How to create a successful podcast
November 13, 2009
Park City resident David Bernstein produces a weekly cycling-news podcast called FredCast averaging 70,000 listeners a month. He does it for fun and to make cool connections in the cycling community. He’s noticed, however, that podcasts are fast becoming integral parts of successful marketing strategies.
He contacted The Park Record to talk about winning the People’s Choice category at the Utah Social Media Awards Nov. 6 and shared his secrets for creating a successful podcast.
Focus on a niche
Bernstein pointed out that aside from major news media, almost no one has a successful "general interest" podcast.
"The sweet spot is addressing a niche," he said. "It could be clothing, could be high-end road cycling, could be ski jumping."
Identify something you can do better
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How does one identify the niche? Bernstein chose an area in which he recognized a need for information but was unhappy with what was out there.
About five years ago when podcasts were in their infancy, he began listening to anything he could get his hands on about cycling.
He said everything he found had awful sound quality and the people speaking had poor radio skills.
"They often used ‘dude’ one too many times for my taste, and they weren’t talking about things that mattered to me," he said.
Bernstein is a fan of professional cycling and all the high-end gear that goes with it. He knew there were many people like him who were probably looking for similar content. So he decided to make it himself.
Just jump in
How did he get started? Bernstein says that’s actually the most commonly asked question in his show’s voicemail and email boxes.
Any electronics store sells USB headsets that offer mediocre sound quality but are good enough for beginners. He uses the audio editing software GarageBand but also recommends Audacity.
Know what your target audience likes
If you want to attract listeners, you need to satisfy the needs of the niche market, Bernstein explained.
Even though his shows regularly attract in excess of 10,000 downloads each, his peak months are those in which the Tour de France and other major road cycling events occur. Fans like him are hungry for the race coverage he provides.
Provide information that can’t be found anywhere else
Despite his deep passion for the sport, it’s easy for him to get burnt out once in awhile. That’s when he begins stories about questions he always had as a cyclist. How do race organizers get the prized yellow jerseys ready in time for the winners to wear after crossing the finish line when it’s a close race? What’s it like to drive one of the vehicles that follow racers to offer medical support?
Not only does that kind of journalism give him a buzz, but people love those episodes.
"It’s behind the scenes stuff they can’t get anywhere else," he said. "That’s what keeps me from getting news fatigue."
You don’t need experience, just a plan
What if you don’t have any journalism experience? Neither do many of the most successful podcasters, he pointed out.
Bernstein has a political science degree. His only knowledge of broadcasting has come from his personal experience listening to talk radio. But he’s listened to a lot of it. As a fan of marketing, he’s always paid attention to the format of talk shows (both left and right wing, good and bad). When he started his own podcast he decided that careful planning could make up for inexperience.
"I needed to model the success of others. I took things I liked from other shows having nothing to do with sports or cycling," he explained.
He said a lot of podcasters do their first show as a sort of experiment and the episodes get better as they go. Bernstein says his first wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful either. He’s carefully prepared every episode from the beginning.
Have fun with it
One skill that many people do need to develop is interviewing, but Bernstein said it came easily for him because he asks the questions he’d ask his subjects anyway whether the microphone was on or not. That leads to another piece of advice: enjoy what you’re doing.
"I’d love for it to be my day job," he said.
He has sponsorships and advertisers that bring in funding, but it usually goes back into the show to buy new equipment or pay for his traveling to races or product conventions.
Bernstein’s "day job" is running a janitorial-supply company out of Lehi. He puts in a full workweek there and often travels to meet clients and manufacturers. The podcast is like a hobby only the weekly commitment warrants a stronger word, he said. Often he’s taped shows from hotel rooms or at 3 in the morning.
If he didn’t enjoy it he wouldn’t still be doing it. And there are perks: he gets to attend the races and conventions. Companies send him free samples hoping he’ll mention them on the show. There’s even a demo bike in his basement he gets to ride for free to do a critique for the manufacturer. Next year he’ll fly to the French Alps to cover races with a former pro.
Even Bernstein’s title, FredCast, is a clue to cyclists that he has fun with his show. A Fred is a somewhat derogatory name for someone who likes the best and newest cycling equipment and fashion. It comes with an insinuation that the rider’s skills don’t match the gear.
Bernstein views the term with endearment the same way the phrases "tech-head" or "gear-head" are used in some sports. He knows from experience that cyclists who like the best gear also happen to be some of the best riders. He isn’t ashamed of his penchant for the new and caters his podcast to people who like to know about innovations in the sport.
Don’t be naive about the time commitment
How does Bernstein balance his demanding job, take care of his family and still have time to ride? He jokes that he sacrifices sleep and relies on caffeine. Late-night recording sessions are common. An average show can take up to eight hours to complete.
The show is in its fifth year and he’s created about 200 episodes. In a few weeks, 70 videos should be available from an expo he attended in September.
Show production time doesn’t even count the hours he spends listening to the podcast’s voicemail messages and reading emails from listeners.
"We all have to have priorities. For me, my family comes first. Quite honestly, sometimes the podcast suffers," he said.
But instead of being angry with him, listeners send messages saying they understand when he has to miss a couple weeks.
Remember that social media is supposed to be social
Social media like blogs and podcasts allow, and most encourage, interaction and contribution from consumers.
Bernstein said he’s come to rely on, and really enjoy, that interaction. He uses listener’s comments on his show and people he interviews often introduce him to other people in the cycling industry that make great subjects for future shows.
One of his fondest memories is when he Tweeted that he and some other cycling podcasters were going to hold a party at a trade show. About 200 people showed up and he got to meet his fans.
Cross promote, don’t be afraid of competition
Other cycling podcasters aren’t competition, they’re collaborators, Bernstein said.
Following the lead of successful podcasters that came before, he said he often calls up podcasters from around the globe to hold roundtable sessions where they all sit around and talk about industry news. Each host gets to use the show on their site, and instead of losing listeners to roundtable participants, the hosts expand their audience together.
His 70,000 listeners are almost all from word of mouth. Networking is how he builds his base.
Competing big media would never do that, but it allows social media to thrive, he said.
Check Bernstein out at http://www.thefredcast.com.