10 Steps to Successful Podcasting on the Cheap

A cheat sheet on how to create a podcast -- presented as a Letterman-esque Top 10 list.

by / June 2016

All those earbud-wearing commuters, exercisers and cubicle dwellers are listening in increasing numbers to podcasts. Pew Research reports a quarter million podcasts netted 1 billion downloads in 2015, making them legitimate rivals to terrestrial radio. The intriguing possibility is that they could be listening to you — if only you had a podcast.

One of the surprises of producing the GovTech Social podcast for the last year is the question we hear from public officials and PIOs: How do you do one? There are books and blogs and, yes, podcasts about podcasting. But the folks who contacted us wanted a cheat sheet. Here it is, presented as a Letterman-esque Top 10 list.

#10 Be About Something, Not Everything
People may or may not be interested in how the city is doing in general, but they will be much likelier to listen and subscribe to podcasts that are focused on things they care about. Podcasting is not necessarily narrowcasting but it is focused-casting.

#9 Listen Before You Speak
Your podcast may not be the next Serial or RadioLab, but you can learn much from both of their styles as well as those of others, including ELGL’s GovLove and civic-minded or specific subject-matter podcasts. Decide what you like, what you don’t like, and then brainstorm around how you can do more of one and less of the other.

#8 Starting Cheap = No Harm, No Foul
Launch and learn sounds a lot like crash and burn. But that can be OK as long as you fail early and inexpensively. There are plenty of no- or low-cost tools for recording and editing audio. (Audacity is free, Rogue Amoeba is cheap and easy, and Hindenburg is way too good to cost as little as it does.)

#7 Get on Your Listener’s Player
By itself, posting an audio file on a server is not podcasting. There needs to be an automated way for subscribers to get it on their phones or media player. Stitcher and iTunes are great and there are free ways to syndicate them, but they only work with properly configured RSS feeds. A service called clyp.it lets you record and share audio all from one place for free. Libsyn is the gold standard — robust, flexible and affordable.

#6 Sound Quality Matters
Having guests on the phone is fine; having all the hosts on the phone makes it sound like a party line. Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom all sound different than phone lines — each has its benefits and limitations. Experiment until you find a combination that sounds right to you. Avoid cellphones if possible. Get a decent microphone for the host — $99 can get you a lot — and a telephone intercept for recording phone calls.

#5 Your Cover Image Is Your First Impression
It can be simple, but you need a podcast cover image. The city seal if necessary, the agency logo if you must, but would you listen to something that looks like your water bill? Plus, iTunes and Stitcher both require cover art, with a minimum size of 1500x1500, be in place when you submit your podcast for inclusion on their indexes.

#4 Tap Your Hive Mind

On the content side, be on the lookout for people who do interesting things in interesting ways. They may be two cubicles down from you or on your newsfeed. The first rule of interviewing still stands: Ask people only about what they know. Better still, ask them only about what they love. On the distribution side, share news of a new episode with the word “listen” in the slug, a catchy headline, and extend your reach by lighting other people’s social graphs through use of @ mentions and hashtags. Give back by providing show notes with links so your hive can follow up on something interesting without having to look for a pencil to make a frantic note.

#3 Extend the Story
A podcast is not the audio version of a press release or newsletter. Avoid scripting interviews but know where the story is and allow guests to tell it. When you review headlines, bring a point of view that extends the story, provides analysis and explains how and why it matters.

#2 Podcasts Only Need to Be as Long as They Need to Be
You don’t have to stretch to hit a particular time mark. Few things are as annoying as a podcast that struggles and stretches just to get to a preordained time mark. It’s always quality over quantity. If a question or segment doesn’t work, cut it.

#1 Be Yourself or Somebody Else Will
You are not going to be Terry Gross, Luke Burbank, Megyn Kelly or Farnoosh Torabi. Be yourself. Get comfortable with your subject matter, your co-hosts (if you have them) and yourself. Be authentic (because they know when you’re faking it), be smart (but don’t try to prove it), be brave (by asking that uncomfortable question) and be funny when you can (but don’t force it). Oh yeah, you are going to hate the way your voice sounds. Everybody does.

Paul W. Taylor Chief Content Officer, e.Republic Inc.

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.