As part of The Podcasting Workshop, each of us is on the journey towards becoming a podcaster. It’s important that you’re familiar with the medium. Here’s an overview of the different formats and styles, along with suggested episodes.
We’ll be looking at SIX different podcast formats and examples of each throughout these pre-course exercises.
The first format is host-on-mic; one voice (the host) and one microphone. These shows rarely (if ever) feature guests, and often incorporate musical elements and transitions.
It’s the most minimal style of podcast and typically doesn’t require a high level of production. But that doesn’t mean that host-on-mic shows can’t be excellent and compelling. Here are a few great ones, and some outstanding episodes of each.
- Akimbo with Seth Godin: Hitsville
- The Memory Palace: Dreamland
- You Must Remember This: Charles Manson’s Hollywood, Part 1 (the entire 12-part Manson series is incredible)
- Bonus: Nutrition Diva: this is a great example of a short, simple show with a straightforward concept that built a devoted fanbase. Each of you is capable of making something like this!
- Unthinkable – The Gap by Jay Acunzo more voices than normal in this episode but usually host on mic (Steve’s must-listen episode)
Take notes on what works and what doesn’t. Do you like the host’s tone? Does the format work? Did it keep you engaged? Think about how you can incorporate the best aspects of these shows into your own podcast.
Next up: interview-style podcasts. This is the format we’ll be focusing on during the workshop. It involves a host (you) interviewing a subject (your guests).
It’s a pretty straightforward formula; the focal point here is the rapport between the host and guest. These are some of the greatest examples of interview podcasts. Note the ways in which the host and guest interact. What stands out?
Your goal as an interviewer is to help the person you’re interviewing tell the story they wanted to tell all along. It’s helping somebody become comfortable with you, so they can speak the way they’ve always wanted to. That’s where you’ll find the most compelling audio.
- Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Interview with Maurice Sendak, children’s book author and illustrator. This interview was originally broadcast in 2003 and 2011, then reformatted for his obituary.
- The Moment with Brian Koppelman: Interview with Seth Godin
- WTF with Marc Maron: Interview with Barack Obama
- Smashing the Ceiling – pick an episode that interests you! Great example of a simple, straightforward interview show with a niche listenership.
Enjoy, take notes, think about what interview/host skills you can apply to your own podcast.
Next up: roundtable podcasts. These are shows that include multiple hosts and often feature guests. This format depends on the rapport between the hosts. The best roundtable podcasts sound like a conversation between smart, charming, funny friends. You, the listener, practically become part of the conversation.
It’s easy to imagine your favorite podcast hosts as your close friends. They’re right inside your head. Roundtable podcasts create intimacy and familiarity. They’re also really fun to make (provided you get along with your co-hosts).
Here are a few great ones:
- Another Round featuring Lin Manuel Miranda
- NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour: Antiques Roadshow and What’s Making Us Happy
- Food 4 Thot: Werking Gurl
Next up: we’re listening to narrative podcasts. Narrative podcasts are audio documentaries. They feature true stories with a plot and real characters, told through a variety of scenes and voices.
This American Life is the iconic example of a narrative podcast. Ira Glass and his team were among the first to do it, when the show started back in 1995. Other examples include Radiolab, Planet Money, Snap Judgment, Serial, S-Town, Invisibilia and many, many others (including all Gimlet Media shows).
This is definitely a more “advanced” format. As you listen to the three episodes below, you’ll understand why. Take notes on what makes narrative podcasts different than the other formats we’ve heard thus far.
For those interested in this format, I highly recommend Jessica Abel’s Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. It’s often used as a textbook in podcasting and radio classes.
- This American Life – Five Women
- S-Town – Chapter 1
- Mystery Show – Case #3 Belt Buckle (Seth and I both love this one!)
- The Splendid Table – No ketchup allowed: Louis’ Lunch insists you eat your burger their way (our very own Alexandra DiPalma as a reporter
This format has been having a moment. Fiction podcasts are like movies, just without the video. As The New York Times put it, scripted podcasts are a “new wave of ambitious audio fiction, one that moves beyond the early experiments that favored sci-fi and horror plots and cheap and simple storytelling devices and now boasts sophisticated sound design, top acting talent, tightly wound plots and form-bending structures.”
Practically speaking, they’re an incredible starting point for anyone interested in writing screenplays; audio is much less expensive to produce than video.
Here are some of the best scripted podcasts, featuring big-name talent like Oscar Isaac, Katherine Keener and Kristen Wiig. I’d recommend starting each of these at Episode 1.
- Fruit (written/produced by Issa Rae)
Bonus: genre-defying podcasts
These two podcasts from 2018 got a ton of buzz and cannot be categorized.
- Everything is Alive is an unscripted interview show in which all the subjects are inanimate objects. But aside from the fact that things can talk, it’s nonfiction: everything the objects tell us is true.
- A Woman’s Smile is a completely wild improv comedy show hosted by Patti Harrison and Lorelai Ramirez. It’s a big fave within the podcast community itself.
I’m including these so you know that there are no limits or boundaries to what you create! Feel free to experiment…
Happy listening!CREDIT: Photo by C D-X on Unsplash