Saturday, 30 September 2017

Podcasts. The Which, How & Why.

I'm a big fan of Podcasts, they make great in car listening and having always been a lover of speech radio they are a good way of getting a comedy fix without waiting for 6.30, or for catching up on my pet interests. My suggestions are further down the page but with over 250,000 podcasts to choose from how do you sift the wood from the trees? while this started as a guide to listening to Podcasts, if you are thinking of doing one yourself then some of the following may be useful to you.

What do you want?

If there's an area of human activity there will be a podcast about it. A search on iTunes, Stitcher or your preferred pod provider will bring up a list. Even if you don't use it to subscribe iTunes is the most user friendly and has the largest content count. For your own podcast ask yourself: Do I have anything new to say on my subject? Is there a gap that I could create a podcast to fill?


Quality Counts-subject matter

Frankly there are some pretty shoddy podcasts out there.Science Fiction, Sport and Business all have their great and their ghastly. The problem is often an inability to press the self edit button by the podcaster. Listen with a critical ear to your efforts. Edit ruthlessly, less really is more.

Quality Counts-listening experience

Audio quality is a huge problem with many "fan" produced podcasts. A decent microphone will cost about £50.00, Audacity is ideal software to use for an amateur. Hindenburg is good for a more professional job. Think about where you will record the Podcast, sounding like you are in the bath is not a good plan. Record somewhere that gives a flat response when you listen back. The software can add the tiny touch of echo needed to give the sound space. Voice is important. Experiment and find the best tone of voice and speed of presentation for you. Practice really does make perfect, if you cringe at the sound of your voice why should the listeners be any different.
Personally I have a voice made for silent movies so a Selling Service podcast is not a priority. Having said that Jeremy Hardy has made a career out of a nasal grating voice so there may be hope. A friend of mine is blessed with the ideal radio voice. She has been a podcast guest several times and comes across well. She can also speak off the cuff with little rehearsal, a rare skill, and should certainly do a podcast. Oh and music behind the speech? NO!


Script it

Many podcasts suffer from lack of preparation. Even that bastion of free
form radio "I'm Sorry I A Haven't a Clue" is actually tightly formatted and has many of the jokes and lines pre-prepared. Trying to record something that sounds like a chat down the pub will sound exactly like that. If there are more than one of you recording a podcast then script it so that everyone gets a turn. If you think of something good to say that isn't in the script, don't adlib, stop, add it to the script and record again. Talking over each other seems to be a particular problem on books and sports podcasts where the sound of 3 "experts" all talking at once means any good content is lost in a mush of background noise.



The best podcasts, particularly those on history culture, books or similar need lots of time to get right. Robin Pierson of the History of Byzantium says the research has largely taken over his life. If you can't commit, don't start. My daughter has listened to a Harry Potter podcast that is so full of errors that even a casual reader and viewer can spot the holes. If you want to give opinion and supposition make it clear, there is a place for it and it can make for an entertaining podcast, giving fans something to respond to. Just don't present your guesswork as facts.
 Research presentation, listen to good radio and podcasts and analyse why it is good. Radio 4 is top of the list, followed by some of the NPR podcasts. Many of the podcasts I suggest below reach very high standards and are worth examining if you plan to podcast yourself, or as a listener just because they are so good to listen to, if you are interested in the subject or not. Then there is...

Bad radio:

Radio 5 Live can be very good at "event" radio. It's coverage of the Grenfell Tower Fire was excellent. However when it just has 24 hours of live radio to fill and nothing much to report it can be dreadful. Dotun Adebayo is appalling, gabbling his way through the script too fast to understand him. He clearly loves the sound of his own voice and opinions at the expense of anyone unlucky enough to be sharing the airwaves with him. Steven Nolan's evening show is a prime example of "zoo radio" lots of opinionated guests all talking over each other with the host unable to control them and allowing content free radio to ramble on until it peters out into silence (dead air in radio parlance). Dreadful and mostly unlistenable. Hear the good the bad and the ugly and make up your own mind about what to listen to, or as a guide to creatig your own Podcast.

My current choices.

History: The History of Byzantium Robin Pierson has a good style and presents a subject that is complex to say the least in a fashion accessible to the average listener. The History of Egypt Podcast by Dominic Perry, a proper expert in his subject which can at times make this a little detailed for easy consumption, but that's why I and may others love it. Our Fake History. Sebastian Major's style is a bit histrionic and the music gets in the way, but on the right subject he can be fascinating, just be prepared to pick and choose. The History of Rome is the standard by which other history podcasts are measured.

Comedy: The BBC Friday Night Comedy Podcast is a mix of shows, and usually good listening. By and large the BBC don't use their huge comedy archive as they could. Answer Me This by a group of seasoned podcasters is only as good as the questions asked in a given show, but demonstrates how good the results can be from recording in your front room.

Business: I have listened to more business advice podcasts than I can count, but have struggled to find anything that doesn't feel like the product of someone else's reading. I have the same problem with business coaches. Different is Dickie Armour - Monday Motivation. Full disclosure, I know Dickie and am a fan of the way he thinks and speaks. This is off the cuff stream of consciousness podcasting, and it is hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for life and business. From the early episodes I have listened to the technical side needs a little work, but as a pick me up on the way to a meeting you can't beat it. Try it if you are in business or not just for the joy of hearing someone on top of his subject speak.

Music: The Word Podcast - A Word In Your Ear, what was left after the magazine collapsed. David Hepworth and Mark Ellen bring on a series of guests to talk about their books on music. Insightful and always good value. Costs me far too much in new books.
A podcast I wish was better is A History of Jazz. In what is being touted as the music's centenary (at least that of the first recorded "Jazz"), a podcast that matched the detailed research and professional presentation of the history podcasts mentioned above was needed. Arik Devens' show isn't it. After 5 shows we are still only just into 1919. This could have been covered in two shows. the over use of music clips, making up nearly 50% of most shows suggests he is struggling to keep up with the research, as does the long summer hiatus. Presentation is ok and improving with each show. The problem is that its existence will likely put off a more professional show being started. If you want to sample it listen to his most recent on James Reece Europe. I suspect this show will fade away fairly quickly.

Guilty Pleasure: I like Star Trek, there I said it, the Trek.FM network has podcasts on every aspect of the shows and films. I listen to Literary Treks which focuses on the books set in the Star Trek universe. The presenters are resolutely amateur but are well drilled enough to give good audio. Dan Gunther particularly is a good interviewer of the authors. The weakness of his co host is highlighted by the regular inclusion of guest presenters to hold up the conversation. Compare this with some of the other Star Trek or Science Fiction podcasts out there to see what I mean about quality counts.

There are others I listen to, The Infinite Monkey Cage and The New Yorker Radio Hour, among them. But search for yourself in your areas of interest and let me know any good ones you come across.

If you would like help getting a Podcast on the air talk to me

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