it comes to podcasts — often defined as on-demand audio content —
the only limitation is imagination. With relatively low barriers to
entry in terms of cost and often production, the podcast is an
incubator for creativity and a means of broadening the reach of your
audience, or finding one for something new.
Esposito, talking with comedian Andy Kindler.
subscribe to podcasts through iTunes and apps like Stitcher. Used by
major radio stations and one-man-bands operating out of their garage
alike, it’s something of an equalizer in terms of a platform to
engage with listeners.
substance and format of podcasts can vary greatly, from one person
talking about serious news to a bevy of characters mulling over inane
things like the worst in recent film (for that topic check out “The
World caught up with some of the folks behind three different and
successful podcasts to talk about what it takes to thrive in this
space and the science behind their artistic choices.
three shows — “Welcome to Night Vale,” “Put Your Hands
Together” and “Radiolab” — could scarcely be more distinct
from one another, but they share some overarching similarities, the
most significant of which is that they are novel and niche.
to Night Vale,” which could be described as a kind of “Lake
Wobegon” meets “The Twilight Zone,” is a bi-monthly narrative
account of the strange happenings of a small desert town. Or, in the
words of writer Joseph Fink, it’s a place where all conspiracy
theories are true. It’s framed as a radio news show but actually
produced independently by Fink, co-creator Jeffrey Cranor and the
narrator Cecil Baldwin.
in June of 2012, “Night Vale” shot past public radio giant “This
American Life” over the summer to become, temporarily, the number
one podcast on iTunes. That list tends to fluctuate a lot, but “Night
Vale” has gone on to be a consistent fixture in the top 10. Neither
Cranor nor Fink claimed to have engineered such an overwhelmingly
positive response, but they do think being unique is an important
part of it.
essential to have “an idea behind it that’s specific and new,”
Fink says. “‘This is a podcast about X, and everything is about
that.’” Part of that is being a fan first, Fink says. “Listen
to a lot of podcasts; see what people are doing.”
Esposito, host of the comedy podcast “Put Your Hands Together,”
wanted to get more bang for her buck with the show she puts on at the
Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles every Tuesday. So she
repurposes it as a podcast. While there is a lot of competition in
the comedy podcast space, she believes hers was the first one to
distribute a live stand-up routine.
future of standup is more niche-oriented,” Esposito said, who
refers to her own particular brand as “alternative,” meaning that
it’s less of a “strict set up and punch lines” and more
“personal stories.” The podcast has increased her visibility
leading to fan support in places like Kansas City, Kan., Esposito
says, that might otherwise never heard of her.
recently landed her first appearance on a late-night talk show on
started back in 2003 as a segment with Jad Abumrad as a curator of
documentaries has morphed into the popular podcast “Radiolab.”
Today, the show combines dialogue with co-hosts Abumrad and Robert
Krulwich with sound as narrative to address deep philosophical
questions about science and the human experience. It’s produced by
WNYC(FM), syndicated on 450 NPR stations and downloaded by some 4
million people every month.
lot of production uses voice and reporting but doesn’t use sound
the way we were interested in,” Radiolab producer Ellen Horne said
of the concept. “We sort of felt nobody else was doing this.”
Instead of simply running a 10-second sound clip like others might
do, “Radiolab” uses sound in a theatrical way. A story that takes
place in a freezing environment might include the sound of ice
cracking, for example.
a fine line, though, between artful and gimmicky, Horne cautions.
They experimented for a while before developing the format they use
fact that all three shows bring something new to the genre isn’t
the only thing these podcasts have in common; they also all do, or
have done, live shows in front of an audience, and are consistent in
their distribution of the podcast to listeners. The latter, they say,
have to have something that your audience can predict,” Esposito
says, they need to know “when it’s coming out and what it’s
going to sound like.”
ME THE MONEY
may not be a get-rich-quick scheme, but they can be monetized.
has sponsors, and “Night Vale” makes some money off of show
merchandise. Both also take donations. When it comes to sponsorship,
“Night Vale” isn’t ruling that out, but is cautious about doing
anything that would interrupt their storytelling format. Esposito
describes “Put Your Hands Together” as a passion project, given
that it’s not making any money at the moment, but maintains that it
pays dividends anyways.
a diversified presence on the Internet is just as valuable as
actually generating revenue,” Esposito said.
needn’t cost much to get in the game. The microphone “Night Vale”
uses to record cost $60 and Liberated Syndication hosts their podcast
for only $20 a month.
far as the brains behind these three operations are concerned, the
future of podcasts is bright.
a great way to hone your skill without a ton of risk,” Esposito
said. Under the right circumstances, it can be “a sandbox of
creativity for your staff,” Horne said.
encourages people to consider the podcast as a worthy genre in and of
the moment, podcasting is sometimes seen as the step to something
rather than the end itself,” Fink said. “I think of it as an end
in itself; done right, it’s an art form.”
Krigman interviewed NPR Vice President & General Manager of
Digital Services Robert Kempf in Radio World’s recent eBook
“Streaming for Radio Broadcasters.” See radioworld.com/ebooks.