people who're good at their job. Getting good can take some years. Just like fame, no listener carries on listening if the only key virtue of the performer is how old they are.
Podcasting's relaxed authenticity often makes great radio too.
The beginning matters. How many podcasts disappoint in the opening minutes of lame and protracted introductions, boring banter and disc jockey jabberwocky? You know exactly why I’m listening – can you please fulfil the promise pretty swiftly. Radio is even less forgiving: you never know when the beginning really is for the listener, so great broadcasters ensure every link/song grabs - quickly. Then - on both radio and podcasts – once you’ve attracted a large, loyal audience, then life becomes a little easier – and listeners forgive you for more.
Listeners need to buy in quickly. A former colleague of mine, the talented Iain Chambers recently gave up his UK radio and TV stuff and decided to go around the World, ten years after all his mates had. Obviously, he’s making some content along the way – and I thought his promo vid (below) was pretty damn perfect. In just a minute, you ‘get’ him – and you get (and relate to) the plot. Seasoned broadcaster Simon Bates seemed to illustrate the point when he tweeted in response: "Never met this bloke, but he’s got the right idea and he’s acting on it. Good luck to him".
Timeliness helps. Love Island: The Morning After chimed with a latent audience appetite and was dropped at the right moment of the week. Brexitcast worked because its launch hit the nerve at exactly the right moment. Much radio boasts it is live but fails to take advantage of that timeliness.
Presenter endorsements and brand integration work. Will tomorrow's great radio still have 4 minute interruptive ad breaks?
Promotion takes skill. It's interesting hearing promo/trailers on radio promoting podcasts from the broadcaster’s stable. Gifted with unlimited media inventory, stations are uniquely positioned to sell their own podcasts. On hearing some of those ‘ads’, though, I question just how effective many are. Are they really giving me sufficient reason to go the effort of finding the pod and listening to it? The radio stations will have the numerical answer to that very question - and I suspect the data dismays in many cases. Unlike radio teasing, you really, really know whether you have made the content sound unmissable. As traditional media master the art of selling in their own podcasts, maybe their on-air content will now be trailed with heightened thought and precision.
Radio Secrets is a comprehensive guide to contemporary presentation and production techniques in all formats, from writing to delivery, across radio and podcasting.
Read this book and gain insights into:
Tight contemporary music presentation-
Generating engaging talk content-
Developing authenticity and likeability- Handling double-acts, callers and contests- Understanding the audience and keeping them listening
Whether you are a newcomer or a seasoned performer, Radio Secrets is essential reading.