When you set out to create a podcast for your organization, one of the first questions you’ll need to answer is, “What should the format of our show be?” Podcasts come in many different formats, from game shows to scripted audio dramas. When trying to decide which is right for your organization, it’s a good idea to listen to other podcasts for inspiration. Here are some common podcast formats to look into:
1. One-on-One Interview Podcasts
One of the most common podcast formats is the one-on-one interview. This is a straight-forward format that doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment. While one-on-one interviews can be done over the phone or through software like Skype, it is easier to get recordings with higher sound quality if they are conducted in person. You may ask guests to come to a specific location, such as a studio, for the interview, or you can use mobile recording equipment and go to them. For example, if there is an event like a festival or conference, a mobile recording rig makes it easy to capture enough interviews for multiple podcast episodes in a short period of time.
Examples: NPR’s Fresh Air, WTF, The Worldwide Radio Summit Podcast
2. Roundtable Discussion Podcasts
Roundtable discussions usually involve three or four people discussing one or more topics. For example, commercial radio stations often use a “morning zoo” show format with three regular co-hosts discussing pop culture topics. Sunday morning political talk shows like Meet the Press often feature a hosted panel discussion with four guests. Slate’s Political Gabfest features three regular co-hosts who discuss three topics from the week’s news followed by a segment called “Cocktail Chatter.” Like one-on-one interviews, roundtable discussions don’t require a lot of expensive equipment. They can also be easier to coordinate than one-on-one interviews because you don’t need to constantly line up new guests.
Examples: Vox’s The Weeds, My Favorite Murder, The D Brief
3. Monologues (Solo Podcasts)
Monologues are podcasts in which a single person talks at length about a topic. While this is an easy podcast format to do, it is a difficult format to do well. Few personalities are engaging enough to hold an audience’s attention on their own. Shorter episode lengths may help hosts keep their audience’s interest.
Examples: Grammar Girl, Hardcore History
4. Storytelling Journalism Podcast Format
Storytelling journalism is a podcast format most often associated with the public radio sound. Pioneers like Ira Glass, the creator of the public radio program This American Life, inspired a legion of like-minded podcasters. Storytelling journalism is by far the most complex of the formats listed here. It involves multiple interviews and narration cut together, along with sound effects, B-roll audio, and musical transitions. Storytelling journalism requires extensive pre-production — research, lining up multiple interviews, setting up audio equipment to capture atmospheric sounds, etc. — and extensive post-production. This takes a larger team with specialized skills and more expensive equipment. For most organizations just entering the podcast space, storytelling journalism is a format to aspire to, but not to the place to start.
Example: Serial, Invisibilia, StartUp
As your organization sets out to create its first podcast, listen to shows created by other people and pay attention to the formats that they use. See if you can identify the format that you think would work best for you.
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