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20 Ideas for a Great Podcast

So I got a shiny new iPod for Christmas, and my previously held contempt for podcasts (who has the time?!) has melted away and been replaced by complete and total love. I'm actually quite amazed at how much I like them. Video podcasts when done well are probably my favorite, but audio ones are excellent too and are the topic of this post. Someday I may venture into podcast land myself, probably over on WorkHappy.net. So, while I'm still a relative podcast newbie and thinking about this, I want to jot down some notes about what I think works. Feel free (both of my readers) to add to the mix.

Stuff every podcaster should keep in mind:

  1. Podcasts should be short. 30min is actually too long. Unless it's just jam packed with goodness, life is too short and it requires too much attention. Keep it short. I'm thinking 15 min. I may fudge on that one, but honestly, unless you're interviewing Osama Bin Laden or Steve Jobs, 30min max.
  2. Don't take yourself seriously. Bless his heart, I love his blog, but our Duct Tape Marketing friend has this cheesy third party lead in to his podcasts where he calls himself (with a straight face) "America's most practical small business marketing expert." Love you John, but honestly, do I need to be prompted to think that?
  3. Be whimsical. Maybe this is the same as #2, but I've noticed something about the best podcasts... they're having fun, and it shows. 
  4. Be Chunky. Make segments short, diverse and put an audio bumper between your segments. It can be music, a sound effect, some whimsical voice trick, whatever. This keeps it interesting. A single droning line of ramble can really make the eyes glaze over. You need variety, we're an MTV generation, like it or not. We like it fast, varied, pithy and fun.
  5. Don't Ramble, Be organized. This should seem obvious, but some podcasters just flip on the mic and ramble for 45 min. Horror! If you are interviewing, prepare the questions ahead of time. Send them to your guest so they can be coherent. Don't stick to it slavishly, but let it keep you from ad-hoc preparation on my time during the podcast. If you aren't interviewing, take the time to prepare exactly what you'll be talking about. Write down an agenda with talking point notes. Move quickly and coherently through them.
  6. Cram, cram, cram as much good stuff as you can into the time. Our minds move quicker than your mouth, so do you best to pack your podcast full of goodness and move quickly.
  7. Be regular, but only if you've got quality. I'd rather listen to an excellent quarterly podcast, than a mediocre one every week. Again: this isn't so much the case with something like a blog post where I can skim and move on, but with a podcast, you have my trust and full attention, use it wisely.
  8. Get decent audio! Seriously, the tin-can-and-string / Houston-to-Apollo-11 sound really kills things. A little effort and investment in a decent mic not only makes you sound better, but it's not as hard on the listener. When I listen very long to a poor audio quality podcast it gives me a headache, hurts my ears and wears me out. Make a pop screen, that helps too.
  9. Get a buddy. If you can, get someone with whom you can riff, someone who brings another layer of experience and expertise. It helps you be chunky. Two have an easier time that one keeping things moving, plus it's just usually more interesting.
  10. Make that buddy a member of the opposite sex. Not required of course, but there's something about the dynamic between a man and a woman. The best podcasts I listen to have a man and a woman.
  11. Have show notes on your blog. If you mention something, make a list of links to explore your topics in more depth.
  12. If you're doing interviews, don't be Charlie Rose. In other words, shut your stupid face and let your guest talk. That doesn't mean sit there and let them ramble. Provide regular engaging questions and keep things moving, but don't spend time trying to be smart yourself, be a master facilitator in helping your guest share great stuff.
  13. Don't interview Jason Fried. And I don't mean Jason specifically of course. I'm saying come up with someone fresh to interview. Jason has been interviewed by at least 5 podcasts I've listened to in the last couple months. I love Jason and I love listening to him riff as much as the next guy, but at some point we need to be more creative. There are many topics, interview subjects and approaches that have been done to death. I want something fresh.
  14. Try to be natural. I guess this is kind of a recurring theme, but don't try too hard to be stodgy and official. Don't be lazy and inane, but don't be stuffy either.
  15. Don't be scared to throw a show away. It happens. You get a crappy guest, you do a crappy job, your audio blows, whatever. My advice is to use podcasts to put your best foot forward. Because podcasts demand so much attention, they really need to be high caliber. If you write a mediocre blog post (for example: this one) your readers can skim, skip and move on. With a podcast, they're trusting you with very precious attention for that period of time. Treat it with the utmost respect. If in doubt, toss it.
  16. Do some editing. Take a note from NPR or other audio documentary style programs. You don't necessarily need to give us every single utterance made during a period of time. Just like you might prune a copy from a rambling blog post to tighten it up, tighten up your podcast. A little production work goes a long way toward making an excellent podcast.
  17. Use music. Music really softens a podcast up. I don't want an MP3 of your favorite songs, don't waste my time. But as an intro, a little  background and as transition material, music can really polish things up.
  18. Verbally identify your podcast at the start of your podcast. Date, issue number, topic/guest, etc.  We need this meta data to give it context. Someone may listen out of sequence or even years or decades later. Take a couple seconds to lay it out at the start.
  19. Put an iTunes (at least) and Odeo chicklet with appropriate linkage on your blog to make super easy for me to subscribe.

Well, I've just set the bar impossibly high for when/if I ever do this myself. Ok, let me say this: doing a good podcast is hard. It takes equipment, production, planning, and good editing. These things take time, effort and money. So let me add one final one to the mix.

  • If you have something important/valuable to say, get something out there. It may not be perfect, but if you've got great content, some omissions from the above list are tolerable.

There, I'm covered.




Don't miss this great Podcast: American Copywriter [ http://www.wehatesheep.com/americancopywriter/ ] hosted by John January and Tug McTighe, advertising copywriters who are sometimes a little *too* excited about advertising and pop culture.

They have a blog too: [ http://americancopywriter.typepad.com/ ]


Interesting, thanks Kyle, I'll check it out.

Chris Bauman

Carson, just wanted to see if you could give me a quick review on my podcasts. Only been doing them for a few weeks, but I try to have fun.


Hi Chris, you get points for it being short (listened to the top one) but I was a little lost. Maybe if I listened to them all.

Martin McKeay

You've got a lot of good points, but there are several I disagree with. First of all, podcasts should be whatever length is appropriate to get their point across, whether that's five minutes or an hour. Two of my favorite podcasts, Geek News Central and the Gillmor Gang, are always over half an hour. I try to keep mine just at 30 minutes, a little more including the intro and outro music. Second, the audio quality isn't nearly as important as the content. The Gillmor Gang is a great example here too; they often have a crappy connection and the audio's only so so, but the discussion is worth listening to.

Getting a buddy to do your podcast with is a great idea, if you can find one. My podcast is for a fairly narrow audience, computer security, and finding a co-host is rather hard, especially if I hold out for a female cohost. I agree that a cohost is good to have, but not always possible. And a lot of podcasts are like mine, aimed at a very small, niche audience.

I'd say you have 14 or 15 very good points, and a few that are specific to your personal tastes. The one point you make that I think many podcasters don't do enough of is identifying their podcasts. Speaking of which, you can listen to the Network Security Podcast at: Blog-> http://www.mckeay.net.
Podcast only -> http://mckeay.libsyn.net


Actually Martin, they're all specific to my personal tastes. ;)

Martin McKeay

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. ;-)


Excellent! I'm just starting doing podcasts for my company's employees.
They're 15 minutes long, best practices single topic, Q and A format.

I strongly dislike business podcasts where the 'caster takes 10 minutes to get to his/her point. If you ramble, I ain't coming back!


Great list! I wrote a similar article a couple months ago, but I think you've got it even more pinned down than I did.



I have a great preferance for podcasts that use the iTunes chapter system...makes things much easier for stopping at the end of a car trip and being able to easily continue sometime else


You can summarize a lot those by saying make the content worth listening to. Depending on the context, a lot of your specifics may not apply, but the content still must be worth it. I was pretty excited today when I discovered that Chuck Missler's "66/40" program is available as a podcast. Now I don't need to miss it just because I can't tune to the radio exactly from noon to 12:30. It's a great 30 minutes of content. However I can imagine that most of the podcasts out there aren't worth sampling. That's ok as long as I can find the good ones : ).


Hope you don't mind me testing whether your points work in my post 10 ideas for a Great Blog (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2006/02/15/20-ideas-for-a-great-blog/). It's a great list and I think can be adapted pretty well! Nice work.


Hallelujah! I have been producing/hosting an independent music podcast (10 weekly episodes strong) and I couldn't agree more on many of your suggestions. Even the ones I have not yet implemented are already on my production calendar for review, at least. I have a background in audio production and am a stickler for sound quality, but implenting time-coded show notes in various places was one of the best moves I made. Top-of-show episode ID, edits, and a policy of improving one small thing in each episode have been great for me. Feel free to check out the work at www.skypiecesradio.com. Suggestions more than welcome!


Great list, but I think you may have left out the most important idea.

Know Your Target Audience.

If you know your target audience, then you design your podcast to suit them. Brenda Dayne's excellent Cast-On podcast (http://www.cast-on.com) is meant for knitters. Her target is people who are going to sit and knit for a bit while listening, and her podcasts run 45 minutes or more. And at that length, they're perfect.

If her target audience were people likely to be listening while they ride the subway to work, that would be too long.

So first and foremost, know who you are creating the podcast for, and create it with their needs in mind. Once you have that, all the other ideas must be modified to suit that purpose.


VOLUME! A lot of devices that people are just starting to use for podcasts (things like cell phones that are being fitted to play mp3s) consistently fail to offer full volume. If you can do it without degrading quality (first thigs first) boost the synthetic volume for these poor souls

Brian McTavish

Spot-on guidance. As a former BBC radio journalist, there's one word that sums it up: professionalism. Most amateur podcasts I've listened to are sadly terrible, droning on boringly with little conception that recording yourself and your friend talking into a microphone is NOT the same as producing compelling audio. I'm glad the technology now lets anyone broadcast, but most 'casters are still learning. We need some kind of collective rating or quality system for podcasts, to save us all having to wade through dross until we lose the will to live!


A good article, but the problem I have with it is that it does set the bar high--in fact, it sets the bar into "professional", which then negates one of the best parts of podcasting: it's real. With all due respect to the BBC correspondent, if you want great sound quality, editing, etc, listen to the radio. Podcasting is not radio, nor should it be, and as someone who was podcasting back in the "good old days" (pre-iTunes 4.9)I get annoyed when corporate entities--even NPR and KCRW, who I love--call themselves "podcasts" and then are compared with things like "the Mommycast". It's apples & oranges, and complaining that the orange isn't crisp enough is not productive.

Podcasts are a part of the democratization of media. It lets people who previously didn't have a voice, literally, much in the way that the web suddenly let everybody put pics of their cat online. Sure, there's a lot of crap out there. In fact, it's a custom among podcasters to NEVER listen to your first podcast again, you will be horrified.

But my podcast, which is usually 45 minutes to 1 hour, has been nationally recognized, has a small but very regular and supportive audience, and it's because I followed that last precept: I had something to say. The rest, the quality, etc, has grown...but it certainly didn't start that way. I think your last precept is the most important one. Everything else will follow.

Tom Raftery

Great article Carson - thanks.

You raised a couple of points I have been wrestling with. I am on episode 22 of PodLeaders - Thought Leaders podcast - right now. The show is an interview format podcast with thought leaders from IT being interviewed on current and coming events.

The show runs from 30 minutes up to 50 minutes sometimes depending on the guest and their content.

I was thinking of trying to keep it around the 30 minutes and I was also thinking of looking for a good co-host but neither is easy and the 30 minutes rule can't be applied when I interview people like Vint Cerf, Robert Scoble or Michael Arrington and they are just giving great content!

Still - must work harder, must work harder, must...



This was a great common sense list - and definitely reminds us that we need to keep things tight. We often go over the 30 minute limit, but I agree with an earlier post that some of my favorite podcasts (Graydancer's, TWiT, etc) are longer. Many of our listeners have an hour or so commute to work which they thank us for filling that time and making it go by quickly.
However, most podcasts barely hold my attention for more than 10 minutes. I think we all know right away if it's something that we'll invest our time in, or we shut it off or let it play while we do other things.
One thing I really want to say thank you for stating: "it's okay to throw a show away". I've struggled with this one when it involved having guests take time out of their day to come over and record a show and often share intimate details of their lives. I feel a bit obligated to put it up even though I know it's not great. We recently bit the bullet and let a half decent show stay tucked away in our files, and I'm glad we did instead of boring our listeners. We take the blame because we just didn't keep them on track.
...which again brings us back to work on point #5...gotta work on that one.


I work on another business podcast besides the above-mentioned skypiecesradio.com. In that one I do interviews... a lot. Culling stuff was tough the first couple of times. But I listen to the news and NPR with a whole new set of ears now. You can really see how the writing leads the piece and the audio clips are support material. I find it best to not do "question and answer" interviews, but to simply prompt someone, "Tell me about...". they start to roll and you keep the mic open. In the end, I certainly have an editing job to do, but I can chop up their narrative all I want and then write an article-style piece that is supported by the sound clips. Much easier than a Q&A. Much.

Regarding "sounding professional", I'm sure there are those who like the lo-fi sound and I do like the enthussiasm of a regular Joe. I also think many people appreciate a break from the over-compressed, punch-your-lights-out, 10-clips-per-second delivery of the big guys. But, not having some sort of standards of quality and progressive improvement just sounds like some kid in a room with a little mic. It's then just an audio blog, in the old sense of the word. And, that means it's a novelty. Right now, we're sucking the reality TV teat dry and I for one will be grateful when that fad is past. Do I want the flashy, crowded Fox News/CNN model? No. Is it too much to ask for a reasonable middle where something is done well? (answer: www.skypieceseradio.com ... shameless, I know)

Todd from Jersey

Well, based on your post - I think you might like my show...The Jersey Toddshow. I meet most of your requirements....

Best wishes

Zach Swee

I think you're dead wrong on your first rule there. My five favorite podcasts are all over 30 minutes long. I look forward to these podcasts and can never get enough. I would be so sad if they all switched to 30 minutes or less. When you've got a good thing, you can go over 30.


Several of my favorite podcasts are over 30 minutes, and... they should be more compact! If you have a great interview that goes longer, why not edit into two or more episodes?

Of course finding the balance between richness of content and relaxed natural delivery/dialog is important. But those that ramble take a gamble. My time is too valuable for me to listen to see if you eventually will make a point.

I agree it's a good idea to audibly identify each episode at the beginning, but I hate it when there's a long list of URL's, email addresses, links, etc. -- I keep wondering when the podcast is going to get underway!

As for TWIT, Leo Laporte has great energy and presentation, but it's Dvorak who keeps trying to get him back to "the news" and not dawdle over topics.

Jules Sans Scrupules

Well, I haven't read more than the first 'tip', because I would have to disagree with that advice strongly. 15 minutes is ridiculously short. Most of my listeners state that they would love it if mine took 2 hours instead of 1! Also, when I look at my own listening habits, I have no problem whatsoever to listen to shows that are an hour long, and if I do have something important to do, I pause and continue later. Big freaking deal! No harm done, and definitely NOT something I would ever unsubscribe for.
So, I'm afraid you're only stating your taste here, and frankly, don't care much about it. If you don't have the patience to listen to things that take longer than 20 minutes to explain and elaborate on, you're not worth my time anyway.
Also: Ever hear of the pause button? Have you never found the stop-button on your player? Too lazy to press it? Have you never been able to listen in stages? That's really stupid of you, then.
I'm really fed up with stressy knowitall time-management advices. Give us a break. When I was a teenager I never had a problem doing nothing other than just walking around in town for hours and hours. Now you're trying to tell us we shouldn't even take one hour away for an INTERESTING observation or entertainment choice? Get a clue! Being boring is healthy, slow netcasts rule, teach, explain and make history. Add in as much rest-periods and silences as you possibly can, it gives the listener time to comprehend and process the things you're talking about in your show.

Carson McComas

Jules - deeeeeep breath buddy. "you're only stating your taste here" - Yes Jules, that's what I do here on *my* blog.

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