What makes a good science podcast?

You are asking the right person, I am subscribed to 20 of them (a few more since I read this paper).

But first, the ideal show, according to listeners of Astronomy Cast (Gay, Bembrose-Fetter, Bracey and Cain, 2007), contains two hosts, includes interviews with real scientists, five-minute news updates and information on events related to the shows topic. While I don’t necessarily have any disagreement with what they have to say here, there are few points on which I really agree with them.

The reasons listeners said they liked Astronomy Cast was because they were “intellectually stimulating” and “not dumbed down”. I like to listen to podcasts that are well outside the areas that I studied because they are more challenging. This is what I like most about the multitude of podcasts that I listen to.

Bear in mind that I have a background in science and most of the respondents to the survey also have a general interest in science (although it is not clear if the podcast inspires people to seek out more science or if they were listening to the podcast because they were interested in science). I am not sure if the same criteria would be held for people without a background in science.

This does raise an interesting point, that the internet provides the opportunity for tailoring information for very niche markets (I use the word market loosely because they are free) and on a global scale, even the smallest markets in relative terms can be fairly big in absolute terms.

Astronomy Cast is listened to by people all over the world, yet the demographics of their viewers were surprisingly similar in terms of level of education, socio-economic status and interests. This makes it even more important for them to learn about their audience because one slip-up that disappoints their listeners could make them loose their entire base.

What about you, have any of you sought out any real niche information in podcasts? What was it and what made you like it?

If you havn’t listened to any podcasts here is an awesome segment from Radiolab to get you started 🙂


 The Brain Science Podcast – for all things neuroscience

 Rationally Speaking – The intersection of science and philosophy


Gay, P.L., Benrose-Fetter, R., Bracey, G., & Cain, F, (2007). Astronomy Cast: Evaluation of a podcast audience’s content needs and listening habits. Cap 1 (1), 24-29.



What makes a go…

By Dangerous

7 comments on “What makes a go…

  1. I have to admit I am a podcast novice but have been meaning to explore it ever since I heard you raving about RadioLab. Your link didn’t take me to a particular podcast though so I picked one out of the “most heard” list. Which one were you recommending?

    The podcast I listened to was “Inside “Ouch”” and it was fantastic. The fact that it was conversational was very engaging and made me feel like I was listening to a conversation with friends. The different characters means you don’t get bored of the same monotonous voice. I also really enjoyed the different sound effects they used to set the scene.

    I thought your point about podcast listeners essentially being the same demographic regardless of where they come from particularly interesting. One slip up and they could potentially alienate their entire following. Do you think podcast listeners are that discerning? I’m sure you have heard things you haven’t agreed with but kept listening since it’s a fact of life that sometimes people have a different opinion. Take the recent kerfuffle between Alan Jones and Julia Gillard. Many of Alan Jones’ listeners called up and said look mate, you’ve done the wrong thing, but keep going, we need you, don’t give up. I think this shows how loyal listeners can get.

  2. Rhian i think being subscribed to 20 plus podcasts can almost be considered an addiction! (but definitely a healthy and educational one!).

    It would be interesting to see if those people with no science background who listen to the podcasts were inspired to seek out further information or if they use the information they get from the podcasts for anything in their day to day life.

    This post made me want to explore some podcasts and I will definitely be checking out RadioLab that Diana mentioned.

    I agree that podcasts are generally created for niche markets, but normally these audiences would be quite committed to the topic and so they almost have their own ‘community’ as such. So is there a chance they could actually be fairly forgiving to slight slip ups? especially if most of the time the podcasts are interesting and informative.

    • Make that 29 (addicted much?) …

      ok by slip-up i didn’t actually mean like making one mistake, I meant more that if they started veering off on the wrong path and not really fulfilling their needs anymore.

  3. In my opinion there are a number of contributing factors which determine a ‘good’ podcast.
    1. The content matter is important. Obviously this will be conveyed in the title, so a catchy title is important to draw the listeners in to begin with.
    2. The manner in which the information of the podcast is broadcast to its listeners.
    ie- How effectively/concisely and enigmatically the main points of the subject matter are released. This depends largely of the podcast presenter!
    At the end of the day the podcast could be incredibly informative but if it is not engaging it will not keep its listeners connected until the end!

  4. I used to listen to some sports news podcast. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to do a podcast on sports, coz it involves a lot of visual stuff, like the highlight of the game, the top 10 play in the league…And I guess so as science topics. Lots of information is abstract and difficult to communicate just by audio.
    So the key of a good podcast in my opinion is that if it’s interesting and informative. We need to hold listeners’ attention by only audio, and lead them to the right image of what we want to communicate.

  5. Hello! I have to admit that despite doing a science degree, I have never come across the word Radiolab, nor listen to any science related podcast before doing this unit. In my opinion, I feel that Radiolab is not as widely advertised, as compared to other popular sciences magazines or articles. The first thought that came to mind about podcasts reminded me of dreadful online lectures that I had to remember and study for a test. I also think that the general public, or most people, would hardly come across these podcasts, unless someone they know whom is interested in science happened to mention it. It is sad to know that most people are generally most interested in entertainment news and dramas over educational topics.

    That being said, my opinion about podcast has definitely changed after listening to Radiolab! It is fun, interesting and entertaining, certainly not what I have expected. In my opinion, a good podcast is about the content, organisation of points, delivery manner and the tone of the presenter. Sound effects are also a huge contributor, as it sets the mood and atmosphere. I have to admit that podcast are different from movies, as the listener is given the option to perceive different images from the description of a surroundings. It is like storytelling and the listener is able to recreate the mood and imagery.

    • Certainly in my mind it is sad that not everyone in the world listens to Radiolab 😛 They are not marketed well, actually at all because they don’t tend to make any money. Some have a few commercials but most are donation-only and I am guessing this doesn’t totally cover their costs.

      Its true that even after listening to the entire back catalogue of Radiolab I wanted more so I googled other podcasts that Radiolab listeners also subscribed to so word of mouth is a massive part in podcasting at the moment. No doubt the popularity of some will have Coca Cola advertising on them soon. Eventually they will probably demand a subscription fee as well and we will be left saying “remember how cool podcasts were before they went commercial”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s