AI: podcasting

The Atheists Talk Radio Show has finished its radio contract, and will be rebooted as a podcast. Yes, many of us had been listening to it that way, anyhow, but now it will be produced specifically for the podcast format. We had a meeting about the future of the show the other night, and I am now the producer of the show. We’ll be hard at work getting some shows together over the remainder of the summer, and we hope to start releasing new shows starting in September.

What, in your opinion, makes a good podcast? What types of features would you like to see in a new podcast?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. I’ll listen to a podcast that has topics of interest to me, but if the sound quality is poor I won’t stay a listener for very long. Stay current, choose a broad enough theme for the podcast that you can grow as you complete more episodes while staying within your theme. Have fun. It is always obvious when podcasters are, and are not enjoying themselves.

  2. Resist the urge to go longer than an hour. Nobody has the time to make it through an entire episode of The Skeptic Zone. To this day, I have no idea what is at the end of their podcasts.

    Make sure you have good transition music, a moderator in charge of leading the discussion, a wiseass who will derail the discussion, and regular segments that will keep me coming back. SGU does a good job of that.

    Don’t start with a rough draft. Launch the podcast with all the energy and momentum you can manage. It doesn’t have to be flashy, but it does have to be consistently interesting, useful, funny, and organized.

  3. For the most part I have to agree with @MathMike and @Ticktock.

    This could just be me with my abundance of time that no one else seems to have but why limit yourself to a set time limit, now that you’re not slave to a radio schedule, as Ticktock suggests? This is something I’ve wondered about so many podcasts I listen to.

    I say take as much or as little time as any topic, or set of topics, you chose for an episode needs to take. People who are interested in what you have to say, like me (who know how to pause out iPod knock-offs ^_^), will listen to it even if you run for 5 hours one week and 16 minutes the next.

    But mostly just have fun, that will carry across.

  4. I guess I disagree with Ticktock on one of his points. I’ve never had a problem with making it through long podcasts. I rarely listen to them all in one sitting, but I can always pause it and pick it up later (on my MP3 player in the car or on my laptop). I don’t know how other people do it though, so maybe I’m in the minority.

    I do agree that an hour is probably the best length for a podcast. However, don’t stick rigidly to that. One of the worst things about radio is when they cut a really interesting conversation short to fit into their timeslot.

    I’ve been listening to the Atheist Talk radio show for about a year now (I think), and one of the most interesting episodes was the one with the woman from the Communist party. I thought it was very interesting to hear a point of view that you almost never hear these days, even if (especially if) I don’t agree with it. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, try not to just preach to the choir. I think most atheists are receptive to hearing different viewpoints from time to time.

    I think having more than one host for the show also works pretty well. I know the old AT had a sort of rotating roster of hosts and interviewers, but it’d be nice if there was one or two permanent hosts, to make the show more conversational and less “reporty”.

  5. Time: I suspect that many people prefer podcast lengths based on their commutes, so they can listen to a podcast uninterrupted. My commute is about 20min, so I tend to prefer short podcasts. SGU, for instance, tends to sit on my iPod until I have time to listen to it.

    Format: I much prefer podcasts which feature groups conversing and bantering with each other. Interview shows (like SciAm’s Science Talk) tend to bore me.

  6. Jokes. There’s not nearly enough jokes in podcasts.

    Make the audience part of the show. Nothing piques people’s interest more than the possibility of interacting meaningfully with the hosts. Take call-ins or ask for written questions and call the folks back who ask the best ones. Or maybe just let people leave questions on an answering machine or send in mp3s. Whatever. I think this can to more than anything else to attract a loyal fan-base and get people to provide a lot of free input for you.

    Break the show into chunks with specific formats (news, interviews, puzzles, etc) and keep more or less to it. SGU, Skeptic Zone, and Cosmic Tea Party all do a good job with this. Little Atoms and Skepticality don’t.

    Have three or four hosts. Two people usually do not have enough ideas to keep a show lively. Plus it spreads out the work more.

    Have an outline – the more detailed the better. Shows without vague outlines suffer from an abundance of ums, ers, and false starts.

    Edit. I’ve heard it said this takes more time than anything else, but the effort always shows.

    Music/intros/bumpers are nice, but keep it short. I love Quirks and Quarks, but I reflexively hit fast forward to skip over the 90 seconds at the beginning that I’ve heard a zillion times.

    Prepare for interviews. I’ve heard boring interviews with interesting people because the hosts had obviously done no preparation at all.

    Beer brings the funny. I’m just sayin’.

  7. Not too long. Regular segments. Much funny. But two things more than anything:
    1) make the audience want to hear from YOU. Personal identification is what its all about. Which sadly means some talent and charm is required.
    2) POST-PRODUCITON! Edit out the crap, level the volumes, fade in/out music, and all that other professional sounding stuff.

    And as DaveW pointed out, long bumpers/intros are really annoying. Ask George Hrab, he cut his down.

  8. Assuming you’re referring to the same Atheist Talk show from Minnesota Atheists…

    I think the existing episodes of AT have been some of the best hard information podcasts I’ve heard. I’m not sure you should be thinking in term of being more panel oriented, more funny etc – SGU does that already. AT has a really good documentary format niche going examining and explaining the basic ideas of various religions.

    I keep QuackCast handy as a reference source for altmed, AT has been my reference on religion. While I like SGU immensely, and keep the episodes, it’s not a reference source (5×5 excepted) precisely because it’s a panel chat show.

    The only criticisms I’ve felt are that sound quality in the past wasn’t great, and the habit of posting more than one episode to the feed at a time – I’ve got iTunes set to get the latest episode of any subscribed podcast and it skips the first of two when they’re posted simultaneously. If you wait an hour or so between posts, it’ll grab both.

  9. I agree with pretty much what has been said so far.

    And I’m a little jealous you got the producer job. But that’s me.

    Anyway, a suggestion would be to occasionally have special extra long episodes with people specially requested to come back after a previous interview. I say this as I remember listening to podcasts with interviews I absolutely was engrossed in, but ended up being cut short due to time constraints. I would say do no more than a half dozen of these per year and have them separate from the usual schedule so they can be promoted.

  10. I too, enjoy long podcasts. Other things I like in podcasts are regular segments, but also one or two novel segments per show. I like them to update on a very regular schedule, so that I can anticipate them showing up. I like humor, and I really hate long intro and outro music, anything longer than ten seconds is unnecessary in my opinion

  11. Along with many of the points that others have already mentioned in the comments, I’d like to add that I enjoy hearing things other than talk on podcasts just to mix things up a bit. If you’ve ever listened to Minnesota Public Radio’s program/podcast In The Loop you’ll know what I mean. I know it was called Atheists Talk radio, but perhaps a dash of Atheists Sing, or Atheists’ Haikus would add some flair. Also, I like a podcast that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

    Congrats on the producer gig, can’t wait to hear it. :)

  12. The most important thing for me is good chemistry between the hosts. I think the reason I love the SGU so much is because everyone on it seems like they’re not so much journalists as a bunch of friends, which gives the feeling of being part of a conversation.

  13. As for suggestions, I want some good info on atheism and secular issues, but I’ve about had enough of Pharyngula and I’m looking for a more balanced alternative. Also, could you post the link on Skepchick when it’s ready? I liked the episodes I listened to on the Minnesota station, but they were always hard to find because I don’t live there and I never listened to the original live broadcasts. I trust that a podcast will be more accessible to out-of-staters.

  14. It’s all about chemistry, for me. Aside from the brilliant Point of Inquiry, all of the podcasts that I enjoy have a group dynamic. I think that, even beyond my interest in the subject matter, it is the interactions between the individuals that guarantees I return, week after week.

  15. The ones I like best have a player built into the website so I don’t have to hassle with itunes or some other intermediary site. I think a group podcast is more enjoyable than a single individual trying to fill the aire. But this only works if the group is comfertable with each other. I enjoy listening to the banter of a group. Finally I think it only works if the host/hosts are enthusiastic about their topic. Be it whisky, wine, beer, comic books, science, or skepticism.

  16. I find the 1 hour guideline a good one. I listen to a number of podcasts that go over it but as a rule keep it easy for people to listen to.

    Put some production into the show but don’t over do it. I’ve been turned off a number of shows because it sounds like a top 40 radio station with constant BG music and crazy intros and extros. That said, alot of shows could learn from a simple radio production 101 course. Make it easy to listen to, add marker sounds at the beginning and end of interviews or short segment bumpers to help people follow the show.

    Podcasts are in a odd situation, they are very similar to radio production and yet also quite different. You can benefit from what radio has discovered but don’t fall into traps that are unnecessary.

  17. I love podcasting because it hasn’t fallen into easily predictable formats. It reminds me of the early days of radio and the beginnings of Television. It was new back then and they were trying to figure out just what the mediums could do. I see that same type of originality in podcasting today. In twenty years there won’t be much originality left but now, right now we are experiencing the start of a new media and I think it is uber fucking cool.

  18. I agree with what MathMike and others have said: good sound quality, keep it short (30-60 minutes). I’ll also add: pitch the segment music! One thing I love about Skeptoid is the complete lack of fanfare: no intro music, few sound effects, just Brian speaking clearly and concisely.
    One more thing: regular intervals between podcasts! I hate it when a podcast starts off weekly and disappears. I make an exception for Quackcast because of Mark Crislip’s super awesomeness.

  19. Avoid politics whenever possible. Those listening to an atheism-related talk show are likely to agree with you on the god question, but could very well be turned off by political ramblings.

  20. Consistancy of sound. On many podcasts, I’ve been listening to something, and then there’s a change in volume. I usually play games on my ipod, so I have to stop that, and adjust the volume. Then, it goes back to the original volume, and I have to adjust again.

    I also like a predictable time frame. I can handle it being off every once in a while, since things happen, but jumping around isn’t fun.

    If there isn’t going to be certain segments, then do a roundtable discussion.

    Leave no cow unpoked. Respect that some people may be uncomfortable with certain subject, so treat them respectfully, but, just because something is a hotbutton issue doesn’t mean it can’t be talked about.

    I, personally, am ok with political talk, as long as its done logically. I know if a skepchick weekly podcast is in the works, it wouldn’t be a problem, I just wanted to put that out there.

    Differing viewpoints is good also. I don’t wouldn’t want it to be too clicquish. I’m not saying equal time for every viewpoint, but, if there is a rational reason for disagreeing with a certain view, by all means, speak your mind. If there is someone who can rationally discuss creationsim, feel free to bring them on. Alas, I fear that one person may have been killed by bigfoot, who was eaten by nessie, who was abducted by aliens who were leprechauns in disguise.

  21. Have as a guest someone that is say, not an atheist. Have her perhaps talk about why she enjoys her atheist friends and defends them, and why she thinks atheists and believers (or some believers) can get along.

    Wouldn’t know where you could perhaps find someone like that (I mean I only have written a few times about my own beliefs and my childrens atheism and having friends that are mostly atheists, yet still clinging tooth and nail to my own beliefs while scorned by fundies).

    In other words, let the enemy into the camp every now and again and maybe find out they aren’t as bad as people imagine.

    After all I’m the one that started the saying “Atheists are good for nothing”

    Really! And to me that is a wonderful thing!

  22. Sound: Have good quality & even volume levels. Especially pay attention to when you have multiple sound sources (callers, audio clips, etc).

    Content: Be PREPARED. Have something to say. I’ve listened to a couple episodes of the ThinkAtheist podcast, and they come off really unprepared for the show – just rambling about vaguely relevant topics, or talking to somebody with an opposing view and getting stumped by arguments they should have been able to refute. I may not give that show another chance.

    Fighting with SGU for position as my #1 fave podcast is The Atheist Experience. They take phone calls from theists (and otherwise) and discuss belief. And they do it really well – they don’t belittle the callers but also don’t let them get away with irrational or unfounded assertions. The worst part about The Atheist Experience is they start each show with 5-6 minutes of announcements which are irrelevant to regular listeners who don’t live in Austin, TX.

  23. also: If you have a long show with multiple segments, there is a way to put chapter markers in the file (just like on a DVD) so that listeners can jump between sections. I see it used infrequently, but it would be often be nice (for instance to skip sections about local events or frequently repeated announcements, or to jump back to a section you want to hear again)

    You can even display different images and text for different chapters.

  24. @kittynh:

    Have as a guest someone that is say, not an atheist. Have her perhaps talk about why she enjoys her atheist friends and defends them, and why she thinks atheists and believers (or some believers) can get along.

    that is a fantastic idea, and it is one that we actually discussed at our meeting. i have someone in mind as well, and i think she’s game. stay tuned ;)

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