Birth of a Podcast: Six Lessons

Twenty-eight days ago I uploaded the first episode of The Kindle Chronicles, my new Friday podcast all about the Kindle, available for free subscription at the iTunes Store. What a ride it’s been already! The show just passed 1,000 downloads on Libsyn, and word of its existence is spreading quickly through the Kindlesphere via forums such as Amazon’s customer discussions and MobileRead.

I have had the opportunity to interview fabulous fellow Kindle enthusiasts – Baratunde Thurston, C.C. Chapman, Stephen Windwalker, Bill Bulger, and (for next week’s show) Joe Wikert. The podcast has put me in touch with many others through comments on forums and in feedback via email and on the show notes page. I suspected that the community of Kindle early adopters would be exciting to connect with as a podcaster, and I wasn’t wrong. I love seeing such a wide variety of people sharing delight in this breakthrough technology–from 74-year-old South Boston political icon Bill Bulger to tech-savvy Parisan Hadrien Gardeur, co-founder of the essential FeedBooks resource for eReaders.

Here are six lessons about podcasting that The Kindle Chronicles have taught me so far:

1. Start podcasting before you think you’re ready or have something to say.

I uploaded my first podcast on December 15, 2005 after getting introduced to the medium at Blogs N Dogs, a mind-bending conference in Banff that included a free dogsled ride as part of the registration. That episode, a breathless interview at Denver International Airport with Anthony Radich, executive director of the Western States Arts Federation, marked the birth of the Mile High Pod Chronicles. It developed into a journal-like mix of audio and video episodes in which I did interviews, profiles, and monologues about whatever interested me. On October, 2006, I separated the show into the Audio Pod Chronicles and Video Pod Chronicles, which have continued ever since. They appear each week on alternate Wednesdays. The iTunes subscription links are here for the audio and here for the video.

My Pod Chronicles podcasts have generated a gratifying following of family, friends, and quite a few people I don’t know. I have learned how to record with an Edirol R-09, edit in GarageBand, shoot video with a Sanyo Xacti HD2 and edit in iMovie HD 6 and Final Cut Express. There is, in truth, LOTS to learn, much of it frustrating. Anyone who tells you it’s easy to create a podcast is lying. But it’s also completely accessible to anyone who is willing to learn and stick with it.

2. Don’t do your podcast only when you feel like it.

The main obstacle to creating a successful podcast is the temptation to quit, or podfade as it’s called in the community. Early on, I committed to a weekly rotation, and I’ve stuck to it pretty much no matter what. In this I have taken inspiration from the poet William Stafford‘s habit of writing a poem a day the last 20 years of his life. When students whined that they couldn’t possibly do that, because they would not be able to write a good enough poem every day, Stafford’s response was, “Lower your standards.” It’s a brilliant admonition, and it’s helped me overcome podcaster’s block many a week. Few of the episodes have approached anything like perfection, but they’re always getting better.

3. Listen to lots of other podcasts.

Just as writers are urged to read constantly, podcasters should listen to how others are using this new medium. I currently have 58 podcast subscriptions in my iTunes directory. Obviously I can’t keep up with all of them, but whenever I’m in the car, on the treadmill, or walking somewhere I have plenty of choices to listen to on my iPhone. Through much listening, I have developed my own taste, and you will, too. I prefer audio podcasts in the 18- to 30-minute range, with a regular format, simple intro and outro music with bumpers between segments, high-quality audio quality, and surprises.

4. When your true subject of your podcast arrives, pounce!

So I had been motoring along with my two Pod Chronicles podcasts for more than a year, minding my own business, when I happened to get swept up in ecstacy over the Kindle. I bought mine in December of last year and was immediately lit up to see my passions for literature and geekdom perfectly aligned in one revolutionary device. I read everything I could, and I watched the base of enthusiastic users grow. Last month in Maine the idea dawned on me of starting a podcast about the Kindle.

One inspiration was Libsyn’s Rob Walch, a veteran podcaster whose Podcast 411 had been essential to me in getting started. When the iPhone came out, he launched his “Today in iPhone” podcast, which of course attracted a huge and passionate audience. His tag line for Podcast 411 has always been “listen different,” so that naturally led to “phone different” for the iPhone podcast. When it came time for me to sign off at the end of my Kindle podcast, I found myself saying “read different,” in homage to Rob, and it seems to fit.

Preparing my Kindle news, tech tips, quote, and the “What’s on Your Kindle Interview?” takes a lot of work, and if I had been trying to figure out the difference between the .mp3 and .WAV settings on my Edirol recorder at the same time, I would not have been able to launch the podcast in a credible way. I enjoy the sense that all my banging away at the mechanics and gear these past two years was preparation for The Kindle Chronicles; I just didn’t know it at the time.

When the podcaster is ready, the show will appear.

5. Respond quickly and genuinely to all feedback.

I’ve learned from pros like Joseph Jaffe, Mitch Joel, C.C. Chapman, Chris Brogan, and Scott Monty how great it is to hear back from a podcaster to whom I’ve sent a comment or email. The ease of conversation with listeners is a unique advantage of podcasting. I admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the new correspondents who have generously commented and weighed in on The Kindle Chronicles; I have a difficult time remembering the particulars, but I respond to everyone, maybe sometimes twice by mistake. These conversations are shaping the content and form of the show. I am now in the middle of a dialog concerning show length, with a couple of listeners recommending an hour’s duration and another, Heather Hollick, making a persuasive case for 30 minutes or less. Heather in an email today wrote, in part:

The ideal podcast to me is between 20 – 25 minutes. Once a podcast ventures past 30 minutes it has to be very good to remain on the playlist. The best podcasts are well produced, to the point, and packed with great information. You have the framework for such a podcast. I love the structure with news, tips, interview, reading, feedback, etc. I would encourage you, however, not to fall into the trap of letting each podcast meander as you lazily wander through each of these topics each week. Attention spans are limited. My experience with dozens of podcasts a week and thousands of hours of listening over the last 3 years is that podcasters get lazy. They realize that they do not have the time constraints of traditional radio and therefore allow themselves unlimited time. But traditional radio has honed the ability to condense quality content into a small amount of time. Aim for quality, not quantity.

That’s priceless information for me as I shape the new podcast in coming episodes. I tend to agree with Heather, based on my own listening habits. I will certainly take to heart her admonition to avoid laziness!

6. Serve your listeners.

I hope I’m doing that, because that’s what my favorite podcasts do. Internet Ninja Christopher S. Penn likes to say, “The first rule of podcasting is ‘Don’t talk about the podcast.'” I’ll admit that I enjoy checking the Libsyn stats and seeing references to The Kindle Chronicles pop up around the Internet. But it’s even more fun to figure out ways to be helpful, to really add something to the community. With that goal guiding me, I can dare anything. I’ve written Whoopi Goldberg‘s publicist to see if she will come on the show, because I know she’s a big Kindle fan. If you know Whoopi, please let her know she’d be a welcome guest. I think she’s coming to Denver for the Democratic Convention, so we could even do it in person!

Those are six lessons (homage to Mitch Joel) that I’ve learned about podcasting, thanks to The Kindle Chronicles. It’s been helpful to ponder this, because on August 19th I am scheduled to make a brief presentation on the topic to the Denver Area Podcasters Meetup. UPDATE: Click here for audio of my talk to the Podcasters.

Please add a comment if you can think of something I’ve missed or gotten wrong, or an idea for how the podcast can better serve listeners, and I’ll add it for my talk.

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4 Responses to Birth of a Podcast: Six Lessons

  1. ChazFrench says:

    Awesome advice Len, thanks for sharing!

    Good Luck getting Whoopi!! If you get to meet her in person, a word of advice, don’t ask for an autograph. I’ve heard reliably enough that she doesn’t like them.


  2. TD says:

    Hi Len – just added your Kindle podcast to the Zune Marketplace. Should appear later today or first thing tomorrow.

  3. Scott Monty says:

    Len, thanks for the shout-out in your post. I’m honored that you would lump me in with those other podcasting greats. Lately, I’ve suffered from podfading – simply because of the huge amount of upheaval in my personal and professional life – but I hope to get back on board.

    As that happens, I’m looking forward to checking out your Kindle Chronicles as well. I’m a huge fan of your style and what you do – keep up the great work and thanks for this very helpful post.

  4. Steve says:

    Terrific, Len. You should publish this is a Kindle article.

    Stephen Windwalker

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