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Podcast genres and formats

Each genre of podcast has a uniquely powerful story to tell.
© University of Wollongong, 2018
Each genre has uniquely powerful stories to tell.

Genre

Genres group a collection of works together into categories. These categories are usually based on shared themes such as history, true crime, comedy. Choosing a genre to work within offers your podcast a unique superpower as each genre attract a ready-made target audience. If you want to read more about podcast genre see Siobhan’s ‘How Podcasting is Changing the Audio Storytelling Genre’, attached at the bottom of the step.

Formats

Within each genre, you will find different podcast formats. The most common are:

The Gabfest or ‘Chumcast’

Where two or more people chat about something they feel strongly about. It might be a recap of a television show, it might be the week in politics, sport or women’s issues. What matters is that the hosts have chemistry and passion.
Examples:
A group of UOW students making a podcast in Siobhan’s course.
A group of UOW students making a podcast in Siobhan’s course. They chose a ‘chumcast format’ on the theme of The Cringe: things that made them mortified. That covered everything from speed dating to outspoken grandmothers.

Interview

Here, the host relies on finding interesting people to bring into the studio. They might be celebrities, or just ordinary people who have done unusual things.
Examples:

Storytelling

These podcasts often take a deep dive into a topic – it might be a murder investigation or a trip to Antarctica – and unfold the subject by delving into the characters and events in a compelling, carefully structured way, that keeps you listening all the way through. They can be told over several episodes, or each episode can tell a self-contained story. Either way, they need a strong plot (something has to happen), interesting characters (the people things happen to), solid research (distilled via good writing and editing) and a tight structure (careful craft and narrative arc). They are the hardest to do – but the most powerful when done well.
Examples:
  • SERIAL (US): the investigation into the death of a high school student that became the most successful podcast of all time
  • Intrigue: Murder in the Lucky Holiday Hotel (UK): a rollicking tale of sex, murder and power in China
  • Earshot, (ABC, 2018) “Earshot presents documentaries about people, places and ideas, in all their diversity”
Tip: If you are not sure about what genre you want to work with, spend some time listening to a range of genres.
Alt text for screen readers
Siobhan was on a panel about podcasting with Dana Chivvis (centre), producer of Serial, at the Global Editors Network media summit, Vienna, 2015. Dana said they never expected Serial to be the huge hit it became.

Places to listen

“Our vast – and ever-growing – collection contains thousands of carefully curated audio stories of all stripes, and Third Coast Conference sessions offering wisdom from the best makers on the planet. You can also dive into our Producer Index. Enjoy!”
“The Future of Podcasts: Your favorite shows. New voices. Stories you’ll love. Follow, share and connect with podcasters around the world.”
“The shows that kept listeners refreshing their apps this year”

Some genres to choose from

HistoryNews & Politics
EducationalPersonal Journal
ReligiousInterview Cast
Audio DramasEnvironment/Science
SportsTechnology
Comedy CastsCrime
Society and CultureKids and Families
FeministLaw
HealthPop Culture
Advice and Self-HelpPhilosophy
BusinessGames and Hobbies

The influence of chosen genre

Current Affairs/Topical Stories:

  • Tightly focus your idea
  • Make focus clear to listeners
  • Define expectations (You’ll learn XX or discover what happens to this character/place/policy/etc.)
  • Create a sense of movement or momentum
Example:
This series looks at people who are bringing about social change in their world – from student activists protesting against racial discrimination in South Africa to environmentalists fighting to keep green space in Moscow. The host is an activist and academic, not a journalist. But it is very well produced, by audio professionals.

Want to learn more?

Attached at the end of the step are two articles by Siobhan providing further information. One is about the audio storytelling genre and the other is about the ways podcasts can be political.

Conversations starter

  • What do you think about using podcasting to create social change?
© University of Wollongong, 2018
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