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 of the face of the Earth. A while ago in an interview, someone asked me what I thought about this subject. My answer to their question was that podcasting would not disappear and radio would have to adapt in order to compete with the new medium and its extraordinarily diverse content and time-shifting convenience for listeners.
From my vantage point, podcasting has grown, has gained acceptance, and continues marching toward the critical adoption of the majority as a medium that can be relied upon for accessibility, variety, and most importantly, on demand podcast consumption. Mind you, Radio is catching up by podcasting some of their programs for free and an assortment of TV shows can be purchased in the iTunes store for a dollar a piece.
Maybe one day, the new debate will be “Podcasting or Broadcasting?” Currently, we’re still working out as a people whether we would rather drink “Coke or Pepsi” and use a “Mac or PC”, but this debate will start simmering and perhaps already has in some workplaces and water holes. I know that many of the podcasts that I currently subscribe to only have an online presence, and that being said, I wouldn’t want to give them up, especially since they are so portable… Pop your MP3 player into your computer, update the playlist, and off you go, favorite programs that are enjoyable and available on demand.
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 podcast listeners increasing 23% in a year. Put another way, from 2016 to 2017, the number of podcast listeners jumped from 13 million to 16 million, and those numbers are only set to grow over the coming years.
So what makes a podcast resonate with its listeners and keep them tuning in week after week? It’s a combination of the format of the podcast, 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 top-rated podcasts available on iTunes and the vocal qualities and styles of the podcast hosts that make them so engaging and make them good interviewers.
Note: This list is not all encompassing, but it is a great start into the world of podcasting.
4 Different Types of Podcasts
1. Nonfiction Narrative Storytelling
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 over 2.2 million listeners weekly. Why is the podcast so popular?
The podcast host is Ira Glass, a writer, producer, reporter and editor (among many other traits). 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, Ira says, “Really, more than anybody he knew, Abdi had been obsessed with America since he was a little kid.”
Vocal Qualities of the Podcast Host
Although Ira has been a radio host for many years, his voice is not the typical, radio-announcer voice you may be expecting to hear. He has described his voice as a bit “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 Ira sounds like the man-next-door helps draw listeners in.
Other popular examples of nonfiction narrative podcasts:
A hybrid podcast tends to be one that has a set host, but often has other guests 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 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.
Vocal Qualities of the Podcast Host
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.
Other popular examples of hybrid podcasts:
3. Interviews/Panel Discussion
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 type 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.
The style of narration 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.
Vocal Qualities of the Podcast Hosts
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.
Other popular examples of panel discussion podcasts:
4. Repurposed Content
Repurposing content is another popular way to go about assembling your podcast. The content available in ‘repurposed style’ podcasts ranges from seminars, workshops, other interviews etc., and can really serve to enhance the listeners’ experience.
A popular example of a podcast type that uses repurposed content is The Moth.
Each week, the podcast features the best stories that have been told on stages from all over the United States. The Moth is able to assemble these stories because the stories and audio files are submitted by The Moth’s own listeners. Topics range from personal and social experiences, as well as other culturally relevant stories.
The narrator is also the audience – everyone who gets up on stage to tell their own unique story is a listener of The Moth. In this way, the podcast does a very real job at creating human connections between the listeners and the speakers on the podcast. This type of podcast is a unique way to engage and hook listeners.
Other popular examples of repurposed content podcasts:
Types of Podcasts – Which Style 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 information.