Ten Podcasts Unlike Radio

The world of podcasting is markedly different from that of broadcast radio. Below is a top ten list that highlights what works well in this medium and how podcasting can be different than straight-ahead broadcast. To this end, I have avoided listing downloadable versions of broadcast radio shows, although this eliminates a third or more of the most popular podcasts. The following descriptions focus on what makes each approach noteworthy. If you want to learn more about the podcast itself, I encourage you to give it a listen.

1. The Moth Podcast

Recorded spoken performances such as stand-up comedy and conference presentations have long been a popular podcast format. The Moth Podcast is arguably the granddaddy of them all. A popular and long-running podcast, these short storytelling segments are recorded in front of a live audience without notes.

2. The Sound of Young America

While most episodes of this show are in fact broadcast, the majority of the fan base seems to listen exclusively to the podcast. TSOYA uses the popular podcast format of single-host / single-guest talk show. This podcast attracts a strong following in part due to its focus on popular and entertaining guests who are otherwise below the cultural radar. The show further focuses by frequently selecting guests who are comedians, media professionals, or musicians.

3. iTunes Weekly Rewind [iTunes Link]

This Apple-produced music review is a unique take on music podcasting, highlighting songs discovered over the course of the week on TV, online, and in the movies. This is a markedly different approach from focusing on new releases, who's on tour, what's popular, or the traditional, curated music show. This is also an Apple Enhanced Podcast, providing users the ability to move back and forth through visually-enhanced song chapters.

4. EconTalk

A hybrid instructional / talk show format, EconTalk is a surprisingly popular podcast that presents often complex economic concepts for non-expert audiences. Most guests are academic experts. The magic here seems to lie in the host of the program directing and clarifying the guests as they attempt to explain and explore complex ideas and opinions. Instructional / explanatory podcasts seem to be rising in popularity, although this specific format for presenting complex ideas is somewhat atypical.

5. Diggnation

This weekly podcast reviews top stories from digg.com and incorporates several characteristics found in many podcasts. For example, the hosts are conversational but often off-topic with plenty of snarky, insider commentary, and they discuss timely events surrounding an existing, popular website or web community.

6. Mugglecast

Popular and unique, this podcast highlights several growing trends. Hosts are remotely connected via phone conferencing or skype through which the podcast is recorded – often live. The conversation is unscripted and uses many rotating participants, most of whom seem to be under 20 and have likely never met in person. All participants are part of a popular online Harry Potter community. In fact, the participants, listeners, and podcast content are an extension of what is already happening in and around existing vibrant online interaction.

7. You Look Nice Today

The "BS amongst friends" format is perhaps the most popular approach to creating a podcast. There are hundreds if not thousands of podcasts that are purely conversational, using 2-4 hosts who are often friends. Some are themed, many contain explicit content, some deploy more traditional radio show techniques using guests, call-ins, regular bits, drop-ins, etc. YLNT is noteworthy in that it breaks from typical radio morning show tactics (e.g. political leanings, wacky antics, etc.), and is professionally edited down before release.

8. Grammar Girl

It's true - there's a podcast on grammar that's wildly popular. It's short, practical, and handy for bloggers. Unlike much out there, the host seems to be perfectly normal. This is one of the first instructional podcasts to land the big numbers, in part thanks to Oprah.

9. Planet Money

This is an NPR program on the economy, money and global markets, but it qualifies for this list because it's not broadcast as a public radio show, per se. Some of what is produced makes it to air, but the NPR podcast is just that. A podcast. Well, it's also a blog. And videos. And links. OK, it's pretty undefinable, but it's entertaining and instructional and timely and edited to whatever length it is. I suspect "programs" will look a lot more like this in the future.

10. Podrunner

Here's an odd one. A podcast where each episode is defined and titled by its tempo (BPM), tailored specifically for your workout. Sound weird? Well, it's the #1 music podcast in iTunes right now. Behold the power of the untapped niche.