What Makes a Great Podcast

What Makes a Great Podcast

I've been listening to podcasts for a long time, since about the beginning in 2005. I've been making podcasts about half that time, since about 2013.1 I have listened to thousands of hours of all kinds of podcasts and created hundreds and hundreds of hours of podcast content myself. I write all that as a way to say that I think I'm finally getting a handle on what makes a great podcast.

Now some would say that a great podcast is one in which the host is passionate about their subject, and that is true, insofar as it goes, but I would say that's not enough. Because a great podcast is one in which the host (or panel) is both passionate and curious. They need to be curious about the subject of their podcast, however wide-ranging or narrow it is. There has be to a kind of curious joy, a desire to keep going deeper, to explore further up and further in, even in a field that they've been part of for decades.

As any couple together for more than a few years can attest, passion only gets you so far in life because it relies on freshness, on newness. So to remain truly passionate--whether it be for your romantic partner or your podcast niche--you have to keep plumbing the depths. With your spouse, happily its possible that you will never come to the end of exploration and fascination.

That may not be possible with a podcast niche or topic, in which case, that's your signal to move on. But as long as you can sustain the curiosity and newness, you can keep your subject interesting and fresh for yourself and your audience.

I co-host Jimmy Akin's Mysterious World and what makes the show special isn't just the fun and varied topics that we cover. And while Jimmy's encyclopedic knowledge is sometimes astonishing, it is Jimmy's limitless curiosity that keeps it fresh after more than 120 episodes and should keep it fresh for years to come. Whether it's aliens or historical mysteries or questions about God or supernatural powers or scientific oddities, Jimmy applies his signature fair and balanced attitude, his sharpened intellect, and his passionate curiosity to each subject. I can't begin to relate how many times listeners have written in with some variation on: "When I heard what the subject was this week I thought I wouldn't be interested, but when I listened I was completely drawn and fascinated." Heck, I've said the same thing myself several times.

Another podcast that I listen to is called "How Music Does That," hosted by Dale McGowan. He's a professor of music and composer who has been a professional musician and academic for decades but manages to keep his presentations fun and interesting, especially for a non-musician layman like me, while also teaching me plenty about music. And he does it through his passion, his wit, his knowledge, and his curiosity about a subject that he's already dedicated most of his adult life to studying. He obviously has not lost his passion for music because he's not lost his curiosity.

I often get advice from people about starting a podcast and I think this is the best advice I can give. First, if you want to be successful, you need to be consistent in creating your show; nothing kills an audience like never knowing when or if there's another episode coming. Second, you want quality of presentation. You don't have to record in a studio with a sound engineer, but the technical aspects should at least be pleasant and not distracting.

And third, make a podcast about something you are both passionate about and can remain curious about for a long time. And let your passion and curiosity and, yes, joy show through in your presentation.

  1. Technically since 2010, but those first three years it was a radio show that was being re-packaged as a podcast so I don't count that as being the same.

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