How To Break Your Podcast’s Format

Nick Hilton
Pod Culture
Published in
6 min readNov 11, 2021

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Earlier this week, one of the podcasts that I listen to most religiously — The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast — released a format breaking interview with ex-footballer John Barnes, to discuss his new book looking at his career in the sport and the racism he faced.

The show is usually pretty much what you’d expect from a bi-weekly football (by which I obviously mean ‘soccer’) show: straight man host, cantankerous co-host, and a roster of journalists running down the big stories. It’s a classic light-hearted panel show, and so a detour to tackle a ‘straight’ interview is a fairly big deviation in format. The show’s co-host Barry Glendenning tweeted, after the release of the Barnes episode, “the early reaction to this seems to be mixed but that it was worthwhile. Not the usual barrel of yuks and part of me wanted it entombed in concrete and thrown in the sea…”

The combination of the appearance of this episode in my podcast feed, along with Glendenning’s self-deprecating tweet, got me thinking about how you can break format with your podcast. I have nothing against John Barnes and would be delighted to hear him on, say, Desert Island Discs or The Today Programme. But something that’s ‘not the usual barrel of yuks’, in lieu of the light distraction, rambling football chit-chat I usually tune in for? It just doesn’t quite feel right. So here’s a few thoughts on if and how you can successfully break format.

By ‘breaking format’ I mean changing the essential structure, tone or nature of your podcast. If your podcast is a light-hearted panel show, it would be a break of format to do a hard-hitting one-on-one interview for an episode; if you produced a super-polished social justice documentary show, it’d be a format break to suddenly broadcast a beer-fuelled Zoom call. Etc. The statement, posed as the title of this blog, is one that I would almost always respond to with, “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t”. But that is, of course, a reductive take. Breaking format is important, worthwhile and complicated.

Let’s start by looking at the reasons not to do it.

Don’t break format unless you have a good reason to do so. You owe your listeners something reliable, something they can orient their lives against. Two of my former employers (and this may slip into bitterness, apologies)…

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Nick Hilton
Pod Culture

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder podotpods.com Email: nick@podotpods.com.