Make a podcast that matters.

by Admin PRX

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many new things. Perhaps the least surprising was a wave of new podcasts. We noticed quickly that several of those podcasts came from local public radio stations, which seemed wildly impressive given the already stretched resources of many newsrooms in covering a huge breaking news event.

Additionally, we were thrilled to see that five stations launching these podcasts had worked directly with us through Project Catapult, a 20-week training program and podcast incubator for public media. Each station has made a different show with unique approaches to discussing the pandemic:


These are, by no means, massive media organizations with vast resources, so to start a completely new podcast required them to redirect staff, table current projects, act nimbly, and make bold decisions that often run counter to a risk-averse public media culture. It felt like all that training was paying off. While we were excited and applauded these pivots, we also wondered: why did these stations see this moment as an opportunity and not a barrier? Their audience.

They saw a way that a podcast could deepen engagement with their communities around this enormous global event — in ways that perhaps NPR, The New York Times, or even their own broadcasts couldn’t. They wanted to make something meaningful for their listeners. And that is core to how we like to do things at PRX.

We partnered with the Public Media Journalists Association to host a webinar with these five stations, with the hopes of sharing this key philosophy. You can watch the recorded webinar here.

Here’s what we learned about how they pulled it off — with vision and intention and not just an urgency to be topical. Keep in mind, while this webinar was geared toward public radio stations starting coronavirus podcasts, the takeaways are evergreen — for any major news event, any idea, any kind of podcaster. 

1. Bring intention to your podcast idea and set realistic expectations.

What do you want to accomplish? This will also help inform what goals you set and how you measure your success. Remember, more downloads and more funding opportunities are both valid targets, but one size doesn’t fit all. Set expectations that make sense for you, your community, your organization, your capabilities, etc. Some of it may be more qualitative, like the impact you’re having on your listeners or the sense of community you’re building through your podcast.

Know why you’re doing this, and use that as your North Star.


2. Keep your intended listener at the center of everything you do.

Who are you making this for? Is this someone who is closely following the news and would appreciate a daily wrap-up? Is it someone who wants to go deeper than the headlines and hear more human stories? Is this someone who is going to listen to one news program a day and this podcast is it?

Go out into the world (or online right now) and find them. Literally! Ask them: what do they need from a podcast? And then ask yourself: what do you want them to do, think, and feel after listening to your show? It isn’t enough to have a good idea if that idea doesn’t reach anyone who’ll listen.

3. Prototype. A lot.

Figuring out how to make a podcast when resources are already stretched is a genuine challenge. You may need to try a couple of different formats and styles to figure out how much time it will take to produce, how it should sound and be structured. And share them with your ideal listener — even before you feel ready to.

A prototype can be an audio file, a storyboard or even an outline on paper. The point is, it shouldn’t be polished. You’re just trying to get a sense of whether you’re on the right path. 

4. Get feedback.


The right path will become clearer the more feedback you receive. Play or show your prototype to potential listeners, and then — here’s the important part — listen. What worked for them? What didn’t? 

Did they get what you intended? Try not to defend yourself. All that energy thinking of retorts and justifications will take away from your ability to absorb. Then, modify your prototype based on their responses. Repeat this cycle until you feel you’ve made something that will serve your intended listener. At PRX, we say feedback is a gift. Treat it as an opportunity to make something better and more resonant.

This is an edited excerpt from a blog post written by PRX Project Catapult Project Manager, Stephanie Kuo. To read the full piece, click the button below.