Six Ways Podcasts Are Different Than Radio

Thanks to Fred Jacobs for asking me to write this piece for his blog.  This post originally ran in  JacoBlog.  

One more note: Last week was the Jacobs Media/Radio Ink DASH Conference. It was informative and more significantly eye-opening.  There is a great deal of thought and dollars chasing the "center stack," once the exclusive domain of AM/FM.  More on that upcoming.  


In our first “Guest List” column, Amplifi Media’s Steve Goldstein takes on an issue that’s on the minds of a lot of radio people. Making sense out of the podcasting challenge and opportunity is a big topic – something that Steve also discussed at our DASH Conference yesterday. Enjoy. – FJ

Digital content is radio’s present and future. Much like television where more and more people are consuming video via YouTube, Netflix and DVRs, many are listening to audio at a time of their choosing.

TV has seen a decline in viewing as people self-curate, using their smartphones and other digital devices. Radio is experiencing a similar arc of change. Largely driven by Millennials, podcasting has grown to 32 million listeners every week. For some context, that’s more than NPR’s 30 million weekly over-the-air listeners.

The trend to on-demand is immutable. People want to select what they want to listen to, where they want to listen, and when. More than ever, they are agnostic to the device – radio, smartphone, desktop – it’s all fair game. It’s all audio.

But podcasts, while a natural extension for radio broadcasters, are inherently different than radio in some important ways. Here are six of them:

1. Radio is lean back. Podcasts are lean-forward.

Radio is great at curation – putting together a sportscast, sequencing music, generating newscasts with correspondents from all over the world. Push the button and radio does it all. Podcasts, on the other hand, are “opt-in.” Consumers must find and then choose to download a podcast. The intent is very different.

2. On radio, the show is always “on.” Podcasts start at the beginning.

With radio, by definition, the content just flows in real time, and is always “on.” People tune in and tune out all of the time. They either like what they are hearing or move on, often within mere seconds. In podcasting, everyone has the common experience of starting at the beginning. Which, of course, is no guarantee that the content will keep them engaged.

3. On radio, the clock is always ticking. Podcasts are free from time constraints.

With radio, the clock is often critically important, whether it means hitting a commercial break, backtiming out to news, or moving on to another program. With podcasts, you can throw out the conventional thinking. There is no magical length. Roman Mars (pictured right) who hosts the successful “99% Invisible” podcast says that he goes until he is done. Some great podcasts run 21 minutes, others run 58. Without time constraints, for example, an interview can occur at a more leisurely pace.

4. Radio must appeal to wide audience. Podcasts can focus on niches.

Radio is largely driven by ratings. Niche and narrow formats and shows tend not to sustain. Podcasts can focus on more specific, granular subjects, whether it’s health, food, World Cup Soccer, fantasy sports, or fly fishing. They tend to attract a more engaged audience.

5. Radio is a button push away. Podcasting requires opt-in.

Radio listening is ubiquitous and easy: punch the button and the experience starts. Podcasting has more friction. People must find, select and in most cases, download a program. The hurdle is higher. But so is the listener engagement.

6. Radio content is perishable. Podcasting content is always available.

For the most part, radio is live. You either catch the content in progress or it is on its way to the dwarf planet Pluto, never to be heard again. Podcast audio is available on demand. Always at the ready.

Audio content creators need to be aware that traditional radio and podcasting are more than just different distribution technologies. While they share much common DNA, they are in many ways two different media — each with their own unique idiosyncrasies. No two media are alike.

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Steven Goldstein2 Comments