Why we listen to podcasts and what makes them different from radio and other forms of communication.

Podcasting is now mainstream and has just moved into a new phase. Let’s call it the 2nd Wave.

While most media content producers no longer need convincing that they should be doing podcasts, they’re also starting to realize that this medium is unique and that they don’t know how to make them.

Unique how?

– We’re the blue jeans medium: the most informal and intimate delivery system for compelling emotions and thought. Storytelling can take its natural course.

– Unlike video, ideas are delivered pure and without the distraction of a host’s unfortunate dress sense, wrinkles or bad teeth. There’s just that voice in your ear.

– Unlike radio and TV, which is often on in the background, podcast audiences aren’t usually distracted and don’t “tune in”. They’ve sought out your show, and are listening carefully at a time of their choosing. Parts of each episode may be replayed. Intimacy squared.

– Podcasts offer listeners more control. Episodes may be replayed. Many people listen on earbuds, encouraging a deeper connection than listening to the radio a speaker. The best podcasts are not passive and they often require listeners to bring something of themselves to the experience— their imagination and curiosity.

– Podcast hosts don’t have to “re-set” and remind the audience what they’re talking about. Listeners don’t tune in half-way through. They start each episode at the beginning, allowing for a more linear narrative.

– Unlike radio shows that have to conform to the clock (typically 25 or 50 minutes plus pledge breaks and newscasts), podcasts have no scheduling or timing restraints, and can vary in length. Episodes can be produced daily, weekly, monthly or in seasons.

– Podcasts can be made and distributed without the approval of an executive editor, radio program director, or some other gatekeeper. Many shows are produced at-home, without the need for expensive studio equipment. Creators have more freedom.

– While some podcasts are made with big budgets and are highly structured, with multiple layers of ambient sound or music, there is no single formula for success. This lack of established rules allows for a greater range of voices and subjects.

– Unlike broad-casts that must appeal to a broad audience, podcasts can target a much smaller slice of the population. With social media, hosts and producers have a direct dialog with listeners and can truly find what their audience wants to hear.

– Unlike radio, podcasting is rarely live. That may be a disadvantage, but many episodes are evergreen and have a long shelf life.

The requirements of doing a distinctive podcast require a different set of skills than its closest cousin. After decades in radio, I had to un-learn a great deal when we began podcasting during the 1st Wave in 2015.

“Serial” had just taken the world by storm, and the for the first time, many people had become dimly aware of online audio and were asking “what is a podcast?”

Over the next four years, as audience numbers zoomed steadily upward, almost everyone jumped into production— from individuals and celebrities to media giants, consumer brands and non-profit foundations. The result is a great big, glorious mess.

The 2nd Wave has arrived and to be successful at podcasting, producers must know why it is indeed like no other medium.

– Richard Davies is a podcast host, consultant and producer. DaviesContent designs podcast formats, edits and helps clients make excellent audio content.

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