In 1979, English new wave band The Buggles released their international iconic hit ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. The song soon became a catchphrase that was synonymous with the power shift between the audio format to a more visual format brought by videos. In the music industry, we can all agree that this prophecy came true, but the radio, however, is not dead. On the contrary, what we had in the first decade of the 21st century was a total revival of this medium in the form of podcasting.
A podcast means an episodic series of audio files that is recorded for listening online or later after being downloaded. Usually, it comes in a completely audio format, but it can sometimes be enriched with PDF or EPUB content. To access podcasts, users usually access an online server as a web feed or RSS. The creation of podcasts as technology is usually attributed to Adam Curry and Dave Winer, but the term was first mentioned by Ben Hammersley in his The Guardian newspaper article entitled Audio revolution.
“With the benefit of hindsight, it all seems quite obvious. MP3 players, like Apple’s iPod, in many pockets, audio production software cheap or free, and weblogging an established part of the internet; all the ingredients are there for a new boom in amateur radio.”
Soon enough, established radio journalists like Christopher Lydon, who used to work on NPR, started creating using their craft and producing downloadable weblogs as well as interviews with internet stars and tech pioneers. Literally months after this, electoral campaigns were followed and interviews with politicians made public. In 2005, just one year after the word podcast was coined, Apple caught up on the trend and released iTunes 4.9 with native support for podcasts. Yahoo! made the first podcast search site and the Oxford American Dictionary declared podcast to be the new word of the year. Soon enough, Google joined the game by acquiring FeedBurner, which still operates today as an add-on service for your podcasting blog.
By 2009, 43% of Americans reported to have heard of podcasting and 25% consumed this downloadable medium. Today, with audiobooks, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple as the undisputed rulers in this market, 51% of Americans have listened to a podcast at least once in their lives, and Europe countries are close behind.
It is so easy to be a podcast consumer: there are thousands of podcast producing companies, and it is easy to search Amazon, Apple, Google or Spotify and CastBox by authors or topics, or you can also go to SoundCloud if you are into audio streaming.
When creating your podcast, all you need is a good enough microphone and your creativity. Most of the software you will ever need to do a good job in podcast editing is free. Popular choices include:
AudioCutter is great if you don’t have time and you want to do everything online in a browser. There are many useful options like extracting audio from a video, fade in and fade out to make your transitions smooth, etc. It is completely free, safe to use and it saves you memory space as well as time – great for beginner’s work.
The production process is actually very simple:
You want to create your audio file using audio recording software (edit if necessary) and then upload the file on one of the RSS feeds or podcast publishing platforms. The core of the podcast is not in the technology you use, but on the content you want to offer to your audience.
Even though, of course, content is key, you should put in as much extra effort as possible into the sound quality. Consider this: listening is a close and private thing, especially if you listen with attention. As an author you want attention, but that means the ear starts to notice errors. People want to listen to you, but poor quality makes it harder for them and is annoying. In short, YES, you can start a podcast with the technology you have, but put your best foot forward regarding the sound processing and do it as soon as you can.
A well-written script is the essence of a successful audio podcast. As in radio, attention is high so even the small annoying things like heavy breathing, chewing gum or vaping into the mic can cause the listener to switch off. This medium is condensed, packed with information and sophisticated and that is what makes it so engaging. Many podcasts give you the illusion that the author is just engaging in a free and effortless conversation, but do not be fooled – in order to have that in your podcast, you need to plan ahead and follow a well-planned script.
Don’t be afraid of silence or anything that makes you human in your listeners’ ears. Podcasting and radio are similar, but also very different. Podcasting to radio is what YouTube is to television. You should not aspire to be a radio host – just be a podcaster, be yourself. There are no abiding or strict rules that radio actually follows. In radio, you’re a part of a huge industry. In podcasting, you’re the industry.
Sample Podcast Script could look like this:
This is just one example. Be sure not to overdo the music part, as it can differ from the music taste of your audience. Do not obsess about the structure – different topics dictate different approaches and you always want to remain true to yourself and your audience. Even though there are not strict rules, there are some general ones you can adopt right away. The first segment is crucial, as it presents the topic for the entire podcast and grasps the attention of listeners. You can present a broader topic and later focus on the points of interest. Each subsequent segment should be no longer than two to four paragraphs in length so that it allows your narrative to move at a brisk pace. Take time to find your voice, bear effective pronunciation in mind, and try to sound friendly and inviting.
The best-ever advice from seasoned radio speakers is never to perform on an empty stomach, as it would “show” in the sound you make. One other thing you can play with is the different way you segment your sentence: emphasising every word will give your narrative a more formal tone, while focusing on the melody of the sentence with not as much segmentation sounds more colloquial and pleasing to the ear.
Be open to experimentation and try to enjoy the entire experience. Podcasting will teach you subtlety, conciseness, focus and help you develop as a narrator. Aside from having fun or catching up on your reading, podcasts are a great way to give instruction or even for use as a teaching method.