When you want to understand radio’s future and podcasts, ask the one who knows that future well.
While it’s true non-commercial radio is offering some of the biggest podcasts today, podcasting itself is rapidly changing. A whole range of podcasts are drawing audiences as never before. What opportunities are there for a community radio outlet or independent podcaster to draw listeners?
Few are better to explore podcasting, radio and their evolution than Brittany Jezouit, who’s one of the podcasting scene’s most respected voices. In 2015, Jezouit started a newsletter called The Podcast Broadcast as a side project to write about all of her favorite podcasts. This year, that newsletter converged into a collaboration with Dana Gerber-Margie, newsletter-writer of The Audio Signal, and Ian Enright, co-founder of Washington, DC podcast network Goat Rodeo, to create The Bello Collective, a newsletter and publication about the audio industry. “Our goal is to bring together independent voices in the audio industry, and to share our passion for great audio storytelling,” Jezouit says.
The 25-year-old currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she the editor at a company called Envato.
You review so many podcasts, some affiliated with non-commercial radio and some not, some with lots of resources behind them and others not as much. To you, what qualities stand out most among the best podcasts?
That’s a good question – it’s one we get a lot in the Bello editorial inbox, especially from people who are working on launching new podcasts themselves! It’s also one that I struggle to answer. When I started my newsletter, I didn’t have any experience with radio or podcasts – I just liked listening to them, and I liked writing about the ones that I found the most memorable. That’s still the way we run our writing process at Bello: we write about things we like. So, there’s not really any specific formula. Most of the time, podcasts with a clear idea and a purpose, as well as a defined story arc, stand out the most – but then I also listen to ones that don’t have those qualities – the more round-table-style ones – that are equally good.
There’s a perception that people aren’t interested in a small community’s conversation, or a podcast with a hyperlocal focus. How accurate is that viewpoint? And how can those with a local investment keep others engaged?
I think that’s a perception that’s changing, and that people are interested in hyperlocal stories – especially if they’re stories of communities that they care about. I still start every morning by listening to the WAMU hourly newscast – even though it’s been years since I’ve lived near D.C.! When it’s a community that you’re a part of, it’s easy to understand your role in the story. So, for those with a local investment who are trying to keep others engaged, I think the key is to explain to their listeners how they fit into the story that they’re telling.
Social media for most podcasts seems fairly rote: it’s an avenue to promote the new episode or bit of programming extra coming out. What are some of the most creative uses of social for podcasts that you’ve observed?
So true! Audio stories are so tricky to share on social media. I think it’s because of the nature of audio: it takes time to listen to, and social media is more of a scroll-through experience. Even efforts like This American Life’s ‘audiograms’ haven’t really made a big impact to make audio stories more shareable. I’ve seen a lot of interesting things – a recent favorite trend is for shows to make short ‘trailers’ or videos to go along with the episode. For example, the CBC had a beautiful video, ‘The complexity of love, in 13 untranslatable words’, for their Love Me podcast.
Beyond the usuals — Soundcloud, Facebook and so on — what do you think is the next great platform with the most potential to help podcasting grow in terms of audience?
I’m biased, since I help write a newsletter about podcasts, but I do think that newsletters and writing around audio storytelling has done a lot to bring podcasts to new audiences. That’s our goal at Bello – to talk about podcasts like people talk about any other medium (books, music, etc.). There are so many incredibly talented people writing about podcasts and thinking about audio stories, and I think that helps bring it to a new audience.
I also think we’re at a pivotal point for technology in podcasts – it’s such a weird and outdated system (especially the word ‘podcasts’). The app-makers are finally doing really interesting things to curate audio stories and make them more accessible. Some companies seem to be taking the more data-driven, algorithmic approach, like NPR One, while others seem more focused on hand-curated content, like PocketCasts, and I think there are benefits to both approaches. I’m excited to see what new innovations will come out of the leading podcast apps in the next few months. I’d love to see a more personal, shareable approach to playlists – to be able to listen to a podcast feed based on someone else’s recommendations, the same way you might follow a friend’s Spotify playlist.
What kinds of podcasts do you see the most growth in?
There’s a lot of fiction ones right now – it’s sort of a old-time-radio throwback, and some of them are so incredibly well-produced, which is really cool. I’m also loving all of the short-run series and more time-sensitive shows; it seems like podcasts are becoming a more responsive and reactive medium, rather than static, standing episodes. I think it’s indicative of a shift in podcasts as a legitimate form of journalism and as a way of exploring today’s topics in-depth.
What sort of advice would you give an organization, particularly a radio station or media group, wanting to start a podcast?
Make something that you actually want to listen to! It seems so obvious, but I think it’s a point that a lot of people forget – if you wouldn’t want to spend your time listening to it, why would anyone else?