Peter Altschuler in Marketing, Advertising, Business Head of Marketing and Creative Strategy • Wordsworth & Company LLC Apr 20, 2017 · 1 min read · +400

The Great Podcast Timesink

I despise podcasts. They're radio without the basic discipline of time.

Instead of providing information with precision and brevity, they tend to drone on in free form -- as if listeners have the luxury of time (and nothing better to do or get on with). And if a listener indulges the speaker(s), gets to the end, and realizes he or she has wasted 30, 20, or even 10 minutes, resentment sets in... and makes the listener leery of the next podcast they come across.

A possible rationale

The Great Podcast TimesinkFor people who commute in their cars, a podcast might make sense (or, based on too many I've sampled, create a traffic hazard by putting the driver to sleep). That's one of the reasons why drive-time radio includes so many shifts in sound and tempo, however annoying some of them may be. They bring the listener back from inattentiveness.

Then there are the "visuals." Radio, as any admirer of Stan Freberg will attest, can conjure some extremely vivid images. Yet podcasts tend to ignore any effort to draw pictures with words. Pity. It might actually make them more fun. And, no, jocular banter by the speakers isn't usually fun. It's the cool kids ignoring the rest of us.

Less really is more

My father was in radio, so I'm probably biased. Yet he could tell a story in a minute that takes podcasters ten. 

The fact is that concision takes time. As Pascal said, "I'm sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one." In the case of podcasts, that means knowing exactly what you want to convey, scripting it if necessary (even with multiple speakers), and cutting out extranea after the recording's complete. Only the producer knows what's excised, but the listener will benefit from hearing just the parts that are essential.

Editors understand this, and I began my career as one, editing for Emmy-winning television shows. When I'd get to the point when I thought the cut was ready, I'd turn off the sound. If the story was still clear, I'd proceed to add the music and effects. If anything was muddled, I'd check to be sure that the voiceover made the sequence clear.

With audio-only, the challenge is greater. The sound alone must do all the work. And that means the production team must work to ensure that, as Saint-Exupéry put it, "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away."

Peter Altschuler Apr 27, 2017 · #7

#3 @Paul Walters, I'm not against audio or radio or, @Rodric Leering, justifiable length. I'm against content as filler -- the prevailing drive to create something, anything, to fill a perceived demand.

I could write (and produce and narrate) seven audio programs about the exact same thing. Yet each would be tailored for a specific individual, each would examine the subject from an angle that the listener cared about, and each would be, to steal from Einstein, as long as it needs to be and not longer.

However, the material I come across most can't be justified as audio. It's like most of the President's unscripted remarks -- rambling, undisciplined, and too often incomprehensible. The implication is that the targeted listeners will listen to anything, their time isn't valuable, and they're not worth the effort to provide them with something beneficial.

Those time robbing ramblings exist to comply with the notion that content is vital. It's not. Useful, informative, brief content is vital. The rest is like my mother's command: "I'm cold. Put on a sweater." It had to do with her, not with me. And, like too many podcasts, it didn't matter if it mattered. But it made her, like a brand's content manager, feel better.

Dorothy Parker once quipped, "I'd rather flunk my Wasserman Test than read a poem by Edgar Guest." My version would be, "I'd rather hear supporters' jeers than have bad podcasts fill my ears."

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Jim Murray Apr 25, 2017 · #6

#1 With all due respect that's not a podcast, it's a new story that somebody decided to call a podcast.

Jim Murray Apr 25, 2017 · #5

Good one Peter. Couldn't agree more. It's all part of the me, me, me syndrome.

Robert Cormack Apr 25, 2017 · #4

Absolutely true @Peter Altschuler, and not just podcasts. I'm writing a post now on why we need to edit. Too many posts, podcasts and promotions are using up time and space, thinking the internet is a broad canvas. I suppose it is, but we all need to respect the viewer and listener. Editing is a skill, perhaps more so than writing. Raymond Carver once wrote: "I love writing, but I love editing more." I reread "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" about four times a year. It keeps me honest and I recommend it to everyone. We all need to "murder our darlings" or we will end up sleeping—hopefully not on the road. Thanks for this piece. Excellent advice.

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Paul Walters Apr 25, 2017 · #3

@Peter Altschuler Could I suggest S Town the superb pod cast produced in seven ...yes 7 hour long episodes by NPR . It has become the most downloaded podcast ever. Its all in the editing you see . Your dad would have told you that

Harvey Lloyd Apr 25, 2017 · #2

Some great thoughts on pod-casting and really communications in general. In the sea of noise via internet we could use some defining principals in creating engaging podcasts/communications.

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Rodric Leerling Apr 25, 2017 · #1

Thanks for this view on podcasts. I totally disagree with you though. I'm subscribed to The Daily NYT. The 25 mins insight into a specific story are priceless. And yes, I agree, there are some podcasts that drag on and on. I check them out and if so, simply delete them again.