Podcast Movement Keynote #2: Roman Mars

Christopher Hutton
3 min readAug 1, 2015


The next keynote was about Roman Mars, the host of PRX/Radiotopia’s 99% Invisible, a podcast about the little design things that you’ll never notice.

Mars begins his keynote by performing a typical 99% Invisible intro about one of the topics that his show would normally focus on; the sounds of a DC metro escalator. This clearly riles up the audience and really sets the tone for how Mars is approaching the conversation.

Mars goes on to talk about the ideas behind 99% Invisible; specifically how learning about odd design elements within the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward Building was so fascinating for him. Mars says that this building pops into his head every time he tells the design stories on his podcast.

While Mars would love to focus on telling stories about stuff like the Montgomery Ward Building, Mars decides to focus his keynote time on one basic question that many other creators have asked him: “How do I get to do what you want to do?”

Here’s Mars’ basic answers:

  1. Serve your audience and undestand your niche. “Serve your audience. Let it be an expressing of you but keep their needs in mind. Know the market.”

2. Production is the key to quality. Mars quotes Disney filmmaker John Lasseter, who said that “Quality is the best business plan.” He then elaborates on how much work actually goes into a single episode of 99% Invisible (about 4–6 weeks of edits, writing and research). However, he doesn’t want to scare new podcasters with his recording schedule. He recommends that they just start doing it, and not be worried about the first episode sucking. Mars tells the attendees that “if you’ve recorded 100 episodes, and you’re not embarrassed by your first episode, you’re doing it wrong.”

3. Edit, then edit again: Mars recommends that creators do their best to cut all unnecessary audio in order to better serve his audience (even if they’re asking for longer episodes)

4. Fundraising is Production: Mars recommends that any attempts at fundraising campaigns have a narrative. Mars believes that the campaign should give people a story to invest in and a reason to give you money. Fulfilling a dream isn’t a narrative, though. Always think of the “Why now” reasoning behind a campaign. Mars then spends the next ten minutes talking about what exactly went into the many Kickstarter campaigns that Mars and his team used to fund the podcast and eventually create Radiotopia.

5. Own Your Work: Mars recommends that creators always work to improve and that they try to avoid joining a podcast network as long as you can.

6. Be Nice: Mars finishes off his keynote by asking the podcast creators to work together, be nice and just do what they can to help one another. After all, “80% of the world doesn’t know who the F___ we (podcasters) are!”

Author’s personal opinion: I’m a huge fan of Mars and appreciated the insights he provided into his past campaigns, his creation process and how he started out. It was especially interesting from a production viewpoint, since Mars’ work mixes public radio production processes with the private podcast funding model.



Christopher Hutton

Freelance Journalist. ixated on Religion, Politics, Media. Massive Nerd. Dipper Pines IRL. NEWSLETTER: Digitaldownstream.substack.com