Monday Memo: Your Podcast ‘Bones,’ Part Deux

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — “But I’m doing a whole SHOW, not just the ‘snack-size’ episodes you recommend,” one podcaster wrote, after reading last week’s column, itself conspicuously succinct.

While I continue to heed the listener research which recommends (forgive me) “less is more,” I myself subscribe to several longer-form podcasts. My concern about going-longer is the same caution I offer to eager beavers who ask me about launching a weekend show: It’s a lot of work.

The longer your podcast, the more critical format becomes

Otherwise, you’re rambling, in an arena where “attention span” is an oxymoron.

Listen to “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” on Apple Podcasts, iHeart, and “wherever you get your podcasts.”

  • He’s a love-him-or-hate-him act, but that’s irrelevant. Listen for how his show is structured, its bones.
  • Admittedly his content stands on the broad shoulders of work he’s done on platforms including ESPN and MSNBC, a head start few of us enjoy. But observe how the show is assembled, in segments familiar from his old TV show (“The Worst Person…in the World!”).
  • And hear how meticulously it is scripted. That’s work.

Less-lavishly-produced, but scripted every bit as intentionally, is “Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin;” which – like Olbermann’s – benefits from Godin’s preexisting fan base (“This episode was recorded in front of a live audience of 12,000 people on Facebook Live”).

New rules

If you think you’ve got a half-hour in you, consider this podcast-worthy format from HBO’s hit “Real Time with Bill Maher:”

  1. Mercifully brief produced open;
  2. Well-written but not-too-long monologue;
  3. Interview segment: Prepared questions asked of intriguing people, some-of-whom you’ve heard of (who often say things you weren’t expecting to hear), others-you-haven’t-heard-of (and you end-up wanting-to-know-better);

Note a common thread so far?  Don’t just wing-it.

  1. Panel, participants of differing viewpoints, led by the host’s bullet points and outspoken take;
  2. Then a featured guest, at first interviewed by the host, then interacting with panelists;
  3. “New Rules” is a scripted comedy segment, a half dozen quick edgy bits that play-off the week’s news and the societal observations that are such rich fodder for comedians. The last New Rule runs longer, and is the host’s scripted byline think piece.
  4. Then comes an invitation to join the after-show, online, where panelists respond to questions and comments viewers submitted during the show’s first live airing.
  5. Closing credits billboard next week’s guests.

I’m not saying that’s your format.  I’m saying have a format.

Holland Cooke ( is the author of “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books; and “Spot-On: Commercial Copy Points That Earned The Benjamins,” a FREE download, and “Inflation Hacks: Save Those Benjamins,” the E-book and FREE on-air radio features.“ HC is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke