The 4 Different Types of Podcasts
When podcasting first came on the scene, there was a flurry of speculation concerning the future of radio and if podcasting would remain as a viable method of consuming audio content.
Critics were torn. Some said that podcasting would mean the death of radio, while others thought that podcasting would drop off the face of the earth. The truth is that podcasting has only grown, to the point where it is now on par with more traditional media formats.
Listening to different types of podcasts can be a way to engage in a form of storytelling that allows you to just sit back and listen. It can be a nice break from staring at a screen or the pages of a book, and can also be a way for the podcast host to take you to another place, if only for an hour or two.
Podcasts are on the rise with the number of US podcast listeners increasing 16% in a year. Put another way, the number of people listening to podcasts on a weekly basis has more than doubled since 2016.
So, what makes a podcast resonate with its listeners and keep them tuning in week after week?
In fact, it’s a combination of the podcast format and the vocal qualities of the podcast host. Taking a look at the attributes of some of the most popular podcasts and their hosts can help you discover how you can turn your podcast into a widely listened-to show.
Here are some of the different types of podcasts you can emulate, the most popular shows on podcast charts, and the vocal qualities and styles of the podcast hosts that make them good interviewers.
Note: This list isn’t all-encompassing, but can serve as a great entry point into the world of podcasting.
The 4 Different Types of Podcasts
Let’s explore the four most prominent podcast formats:
- Nonfiction narrative podcasts
- Interview and/or conversational podcasts
- Hybrid podcasts
- Scripted fiction podcasts
1. Nonfiction Narrative Podcasts
This is probably one of the most popular podcast formats, but it’s tricky to master. This space tends to be dominated by journalists who are great at getting in-depth and insightful information from their subjects. These podcasts retell the true stories of others through the use of audio clips from the interviewee, as well as layer on their own editorializing of the stories at hand.
Here is one of the most popular examples of a nonfiction narrative podcast:
Podcast host: Ira Glass
This American Life is an hour-long weekly radio-program turned into a podcast. The podcast covers mostly real and sometimes fictional stories that come together under a new theme each week. The show is heard by millions of listeners weekly. Why is the podcast so popular?
Ira Glass’s Narration Style
The host is of This American Life is Ira Glass, a writer, producer, reporter, and editor. His storytelling is one of an omniscient narrator: he appears to know things about the characters in the story that they may not have fully come to grips with yet. He allows the audio clips of the characters to speak for themselves, yet summarizes the actions of the characters in a way that helps bring the audiences deep inside the character’s motivations—and hooks them in the process.
Example: In a story of a man trying to immigrate to America from Somalia, Glass says, “Really, more than anybody he knew, Abdi had been obsessed with America since he was a little kid.”
Ira Glass’s Vocal Qualities
Although Glass has been a radio host for many years, his voice is not the typical, radio announcer voice you may be expecting to hear. Glass has described his voice as “nerdy” and “nasally,” all qualities that make him seem more approachable. In a way, you feel like you are hearing a story from someone you know and not someone who may seem a bit out of reach (like a booming radio voice would be). The fact that Glass sounds like the guy next door helps draw listeners in.
Popular Examples of Nonfiction Narrative Podcasts:
2. Interview and Conversational Podcasts
Another popular style of podcast hosting is having one host, with either a single guest interviewee or multiple guests throughout the course of the show.
This podcast format provides listeners with different viewpoints and is usually a popular format with political podcasts.
Political Gabfest is a popular podcast that uses the panel discussion format.
Political Gabfest’s Narration Style
The style of narration employed for Political Gabfest is more conversational. Although the podcast is broken down into different segments, the discussion is much more like a conversation you might have with your friends. The hook for the listener is that the format makes it feel as though you are listening in on a group of friends and their thoughts on various political matters.
Political Gabfest’s Hosts’ Vocal Qualities
There are three hosts of Political Gabfest. The first host is John Dickerson, who usually reads the starting intro and monologue. His vocal style is similar to a radio announcer, thanks to his commanding tone. In fact, his voice makes him the perfect moderator of the panel discussion, and throughout each show he’s able to bring the conversation back to the original idea, if it starts to drift. The other two hosts, David Plotz and Emily Bazelon, both have unique and quirky voices that make them easily relatable and easy to listen to.
Popular Examples of Panel Discussion Podcasts:
3. Hybrid Podcasts
A hybrid podcast tends to be one that has a set host, but often has other guest hosts or speakers who contribute to the show. It usually starts with a commentary or monologue from the host and then moves into a panel discussion, interview, or contribution from another source.
A prime example is the New Yorker’s podcast titled The Writer’s Voice.
Podcast host: Deborah Treisman
The Writer’s Voice allows popular writers as well as up-and-coming writers to read one of their pieces on the air.
The Writer’s Voice’s Narration Style
The narration style differs, depending on the story the author has chosen to read aloud, which is one of the engaging things about this podcast. You don’t know what genre, style or author is going to crop up on the show, which is a great way to keep listeners tuning in each week.
Deborah Treisman’s Vocal Qualities
Deborah Treisman’s voice can be described as calming and soothing. Since the goal of the podcast is to tell a story, her voice sets the scene for a relaxing listening experience. She speaks with an authoritative tone.
Popular Examples of Hybrid Podcasts:
4. Fiction Podcasts
Fiction podcasts are a form of audio drama that tells stories using a script, a cast of voice actors, and sound design to immerse the listener in the narrative.
Fiction podcasting is a relatively new format that was pioneered by popular shows such as Welcome to Night Vale and Homecoming. A number of fiction podcasts have been adapted into films and TV series.
Popular Examples of Fiction Podcasts:
What are the different genres of podcasts?
Much like books, TV, movies, and other forms of entertainment, there is a wide range of different podcast genres. Some of the different genres of podcasts include news, comedy, society and culture, business, true crime, sport, health/fitness, and fiction podcasts.
What are the most popular types of podcasts?
According to the 2022 Voices Podcast Advertising Report, the most popular types of podcast genres are:
What are the top 10 most popular podcasts?
According to analytics from Stitcher, the top 10 most-downloaded podcasts of all-time are:
|2.||This American Life|
|6.||Stuff You Should Know|
|9.||TED Talks Daily|
|10.||Pod Save America|
While these are among the most popular shows since the dawn of the medium, the podcasts that are most popular in a given moment are constantly in flux. To explore the top 100 podcasts in the United States right now, check out this regularly updated list that reports from Apple Podcasts rankings.
Which Podcast Format Is Right for You?
Now that you know a few of the types of podcasts that are available, you can start to make a more informed decision on what type of podcast style and format will suit the end goal of your podcast. Are you trying to inform? Delight? Entertain? Depending on your answer, the format will change and the type of voice you want to adopt will change as well.
The best way to decide is to listen to as many podcasts as you can and get a feel for the format, the host’s vocal qualities, and the style in which they are presenting the information.
To find the right voice for your podcast, sign up for a Voices account and hire a talented voice actor. If, on the other hand, you need an audio expert or musician to help shape the sound of your show, you’ll have no trouble also finding the right creative talent from among our community of podcast professionals.