This is an excerpt from Sports Broadcasting With HKPropel Access by Kevin Hull.
Before Starting a Podcast
The opportunity to start a podcast can be an exciting one, but rushing into recording the first episode can be a mistake. Many different aspects of the show must be determined before getting started. Hosts should know what their show is about, who the audience is, and what the format will be.
What Is the Show About?
This seems like an easy enough question to answer, but in many cases it is best to be as specific as possible when deciding what the show is going to be about. For example, perhaps a podcaster wants to create a show about basketball. That seems like a good topic, but the term “basketball” is a very broad. College? Professional? Women’s? Men’s? A specific team? Tips on how to play better? Simply saying that a show is about basketball could open up the podcaster to disappointment from listeners if the episodes do not talk about the aspect of basketball for which they were hoping. Therefore, it’s best to be as specific as possible when coming up with the concept for the show—a host should be able to describe his or her show in two sentences or less. This description should be in the podcast notes when putting it online, and the hosts can relay this information at the beginning of the episode. Here is an example: “Welcome to Party with the Pelicans—your podcast home for the latest news from the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. I’m your host Kylie Anderson.”
Who Is This Show For?
When planning the concept for the show, the hosts should take time to recognize who the audience for this show is. For Party with the Pelicans, the host would almost certainly aim the content toward Pelicans fans. However, not all fans are the same. Is this show for die-hard fans who know every statistic, player fact, and game result? Or is the show designed for casual fans who want more information on the team but do not want to get bogged down in the specific details of the club? Those are two entirely different shows, so the podcast host should decide early in the show’s creation in which direction he or she would like to go.
- Hardcore fans: “This week on the show we’re going to analyze the shot chart and advanced analytics of college star Sam Kerr and how he might fit in with the Pelicans should they be able to take him with the 15th pick in the upcoming draft.”
Casual fans: “This week on the show we’re going to discuss the last three games for the Pelicans and interview beat writer James Berry about the upcoming road trip.”
What Is the Format?
Once the creator has determined what the show is about and who the intended audience is, it is time to settle on a format for the episodes. Three of the more popular formats for sports podcasts are an interview show, a recap show, and a news show. An interview show is one where the host would have a different guest each week and then interview that person for the entirety of the episode. A recap show would feature more commentary and analysis of events that have happened. Finally, a news show would be similar to an evening newscast in which an anchor discusses various news items and occasionally has reporters out in the field filing stories. In some cases episodes can be a combination of these elements, with a brief recap of events followed by an interview with an expert.
Perhaps the biggest decision when starting up a podcast is deciding who will be the host. In all likelihood, the person who created the idea will serve as the host, but it is worth examining if having a cohost can improve the quality of the show. For example, if episodes of Party with the Pelicans are going to be an hour of analyzing individual plays from previous games, that can prove to be difficult for one person to talk about for the entire time. In that case, having a second person to talk to, argue with, and come to conclusions with could help the pacing of the show and help fill the time allotted to the show. Having a second host can also be a help when planning the episodes because the two hosts can bounce ideas off of each other and split up some of the off-air tasks required to create a successful show.
Equipment Needed for a Podcast
As stated previously, a podcast can be created almost for free using equipment that a podcaster probably already owns or can download inexpensively. However, if someone is hoping to turn podcasting into a career, it is worth investing in some more professional equipment that will make the show sound better and easier to produce.
Perhaps one of the most important purchases is a microphone that can connect directly into a computer (using a USB port) or a recording device. A microphone will be needed for everyone who is on the podcast, so if there are two hosts (or a host and a guest) there will need to be two different microphones. In addition to the microphone, a pop filter should be purchased to cut down on the popping noises that can occur when someone is talking into a microphone. If interviewing outside, a windscreen should be used to cut down on the impact of the wind on the recording. The windscreen slides directly over the microphone, while the pop filter is placed directly in front of it.
Headphones allow the podcast host to keep track of how the audio sounds during the recording. This can help the host know if he or she needs to be closer to or farther away from the microphone. Headphones can also help identify any interference or unwanted noise that might create a distraction during the podcast. Headphones should also be worn while editing the audio of the podcast.
It is possible to record and save a podcast without any editing, but it is not recommended. There are plenty of free or very inexpensive options available such as Audacity. More experienced podcasters may wish to ultimately invest in audio editing programs that have more features, such as Avid’s Pro Tools or Adobe Audition. Using editing equipment allows the host to include music, edit out mistakes, and insert commercials or other promotional materials into the middle of the podcast after the recording has been completed.
Location, Location, Location
While not technically equipment, where the podcast is recorded is a very important part of the production process. To put it as simply as possible, the episodes should be recorded in a quiet room. Microphones are wonderful at picking up the voices being spoken into them, but they are also great at picking up every noise in the room. Is the air conditioner making a loud noise? That will certainly be on the recording. Loud traffic noises outside? Be prepared for those to be part of the recorded show. Therefore, it is important to find a location that has little to no noise when the room is empty.
Additionally, rooms can often have an echo in them. Podcasters may wish to hang acoustic panels on the wall (a comforter or blanket will do the trick, too). However, if a podcaster has the financial means, it is worth examining the possibility of renting a studio for the recording of the show. These rooms are designed with the sole purpose of getting quality audio during a session, so if there are not any quiet options available, then booking studio time may be a good investment. If all else fails, a solo podcast can always be recorded in the closet. The clothes act as an audio diffuser and the rooms are usually fairly quiet. The host can just bring his or her computer and microphone into the closet and record the show in there.
There are many steps that should be followed before recording the actual podcast episodes. Even after the format has been decided, the equipment purchased, and the location selected, several more boxes must be checked. Hosts should take time to plan each episode before recording, come up with a consistent format, and then assure that all the equipment is working properly before starting the show.
Planning Each Episode
Before recording each show, the host should know exactly what is going to be discussed. While the majority of the conversation in a podcast is spontaneous, an outline with general topics and points to be addressed can be helpful during the taping of the show. Often podcast hosts will have a point they want to make during the show but they forget once the show is moving along during the taping. Having a list of bullet points that the host can refer to during the show can ensure that all the topics that are planned to be discussed actually make the final taping.
Have a Similar Rundown
While each show will have differing content, the basic order and rundown of the show should be similar for each episode. Listeners should be able to download an episode and know exactly what they are going to get. Creating a format that can be relied on for each show can also make preparations much easier for the hosts because they will know what content they need to include.
Party with the Pelicans Weekly Rundown
Segment one: Theme song
Segment two: Brief introduction of the hosts and what is on this week’s episode
Segment three: News and notes
Segment four: Recap of this week’s games
Segment five: Interview with expert
Segment six: Player of the Week announcement
Segment seven: Preview of upcoming week’s games
Segment eight: Goodbye from the hosts
Segment nine: Theme song
Double- and Triple-Check Everything
Once a script has been created, a format has been decided upon, and the hosts have been determined, it is time to record the show. When everyone has sat down in front of the microphones and the record button has been hit, the host should double- and triple-check that everything is working properly. Is the show recording? Are all the microphones plugged in and recording at the proper volume level? There is nothing worse than finishing a show and then realizing that one button was not pushed properly, causing the hosts to rerecord the entire episode from the beginning.
Once the podcast is recorded, it is on to the next step. This might be one of the most important parts of all—making sure that people can actually listen to it. Hosts must figure out where to put the podcast online, how to let people know about it, and when to start thinking about future episodes.
Getting It Out There
After recording the show and exporting it as an MP3 file, the podcast now needs a distribution home. Uploading the shows to an audio-specific hosting network such as SoundCloud or Libsyn can be an easy way to have the show available online. Hosts would only need to send the link to those who might be interested in listening. Additionally, setting up a feed will allow for new episodes to be added to the list and will alert followers that the latest show is now available for listening.
The next step is to ensure that people can listen to the podcast on as many different devices as possible. Therefore, users want to get their feed picked up by Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and other popular destinations where people listen to podcasts. Most of these programs make it very easy to connect and offer detailed directions on the steps that need to be followed.
Just because a podcaster is making an entertaining and informative show does not mean that people will automatically start listening. Television and radio hosts have a built-in audience network that has been created over decades of simply existing. People in one city may have grown up watching Channel 6 at home because that is what their parents and grandparents watched. A podcast that is started this month will not have that same legacy on which to fall back. Instead, the hosts of the show need to rely on promotion in an attempt to earn listeners.
As will be discussed in chapter 11, social media has become an important part of both journalism and the world of sports. Fans are using social networks to follow athletes and get the latest updates on their favorite teams and sports. Podcast hosts should take advantage of this and not only have their own personal social media accounts but also create one specifically for the show. That account should be updated regularly with content updates, bonuses, and a behind-the-scenes view of the show.
Additionally, having guests on the show can also turn into a promotional tool. The followers of the guests can possibly become followers of the podcast with the right updates. When the episode comes out, hosts should send the link directly to the guest and see if they would be willing to share the episode with their own audience. Fans of that guest will hopefully download the show, and if they enjoy the episode they might download another.
Promoting the show can be as much work as actually creating the episodes themselves. Hosts need to figure out ways to get the show in front of as many people as possible, and that can prove to be very time-consuming. However, the rewards can be worth it as a large audience can only improve the reach of the show.
Create a Consistent Schedule
A podcast should follow a consistent distribution schedule. Fans should be able to know that, for example, every Monday a new episode of Party with the Pelicans is going to be available. Keeping to that schedule will not keep the listeners guessing as to when they can expect a new episode. It is similar to radio and television programs for which fans know that a specific show is going to be on the air at the same time on the same channel each week. Viewership of popular sitcoms would likely plummet if viewers did not know when it was going to be on.
While it is a good idea to be consistent, new podcast hosts should also be careful to pace themselves in the beginning weeks of a program. If a show is airing every day in the first month it comes out, fans are going to expect that show to be in their feeds every day for as long as the podcast airs. Instead, hosts should make less frequent shows in the beginning and instead focus on quality over quantity. If the show proves to be successful, then more weekly episodes can be added later on.
Major Moments: Sports Podcasting Goes Political . . . Until It Doesn’t
In 2008, Bill Simmons was one of the most prominent employees at ESPN. He had his own column at ESPN.com, was executive producer of the popular 30 for 30 documentary series, was the author of a The New York Times best-selling book, and hosted his own podcast called The B.S. Report (Masisak, 2009). In April of that year, Simmons, who normally interviewed athletes, sports journalists, and his closest friends, landed an interview with U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama. The fact that Obama had agreed to appear on a podcast showcased the power of this emerging media platform.
However, the interview was not to be. Just before the two were set to record, ESPN pulled the plug and canceled the scheduled interview. A network spokesman said at the time, “Fans don’t expect political coverage on our outlets” (Stelter, 2008, para. 2). Simmons was upset, later saying, “I really had a hard time dealing with that” (Miller & Shales, 2011, p. 650), and eventually left ESPN in 2015 following several disputes with management (Sandomir, 2015).
The story showcases the early struggles that many major media outlets had with podcasts. While they encouraged their reporters to have shows, they did not entirely know what to do with them or how popular they would become. An interview with the future president of the United States would have been a major coup for the network, but they seemed unsure about having that talk on a podcast. Perhaps not surprisingly, the network did eventually reschedule an interview with Obama, although it was conducted by Stuart Scott on ESPN’s popular television program SportsCenter about four months later (Powell, 2008). Simmons did eventually get his own interview on the B.S. Report with Obama in 2012, giving him the honor of hosting the first-ever podcast with a sitting U.S. president (Simmons, 2012).