People I know clear their schedules so they can follow American Idol or The Amazing Race. For me, it’s Andy McCaskey’s Slashdot Review podcast. I knew I was hooked the very first episode I heard. McCaskey’s podcast highlights top stories on Digg, Slashdot, and Reddit, and points out one interesting YouTube video each day. And somehow he does all this in about ten minutes! In a recent episode, McCaskey mentioned that he was traveling, and podcasting from his hotel room. He does such a excellent job that, had he not mentioned that anything was different, I never would have known.
McCaskey made the time to answer a few of my questions about how he takes his show on the road. He included some great information regarding the equipment and software that he uses now and what he plans on moving to in the future. He also talked a bit about how he decides what stories to talk about. Like most great bloggers and podcasters, McCaskey always keeps his audience in mind.
# Tell me a little about how you manage to stay on top of your news when you’re on the road.
I use the RSS feeds from each of the primary sources – Slashdot, Digg and Reddit as well as some searches that I have converted to RSS feeds. On the selection of YouTube materials, I really appreciate the efforts of listeners to recommend material, and help from SDR News “Video Scout” – David Gilson in the UK. David has been a tremendous help locating and filtering YouTube for interesting material.
# Do you work between multiple PC’s, and if so, what do you do to make sure you have everything you need from one when you’re working from another?
I am in the process of moving the entire operation to the MacBook – but right now have the production split between a Toshiba laptop and the Mac. Add in a third laptop from the company and it makes for a slow security check at the airport. I have only had to do that once. I use del.icio.us so that I can work on copy on both machines.
# How long does it usually take you to produce an episode?
About three hours – depending upon how much background reading I do. When I go out for a week, I try to prepare the postings (YouTube selection and Daily Comments) in advance and leave them in draft form on WordPress. When traveling on business, you need to get out of the evening’s social event quickly. I can usually get back to the room by 10:00pm (although that is rugged on the west coast since you will be up until about 4:00AM Eastern) . Sure cuts down on the temptation to have a few more drinks at business dinners!
# Do you have any favorite applications or tools that you use in regards to your podcast?
I use Propaganda as my primary editor and mp3 encoder. For several years I used Audacity, but find I can edit faster in Propaganda. I used id3Tagit to add mp3 info and then Filezilla for FTP. I will be shifting over to the Mac, but will probably use Parallels and the Windows apps for a while. I have been looking at Ubercaster and it is really impressive – I will probably shift to that in the next few months. I use the Gigavox Levelator for pre-processing of .wav files on the PC.
# How do you decide what stories to cover, and does being on the road make this more difficult?
I try to select a variety of stories and remove some of the anti-Microsoft slant from Slashdot and the overtly political from Reddit, unless the political has a technology impact or angle. Since most of my audience is mid-career professionals, I will generally select with that demographic in mind. On the road, the limitation is the amount of reading you can do from the feed and the original source pages each feed item leads you to.
# Is there anything that you wish you knew before you started your podcast that would have made things easier, especially relating to taking things with you on the road?
It took me about two years to settle on the BeyerDynamic DT290 headset with pop filter screen for my mobile rig– it helps tremendously keeping constant mic distance and helping with echo in various hotel rooms. You need the Edirol UA25 interface with the Mac to run it in directly. I generally record into a Marantz 671 digital recorder and then use the USB cable to bring the .wav files into either the Mac or the PC.
I learn a lot when I’m listening to Slashdot Review, and not just about the current buzz on the blogoshere. As I talk to more and more people about how producing a podcast can help drive their business, I often find myself thinking back on McCaskey’s show. I can say, “Did you hear how he did this?” or “Do you see how he always does this first?” And the people I’m talking to, people who have never produced a podcast, will say, “Yeah, I get it.” I think that is a sign of a successful podcast!
It’s always good to have a role model, even if you feel like you’re proficient enough on your own. One of the things that draws me to McCaskey’s podcast is just that. In my mind there are a few things that define an effective podcast, especially if you’re using it to drive business:
- Consistency: Whether you produce your podcast once a day, once a week, or once a month, it needs to be done regularly so that your listeners know when to expect the next episode. If you produce a show whenever you remember, you’ll be speaking to empty space. No one will know when to tune in, so they won’t. Be consistent, be regular.
- Length: In my opinion, a shorter show is a better show. Ten to fifteen minutes is perfect. Why? Because people have short attention spans and short memories. If you want your listeners to remember something, say it and stop talking. Give them the opportunity to digest, then tell them more in the next show. Also, you’ll find that many (most?) people just don’t have time to sit and listen to 45 or 60 minutes of you talking. Fifteen minutes is a manageable block of time. You may find that your show lengthens naturally. If this happens, let it happen, but don’t force it.
- Organization: Do your audience a favor and present things in the same order from show to show. See if it’s possible to organize yourself in such a way that you can break your show into smaller chunks of related content. Then string together these chunks in the same order for each show. For example, you might start every show with a quote and a brief discussion about it, and follow that by answering questions listeners have emailed you. With recognizable patterns like this, your listeners’ brains can focus on what you are saying instead of how you are saying it.
- Audience: This seems like it would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. McCaskey pointed out that his audience was mid-career professionals. He tailors his show to that demographic. It’s tough to remember that your show is for them and not you. You may have something important to say, but saying it to the wrong crowd is worse than not saying it at all. Always know who you are addressing. One exercise that I like is to imagine someone who is in your target audience. Give them as much detail as possible, hair color, eye color, gender, clothing, shoes, even how they are sitting or standing. Then, put together a show that your imaginary person would want to listen to. When you record your show, speak to that imaginary person like they’re right there in the studio with you. Don’t ever do a show without that person next to you.
As you can see, an effective podcast takes preparation, practice, patience, and persistence. I love the fact that you can listen to McCaskey’s Slashdot Review and see all these things in action. He makes a great role-model for any would-be podcaster. If you don’t already, I encourage you to invest the time to listen to Slashdot Review. McCaskey offers up a valuable learning experience and, as an added bonus, you get to hear the best of Slashdot, Digg, and Reddit, all in about ten minutes.