We all have our favorite podcasts, but there are a handful that have stayed at the top of the heap for months on end, proving that they have widespread appeal and staying power. Perhaps there is no better proof that podcasting spans the gulf of interests in that the biggest podcasts show a wide variety of interests, from sex to religious searching to fiction to technology. The top 20 of any podcast directory will likely show a wide variety of shows, from the G-rated to the X-rated, from the detailed and informative to the wacky and fun.
The following 15 podcasts are not the top podcasts of all time, but they commonly reside at the top of any podcast list. We'll discuss briefly what they do and the qualities of these podcasts that make them so popular.
It will probably come as no surprise to you that G-rated podcasts have no swearing, violent content, or sexual situations, and most consider them to be safe to listen to around any member of the family.
Catholic Insider is one of the most popular "Godcasts," very likely due to the charismatic host: Father Roderick Vonhögen, Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, The Netherlands. Breaking the traditional view most people have of priests, Father Roderick is dedicated to his many podcasts, quite knowledgeable about the technology around podcasting, and offers a spiritual look at the world that is less preachy and more celebratory. People of many faiths other than Catholicism listen to Father Roderick.
In his podcast, he covers everything from the Church itself to his own views on pop culture, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, to religious news (see Figure 2.1). He shows a passion for podcasting that goes above and beyond most people's. It is this passion that makes Catholic Insider so entertaining; he loves what he is doing, both podcasting and within the Church, and it comes through and ropes in his 4,0006,000 worldwide listeners.
Figure 2.1. The Catholic Insider: It's hip, cutting-edge and Catholic.
Free Talk Live
A popular political talk radio show, Free Talk Live bills itself as a show where the listeners are free to talk about anything. A show that appeals greatly to Libertarians, it separates itself from the norm of the conservative/liberal argumentative talk shows by welcoming any and all opinions.
The show has become a favorite with podcast listeners for many of the same reasons it has been successful on the radio: It appeals to the Libertarian audience, which has been growing a great deal in past years, as well as the lack of screaming talking heads when a heated discussion ensues. The website is welcoming with an active forum community.
Inside Mac Radio
Frequency: Daily except Sunday
Inside Mac Radio is another radio-come-podcast. This already-popular San Francisco radio program got a worldwide audience with podcasting. Macintosh computers have had a rabid following for decades, and those fans are downloading the Inside Mac Radio show at a frightening pace.
Inside Mac Radio has daily updates with news from the Mac community, including things people are doing, Apple news, and of course how-to's on gadgets and the Mac OS. The podcast is hosted from the OSX FAQ home page, a page that lists news, events, and a forum for Mac help and discussion. The podcast is a logical extension of that.
Inside Mac Radio is an obvious example of people taking an established audience and giving them more of what they love: discussion on all things Apple. It is a one-stop podcast for Mac fans, with tips, advice, and entertainment.
Media Artist Secrets
Media Artist Secrets is a podcast that proves you don't have to have an hour-long podcast to be informative and popular. Host Franklin McMahon produces a podcast of 1015 minutes, with the simple desire to push creative people further in their business. Whereas most creative-focused podcasts aim to help people with their creativity, McMahon's focuses on the business side.
What really makes his podcast work is the fact that his advice is broad enough to appeal to any creative personwriters, photographers, graphic designers, and so onand it's yet detailed enough to be quite useful to any person trying to make a business from their creativity. McMahon is friendly and energetic, with his can-do attitude winning him the Podcast and Portable Media Expo's Best Business Podcast award for 2005.
This is the podcast for the very successful website dedicated to the Harry Potter books and movies. Hosted at the Leaky Cauldron (http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/), the Pottercast is the place for news, interviews, discussion on the books and movies, and on-the-scene reporting when new movies and books come out.
Pottercast is one of the few podcasts with a community of people behind it instead of just one or two people. Gathering a group of people to work on a topic that millions of people worldwide are passionate about is just one recipe for a good podcast. Like some of the other top podcasts, Pottercast took an existing fan base (those of the Leaky Cauldron website) and turned them on to a podcasttheir podcast, as a matter of fact. With thousands of Harry Potter fans eagerly awaiting the next movie and book, Pottercast effortlessly takes those fans and gives them what they want: a weekly dose of Potter discussion. The podcast reads emails and plays audio clips of the fans' comments, which often spark lively discussions among the hosts.
This Week in Tech
Fans of Leo Laporte mourned the day his television show The Screen Savers was cancelled, and they flocked when he began podcasting. Another podcast that shot to the top of the popularity dog pile once launched, This Week In Tech gives Leo his soapbox again to discuss tech news.
Leo often has co-hosts, which change on occasion. His guests bring their own flavor to the show, giving information and news from their own area of expertise. The show, affectionately called "TWiT," allows Leo Laporte fans to continue hearing from him.
The PG-rated podcasts are still clean enough to be on mainstream radio, and their language is usually clean enough for kids. Their topics tend to stray into more adult territory, approaching sexual or violent topics without hesitation, but with little more detail than prime time television.
Diggnation is the podcast that accompanies the popular website, Digg.com, a technology news site. Readers of the site vote on the most popular stories, and the stories with the most votes get the headlines on the front page. Diggnation does a weekly rundown of the most popular stories, with its hosts, Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht, adding their own opinions.
Diggnation shows what can happen when a popular website attempts to branch out into podcasting (see Figure 2.2). If done correctly, it can add a great deal to the content of the site, bringing in more listeners and readers. They also have an established listener base right there in their daily visitors to the site. An already-captive audience is gold to a podcaster.
Figure 2.2. Diggnation allows those obsessed with "digging" another outlet for cool news stories.
While several people have toyed with the prospect of podcasting their fiction, only one podcast started out legally recording others' fiction: Escape Pod. The first paying market for fiction writers in podcasting, Escape Pod purchases sci-fi stories and then has people other than the author narrate them. Steve Eley, the editor of Escape Pod, uses a clever cross-marketing tool in that he asks podcasters to read for him, attracting those podcasters' listeners to his podcast.
Steve manages to remain a paying market for stories solely on donations. He reminds all his listeners at the end of every show that he pays his authors for their fine stories and that he is able to do this as long as the listeners support the site. After six months of podcasting, Escape Pod was in the black, still comfortably purchasing stories. Steve makes Escape Pod work by being the first (and possibly only) podcast to do what it does, encourages other podcasters to help, and manages to gather some excellent fiction.
While listening to the Escape Pod podcast is typically a PG experience, its subject matter and style can range anywhere from G to X.
[Note: Escape Pod's stories vary greatly in content, so we've placed them in the PG category in hopes that you'll listen for each show's individual rating before listening in front of your kids or at work.]
Frequency: Weekly or more frequently
The Signal charged onto the scene in the Summer and Fall of 2005, carrying a large crew of writers, newshounds, and voice talent and banking on the hungry fans of the cancelled cult-hit TV show Firefly. Originally designed to be a short-term fan-driven viral marketing tool for the movie Serenity, it proved so popular that the crew had to plan a second season to keep the fans happy.
The Signal works because it has a large crew, so no one person is stuck doing a ton of work. With the group working at it, the hour-long podcast is filled with relevant, intelligent, and informative material that complements the show instead of rehashes plotlines. The Signal includes essays on the characters, the plotlines, translations of the Chinese phrases used in the show, and interviews with the cast. It has even had celebrity contributions with renowned fantasy author Tracy Hickman sending in essays about the sci-fi world of Firefly. The Signal proves that podcasting does not have to be a solitary, or even a two-person effort.
Tired of pseudoscience and annoyed about the fact that important science was not making it onto news organizations' current events radar, friends Derek and Swoopy created Skepticality, the science podcast with a snarky angle. They interview scientists and debunk myths, popular thinking, and pseudoscience.
A wildly popular podcast, Skepticality appeals to science-minded geeks and skeptics alike, and is one of the few podcasts to have gained a large following outside the podcast community through its marketing to scientists and skeptics via mailing lists (see Figure 2.3). The obvious chemistry as two old friends works well on the show, and the intelligent banter keeps listeners tuned in to each installment.
Figure 2.3. Derek and Swoopy aren't afraid to ask the tough questions on Skepticality.
Michael and Evo's Slice of SciFi
Michael R. Mennenga and Evo Terra are hosts of the popular science fiction literature-focused podcast and radio show Dragon Page: Cover to Cover and the science fiction/beer podcast Dragon Page: Wingin' It. But they figured they didn't have enough to do, so they made a podcast dedicated to science fiction in television and movies. It was this podcast that became their overnight success.
They launched it in conjunction with Trek United, the organization dedicated to saving Star Trek Enterprise from cancellation. Thus, they had a wide audience of Trek fans to lure to their podcast. Currently their team of newshounds focuses on all science fiction on television and the big screen. They are also known for conducting enthralling interviews with the stars of those shows and movies. In part because of the dependable cult following that goes with quality SF programming (a following the Nielsen ratings seem none too familiar with), Slice of SciFi has a large audience.
Getting into the "definitely not kid-safe or work-safe" areas, the R-rated podcasts say pretty much whatever they like in terms of swear words, including, but not limited to, the dreaded "f-bomb." They do stay clear of graphic sexual description, however.
Daily Source Code
This is the big one, the most common "first listened to" podcast. Adam Curry has kept his show consistent since show #1, with news, promos for other podcasts, music (both podsafelegal to play on podcastsand not, until November 2005 when he went completely pod-safe), and insights into his life. It's still the place most podcastersand listenersgo for news and promos. Most podcasters consider having a promo played on DSC as the brass ring of podcast promotion, and many create promos simply for Adam to hear.
Adam's strengths reside in consistency as well as his unique position in the podcast community with his connections to Podshow. When Adam reports news, you can bet it's likely breaking news that can have the entire podcast community buzzing. His easy and likable attitude makes him a favorite of many listeners.
Earthcore and Ancestor
Earthcore and Ancestor are novels by Scott Sigler. He had some trouble getting Earthcore published through conventional methods, so he decided to serialize it in a podcast. Although self-publishing is a hit-or-miss venture in most cases, Sigler made podcasting work. Marketing it as the first podcast-only novel (the first podcasted novel was Tee Morris's reading of his and Lisa Lee's novel, MOREVI: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana), he began releasing it weekly and received a huge following.
Sigler received as many as 10,000 listeners to his book, caught the notice of small publisher Dragon Moon Press, which did a print run of the book, and became a favorite of many other podcasters, including Dawn and Drew. Sigler was a marketing wizard with the podcast, making sure everyone in the podcasting world knew about it. He got the word out early, and continued pushing the novel throughout the lifespan of the book. He started podcasting his second book, Ancestor, in late 2005 and boasts around 7,000 listeners. Although the podcast of Earthcore is over, the files are still available for download, and the book remains on many podcasting Top-20 lists. Earthcore is the poster child for not being too shy to market your podcast. Remember, no one else will do it for you.
What can we say? The X-rated shows hold nothing back. Nothing. Trust us. Nothing is taboo for these podcasts, and they will push the boundaries with so much glee that it's hard not to enjoy the ride. (That is, as long as you're not easily offended. Or your kids aren't around. Or parents. Or priest. Well, you get the drift.)
The Dawn and Drew Show!
Another podcast veteran duo, Dawn and Drew, was the first couple-cast, breaking the ground for the many to follow. Every day they place their welcome mat out for anyone to peek inside their marriage, and that's an unadulterated view, including intimate details such as arguments, sex, and Dawn's time of the month.
Their appeal is clear: They hold nothing back. It's like watching your neighbors through their window as they live their lives, and they're welcoming you to do so! It's voyeurism without the guilt. Many of Dawn and Drew's listeners say they see the couple as their best friends, and they have a large worldwide reach of fans that crave their raunchy, unabashed look at the world.
Keith and the Girl
Part couple-cast, part comedy show, Keith and his girlfriend, Chemda, bring their brash New York podcast to the aggregator each day (See Figure 2.4), giving their uncensored opinions of Hooters waitresses, lesbians, and, well, anything that comes to mind. More "in your face" than Dawn and Drew, they came onto the scene in March of 2005 and have been incredibly popular ever since.
Figure 2.4. Keith and Chemda's cute site. Don't be fooled.
Keith and the Girl have a talent for brashly stating what a lot of people think, but don't feel comfortable expressing. The draw of podcasting for several people is the lack of rules, and this podcast pushes the envelope. Enjoying the lack of the FCC regulations, Keith and the Girl daily tell the world their opinions on everything.