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Commercial Radio’s Podcasting Myth

When it comes to radio station podcasts, we’re generally talking about two flavors:

One is the Public Radio kind, usually weekly shows with beginnings, middles, and ends or clips of information updates or highlights.

The other is the commercial radio podcast – often three hours of this or four hours of that.

The myth of podcasting is that this long-form way is the way listeners want to consume our content simply because it’s the way they consume our content over the air – a context in which they have no choice in the matter, by the way.

Actually, they do have a choice – it’s to tune in and out, ever-hopeful for a “hit” or “highlight.” And tune in and out is exactly what they do.

But wait, doesn’t an on-demand environment give us the ideal opportunity to showcase the “hits” or “highlights” that our active listeners demand?

Let me ask this another way: What’s likely to be more popular, the brief clip of the 47-year-old woman startling the judges with her vocal talents on Britain’s Got Talent – or the entire episode of Britain’s Got Talent?

Public Radio shows are generally like episodes in a series (for longer form stuff) or immediate and disposable, but useful in the moment (for shorter form stuff).  Or – in rare cases – the entertainment value of the whole (i.e., Car Talk) can't easily be atomized into its parts.

Commercial radio shows, by contrast, almost uniformly lack beginnings, middles, or ends. Arguably, the first hour of your morning show is not much different from the last. And – by design – you do not usually need to hear the first hour to appreciate the ones which follow. Nor, I would argue, do you need to hear today’s show if you miss it. Indeed, today’s show is relatively similar to tomorrow’s show and yesterday’s show. Wait a few hours, and like the movie Groundhog Day it will all come back again.

If I miss Hannity today, no sweat. I’ll just catch him tomorrow. One listener call on Dr. Laura can be substituted for any other listener call. Thus the very consistency of the show reduces its value in an active on-demand environment. When something is the same all the time, it’s never special – or at least any one show in its entirety is never essential.

Further, even though you can count your podcast downloads you generally can’t count the degree to which a listener is hearing the whole podcast – or any of it, for that matter. My iPod doesn’t care whether or not I hear what is on it – it dutifully downloads podcast updates regardless.  No wonder most podcasts are heard online – not on portable devices.  At least a few minutes of them, anyways.

What this all suggests – at least in part – is that when we transform the radio show to the podcast we are thinking about the medium all wrong. In an on-demand world for much of commercial radio, the unit of currency is not the “show,” it’s the “hit,” the “highlight.”

Sure folks will still listen to the long-form audio, but what many of them would prefer is that we carve out the “hits” – those special moments worth actively seeking out and hearing. The “water cooler” gems. Not the mundane same-old same-old that characterizes much of what lay between the “hits”

Listen, more folks will read your email if there’s only one short message in it. And more folks will click your audio if it contains just the “hit” they’re looking for – and only the hit.

This, after all, is why people buy songs instead of albums.

Listening to radio over the air is as different from listening on-demand as an album is different from a song.

Share your content accordingly.

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