How to write for radio and the equipment you’ll need to build a successful podcast
New Jersey journalists learn about on-demand audio at Center for Cooperative Media’s local news podcasting workshop
Local journalists, indie publishers, and audio enthusiasts from around New Jersey met on the campus of Montclair State University last Friday for a three-hour workshop on podcasting for local news, hosted by radio veteran and local podcast entrepreneur Bernie Wagenblast and the Center for Cooperative Media.
The event was split into three one-hour sessions:
- A basic overview of the podcasting landscape.
- A look at some of the low-cost equipment and tools required to create a quality audio product.
- A brief walkthrough of Audacity’s free audio editing interface.
It would impossible and exhausting to cover everything there is to know about the young-but-booming podcast industry in just three hours (let alone in a single post), so I’ve put together this roundup of important links, tutorials, resources, and other materials to give those who were able to attend the workshop (and those who weren’t) an opportunity to continue learning.
Getting a sense of the landscape
One of the main takeaways from the workshop was that, while podcasting has officially been around since the early 2000s, the industry itself is still quite nascent and decentralized. There is a low barrier to entry and a relatively level playing field for new entrants.
That same decentralization and lack of consolidation, however, means it’s not as easy to become successful. There’s also the issue of sustainability and revenue. There are currently very few options for monetizing a podcast. Advertising and listener support remain the two biggest sources of revenue for podcast producers, but even those options often fail to bring in enough cash to fully support an ongoing operation.
That’s why it’s so important to ask these (and other) fundamental questions before setting out on your journey to become the next Ira Glass, Jad Abumrad or Brooke Gladstone:
- What am I trying to accomplish with this project?
- Is audio the best format for this project?
- What community need or utility am I trying to serve with this project?
- Is this something that people actually want or need?
There are plenty of other important questions that you should also ask before launching, but the point is to make sure you’re not just pouring your time and talent into something that no one really wants, needs or asked for. Take time to do a basic needs assessment of your audience or community before diving right in. Maybe your target audience doesn’t really listen to podcasts. Maybe they don’t own an Amazon Echo or comparable smart speaker. Maybe they’ve been dying for something like this to come along and you’re just the right person for the job.
Either way, asking is one of the easiest things you can do — and it might just save you in the long run.
Does this even count as a podcast?
One early question that came up at the workshop was the ambiguity between a “podcast” and “on-demand audio” projects.
The short answer is that there’s no real difference — at least not when it comes to the underlying goal of a project like this. Whether you’re trying to create a serialized audio narrative, an audio mosaic of the local community, or a brief daily newscast that recaps the latest headlines and stories of the day, you’re still going to need to know how to consistently produce and deliver a quality audio product to a digital audience.
For our purposes, we focused on the process of creating a daily local newscast.
Writing for print vs. writing for radio
It’s important to understand the difference between writing for print and writing for radio (which includes podcasts, obviously).
Jaime Bedrin put together the slideshow below to help explains the differences and distinctions between the two:
To learn more about writing for audio, check out this great guide to making the transition from print to radio, by NPR’s Alison MacAdam.
Or, just skip right to a particular section using the links below:
- Understand how your listeners listen.
- Write for your voice.
- Beware dependent clauses.
- Abandon the inverted pyramid.
- De-graf the nut graf.
- Narrow your story’s focus.
- Adjust your interview style.
- Rethink your use of quotes.
- Prepare for the extra work of sound gathering.
What kind of equipment do I need?
There are an infinite number of “best recording equipment” and “best podcast equipment” links on Google, so I won’t waste your time trying to replicate that here. Instead, I’ll simply point you in the direction of Transom.org. Transom is consistently one of my favorite and, in my opinion, one of the most valuable podcasting resources on the Internet.
In particular, check out Jeff Towne’s “Podcasting Basics” series. The first installment, “Podcasting Basics, Part 1: Voice Recording Gear,” should cover everything you’ll ever need (or want) to know about the myriad of microphones and mixers currently on the market.
That being said, a lot of the stuff on Towne’s list isn’t cheap. Here’s a list of some of the cheaper (and lower quality) gear that I’ve bought over the years, in case you’re just starting out and you don’t have a lot of money to spend:
- $19.95 — Saramonic SmartMic mini flexible 3.5mm condenser microphone for smartphones (compatible with iOS and Android phones)
- $14.98 — AriMic BUB 3.5mm directional interview microphone for smartphones (compatible with iOS and Android phones)
- $12.99 — PoP Voice lavalier/lapel omnidirectional 3.5mm condenser microphone (compatible with iOS and Android phones)
- $49.00 — Blue Snowball iCE USB condenser, cardioid desk microphone (USB only, not compatible with smartphones)
And, of course, what mobile podcasting kit would be complete without a foldable storage cube to help dampen and reduce echos:
$7.99 — Single handle non-woven storage bin/foldable cube organizer/storage container with no cover (great for creating an instant, pop-up travel studio)
Hosting, distribution and delivery
Unfortunately, I ran out of time before we had a chance to really dive into the specifics of hosting, publishing and distributing your local news podcast. (I’m already in the process of planning round two of this training, so worry not.)
I would recommend that you read the fourth installment of Towne’s Podcasting Basics series, which should cover just about everything you need to know when it comes to all of the available hosting platforms and distribution methods out there.
Putting the ‘local’ in your local news podcast
In the end, it doesn’t really matter which microphone, mixer, or hosting platform you decide to go with. The most important thing you can bring to the table is your enthusiastic connection to and intimate relationship with your local community.
Stick to what you know. As local journalists and publishers, no one should be able to cover your community better than you. Take advantage of that special relationship and find ways to use it and improve it. Get excited. Let your passion shine through your work. You can’t expect other people to care about what you’re doing if it’s not clear that you care as much or more than they do. Just start already. You’re never going to become a better audio reporter or podcast producer if you don’t start doing it. But, what if no one listens to your podcast at first? Welcome to, like, 95% of all podcasts.
In all seriousness, though, you can buy the most expensive, high-grade microphone in the world and rent out the same studio that Kanye used to record “Graduation,” and prospective listeners will still pass you by — unless you can demonstrate that your podcast is something that adds value to their lives.
Other useful links and resources
- More than 200 free ideas for your next podcast by Melody Kramer and Christine Eriksen
- Use this awesome tool to create audiograms from your audio files
- A lot of these newsletter ideas could also make for interesting podcast episodes and ideas by Melody Kramer
- Book: Audacity 101: The Unofficial Audacity Tutorial and Step By Step Guide by John S. Rhodes ($10.95 as a paperback)
- Video tutorial: A walk through on the basics of editing audio using Audacity
- Video tutorial: Audacity Basics: Recording, Editing, Mixing
- The Hot Pod newsletter by Nick Quah is an amazing resource for understanding changes and trends in the podcasting industry
- Quah also put together this useful “Taxonomy of News Podcasts”
Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.