Top 5 podcasts to learn from [op ed]
What makes a good podcast? How do you make yours stand out from the thousands of other options out there? Here, Simon Baggs reveals the top five podcasts you can learn from, and what makes them so special.
To be a true master of podcasting you’re going to have to become a real fan. Few people excel at anything without developing an appreciation for it. Understanding the X-factor of the most successful podcasters will inspire you to incorporate winning methods into your own productions. Analysing their content will provide some great guidance on structure and pace.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of the Top 5 Podcasts 2020 and explained exactly what makes them so appealing.
So who are the podcasters I’m inspired by? Each one of these podcasts inspires me in a different way. No student of podcasting should launch their career without giving these shows a listen.
Top 5 Podcasts 2020
1. Stuff of Legends with Christian O’Connell
Firstly, in my opinion, Christian O’Connell is the best performer on Australian radio right now. Just three years into his local radio career, he’s hosting the number one breakfast show on GOLD 104.3 and you only have to listen to a few of his shows to understand why.
Stuff of Legends is one of the best podcast ideas going around right now. It focuses on ‘stuff’ – material things and why they have deeper meanings. Christian opened his first show by explaining the meaning of his most prized possession: the wedding ring on his finger. It’s such a great introduction. It triggers a lot of emotions for the listener and perfectly illustrates the theme of the show. What a great way to get people hooked and wanting more.
If you want to hear one of the greatest turnarounds from disastrous start to triumphant finish, listen to the awkward episode with Ricky Gervais. Wow. It’s got to be one of the worst beginnings to any show – radio or podcast – that I’ve ever heard. It’s even worse than my first day on radio! Luckily Christian has a great relationship with Ricky, and not only was he able to save his podcast from disaster; incredibly, he made it one of the strongest shows he’s done.
At The Audio College, we like to focus on on-air chemistry between performers, and Christian gives a masterclass whenever he has guests on the show. The connection he has is electric. It certainly helps to have an infectious personality, but Christian demonstrates a lot more than charisma. There are strong methods being applied as well, including one that I teach to all my students: interviewing technique. When Christian interviews guests, he listens carefully and expertly guides the conversation while allowing the guest to shine.
I truly hope he keeps pumping out more episodes because I’m enjoying the journey and looking forward to seeing where Christian takes us.
This is a brilliant podcast that I’ve been following for a while now. Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald have absolutely nailed one the most likeable and addictive topics: pop culture. By aiming the podcast at intelligent listeners, they create a great angle. The smarter we get, the more unwilling we are to let go of our guilty pleasures and cultural trash. We love it, and the hosts expertly tap into that. Shameless is often described as a podcast “for smart people who love dumb stuff”.
Looking closely at the way Zara and Michelle present their show gives students of podcasting some excellent examples of strong technique. Firstly, the chemistry between the hosts is top class. That alone could engage and entertain listeners but Shameless has plenty more to offer. They create a rare type of intimacy with the listener by sharing stories about their lives. It feels like an entertaining friend is telling you a great story about what happened to them during the week. Most importantly, at the beginning of each episode, Michelle and Zara instantly get you hooked with juicy headlines.
There are other subtle techniques at play. Students should take note of the way Michelle and Zara call each other by name quite often. That wouldn’t be necessary in a normal conversation. They’ve purposely developed that technique to make sure listeners can follow the dialogue and understand who’s telling the story. It’s a small detail but one that improves the audience’s appreciation of the show.
Put simply, Shameless hooks me and then keeps me entertained with compelling content and an irresistible chemistry. That sounds like a winning formula to me. Brilliant! Love your work, Zara and Michelle. Get around the Shameless podcast.
3. The Kyle & Jackie O Show Podcast
Full disclosure: this is a radio show that is edited for the podcast format. Does it matter to the massive audience that listens to every episode? Not at all. The numbers are huge, and despite the fact we’re talking about the king and queen of commercial radio, the podcast wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t good.
Whether you love or hate The Kyle and Jackie O Show, you have to admit that they are brilliant at what they do. They attract the biggest audiences, the biggest stars, and the biggest clients. Add truckloads of chemistry to the mix and it’s easy to see why the show is so addictive.
So, what does the podcast version of the show teach us about podcasting? During every course at The Audio College, most of the modules apply to both radio and podcasts because they teach elements that are equally important to both mediums: editing, content, interview techniques, voice training, the list goes on, and it’s hard to name an important technique without admitting Kyle and Jackie O are experts at it.
Firstly, look at the way the hosts create headlines for each podcast. There are things that Kyle and Jackie can get away that I wouldn’t dream of saying, but in our own individual way, each podcaster needs to tempt and excite the audience. Look for angles that are going to attract the attention of the media. In the beginning it may be bloggers and social media influencers. As you become more popular, it may become news outlets and TV personalities. When you have the star power of Kyle and Jackie O – along with their knack for creating big headlines – every bold or controversial statement you make has the potential to be newsworthy.
I’m going to make a prediction that this show will eventually move from traditional FM radio in the next three to five years and sit exclusively on a podcast platform like Spotify. That’s exactly what Joe Rogan has done with his content thanks to a multi-million dollar deal. I’d put Kyle and Jackie O in the same category.
FM radio should hold onto Kyle and Jackie O for dear life. The duo is a powerhouse, but we’re seeing the start of a huge migration of talent from traditional radio to the rapidly growing podcast platforms.
4. The Joe Rogan Experience
This guy is a terrifying sweetheart. I cannot get enough of Joe Rogan and I’m not alone. During an interview last year, Joe said his podcasts were being downloaded 190 million times each month. That’s a staggering number. It’s enough to make any ambitious podcaster green with envy. You can understand why Spotify signed him for a US$100 million deal earlier this year. But any fan of Joe Rogan knows that one of the key elements that has propelled him to podcast stardom is his incredible work ethic.
Joe produces a huge amount of top-class podcast content, and as we all know, ‘content is king’. That’s the lesson I want my students to learn from Joe. I love the way content is now in the power of the content creator.
It never used to be this way. There was a tedious process of getting ideas in front of the right people – the people in control of the powerful decisions. Their taste decided who made it and who failed. Now we decide how successful we’ll be by how much effort and grit we’re willing to put into our work.
Joe’s a great example of someone who owns his content and his audience. Many people view him as an overnight sensation. Who is this guy who now has a US$100 million contract? In truth, it’s been a long time coming. Some of his early YouTube videos are hilarious because he was still trying to work out how to use the equipment. He didn’t care about presenting a ‘warts and all’ version of his content as long as the content was strong.
He’s a charismatic host who interviews some of the world’s biggest stars and gets them to discuss topics you’ve never heard celebrities talk about. The genuine connections he makes with his guests make him one of the best interviewers on the planet. Those factors will keep him in the chair for a long time to come.
My favourite episode is with Robert Downey Jr. I’m biased because he’s one of my favourite actors but I love the conversation – the way it flows and what gets revealed during the interview. Let’s be honest: most of you are already a fan of Joe or at least recognising his appeal. If not, I strongly recommend anyone who wants to start a successful podcast to proceed straight to Spotify and listen to an episode.
5. The Remembering Project
I have to admit, I was never a huge fan of The Hamish & Andy radio show. I did the classic cool-kid thing of opting out because everyone else opted in. I probably deprived myself of some great entertainment. Or at least that’s what I’ve begun to assume since I’ve become addicted to The Remembering Project.
As the title suggests, this is a sentimental stroll down memory lane, revisiting older projects. The boys pick a random date and they look at their radio runsheet from that day. You get the most intimate, and often humorous view into the minds of two successful radio hosts as they develop their ideas – many of them absolutely ridiculous. Add Hamish and Andy’s love of awkward situations and their tendency to humiliate each other, and each sentimental journey soon leads to fresh and engaging content.
This works on so many levels for students at The Audio College. The most obvious advantage is the podcast’s insight into the methods of idea generation and content development that go into a successful show. Secondly, The Remembering Project is a great example of how old ideas and themes can be recycled with new angles. Digging up excellent content ideas is a great technique, especially when the topics and talent have evolved.
I’m not saying you can do it like Hamish and Andy. You’ll need to find your own way. But look at the techniques they employ to make the idea work. When you’re creating your content, document as much as possible. You’ll kick yourself in a few years’ time when you realise there’s a great opportunity but you’ve failed to document it or archive important recordings and content.
If you haven’t heard The Remembering Project, get over to PodcastOne Australia and check it out.
There you have it – five essential podcasts to listen to if you’re embarking on a career in podcasting or trying to up your game. Listen to one episode of each podcast purely for its entertainment value. Then listen to it again to analyse why it works. You’ll get great ideas about content and techniques that you can incorporate into your production process, always giving it your own unique spin.
Simon Baggs os the founder of The Audio College