It’s great that anyone can create and publish a podcast without anyone’s approval, but that results in a predictable range of production quality. The shows with public radio roots are on one end of the spectrum, with highly produced segments and radio-quality audio, but I’ve also heard compelling shows that sound like someone held a pocket recorder up to a telephone.
In thinking about what makes a good podcast, I took a look at the shows I listen to most-regularly, broken into categories.
- The Dinner Party Download from American Public Media
- This American Life from Chicago Public Media
- Freakonomics Radio from Stephen J. Dubner
- Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me! from NPR
- Ask Me Another from NPR
- How to do Everything from NPR
- How Did This Get Made from Earwolf
- Scriptnotes Podcast from John August & Craig Mazin
- By the Way, in Conversation with Jeff Garlin from Earwolf
- Accidental Tech Podcast from Marco Arment, Casey Liss & John Siracusa
- Unprofessional from Mule Radio Syndicate
- The Big Web Show from Mule Radio Syndicate
- The New Disruptors from Glenn Fleishman
The only thing they all have in common seems to be sponsorship by Audible.
Most of the public radio shows are just more-convenient ways to listen to radio programs. And the ones that aren’t radio shows are still produced in radio facilities.
The tech podcasts all seem to follow a similar recording process, with discussions conducted on Skype, with participants each recording their own audio tracks, which are then combined in post-production. Accidental Tech Podcast also streams its recording sessions live.
The obvious thread is that they all have content I find compelling, but also there’s a fairly high production quality threshold. I’ve given up on several podcasts because of poor audio, or because the host is a mumbler.
One thing I'd love to see is a greater variety of formats in the tech podcast space. Almost all the shows I've sampled have been either interviews or a group of people discussing tech news. I'd really like something more like an NPR show, but focused on tech topics.
- Correction: I just discovered that Garlin's show will primarily be studio-based now, owing to his TV schedule.
- Update 11-4: John August posted more information about how they record and edit Scripnotes.