With IP at the heart of broadcasting’s future, codecs are increasingly the gateways of content assimilation and distribution
LONDON — Launched almost two years ago with the aim of helping people discover new podcasts through the trusted medium of radio, Podcast Radio is now an established part of the United Kingdom’s thriving audio community, reflecting the huge growth of the podcasting sector.
The station has expanded from its initial London coverage area and now broadcasts on DAB digital radio in several areas across the U.K., including the major cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
Podcast Radio broadcasts a selection of sample episodes from podcast series, allowing listeners to decide whether they want to download further episodes. The station’s CEO, Gerry Edwards, explained the station’s mission: “There is a bewildering range of more than 2 million podcasts and 52 million podcast episodes available. We help listeners navigate that enormous choice. We operate as a broadcast radio station in the U.K. and online elsewhere via our website, app and smart speakers to offer a radio-like experience.”
Edwards said content is carefully assessed before broadcast. “We don’t just air any old podcast that comes across our desk,” he noted. “We check podcast applications for audio quality, content and theme and, of course, how these elements would relate to the everyday Podcast Radio listener.
“The result is a 24/7 mix of engaging, dynamic and, most importantly, varied, rich audio programs,” stated Edwards. “To those who have never listened to podcasts, we promise a full spectrum of subjects under the sun. Those in the know will notice that the weekly schedule is structured — not random — and thought-through for what type of genre will be airing and when.
“The platform continually offers up new podcasts, introduced by a special role to give context — called a ‘podjock,’ believe it or not — and we also have news bulletins and daily podcast shows,” Edwards added. “This means listeners don’t have to rush off anywhere else to be informed.”
However, within one month of the station launching, the U.K. found itself in lockdown. “Oh yeah, that pandemic — we launched face-first into it,” said Edwards. “This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in the long run. Being newly launched, we were able to be flexible with our software and hardware, as well as being patient in finding the most effective streaming partners — and we could then measure the many new listeners engaging with our online stream from all over the world. With excellent data, we could also see that listeners were returning consistently.
“The most surprising evolution has been the time that listeners come in and join us,” he observed. “Although there are the obvious breakfast and drive ‘spikes,’ we noticed that our dedication to discovery 24/7 had listeners joining us at all times of day and night. The same old issue arises with discovery: Where do you go to just listen-in for genuinely curated podcasts? We have that answer for every minute of every day. Further feedback has outlined to us that our users want to discover new content, with a fellow human voice and a curated platform they trust.”
As a result, the station has developed its line-up of “podjock” hosts, including United States Radio Hall of Fame star Gene “Bean” Baxter and Asian Media Young Presenter of the Year Kavita Kukar. Links are recorded in home studios across the U.K. and in private partner studio spaces.
Edwards explained the station’s technical setup. “Nowadays, we are cloud-based, with several engineers and programmers all connecting digitally to our ‘studio,’ which is built upon an Amazon Web Services system, using PlayoutONE software. We have also had to react to an international audience finding us through our app, our own website or various partner platforms such as TuneIn and Radioplayer. For our streaming, we have found our forever-home with Triton, and this allows us to adapt and engage with multiple sales companies for our own marketplace and programmatic ad space.”
The station’s content has also evolved since its launch in February 2020, said Edwards. “We launched our own PRO-Shows — Podcast Radio Originals — creating an in-house podcast network. We had the tools to promote them, and we had interesting people knocking on our door to collaborate with us. We have a U.S. partner, Evergreen Podcasts, who ensures we have eyes and ears on the ground in the States, and we use Megaphone to host our on-demand content, as we trust the growth potential of this platform.
“Our Originals have effectively created new podcasters,” he added. “From TV show ‘Love Island,’ barristers branching out into hosting true-crime series, celebrity experts in their respective fields, and even a semi-fictional murder-mystery series “The Mahé Mysteries” from a former BBC Radio 4 announcer, Patrick Muirhead, recorded on the beach in Seychelles.”
However, the pandemic proved tough, with the station needing to adapt to find new sources of revenue. “A new, engaging platform like ours was up there, shining away, but not a single high street shop was open to try us out,” explained Edwards.
“Since riding the storm, like many others, we have brought on clients who want to try new ways of approaching audio and finding new ears. We have had sponsorships across the platform that also cross over into our own on-demand Originals network. This has blurred the line of radio and podcasting and shown our strength in representing the reach of radio, but also the great content of podcasts among the many millions of episodes. Our in-house production house has worked hard to create podcasts for brands too, as well as editing and producing Originals.”
The station has created partnerships with podcast networks around the world such as TED, Curiouscast in Canada, Radio New Zealand and Evergreen Podcasts in the U.S. Edwards said the response from the podcasting community has been positive.
“Literally, we cannot work our way through the applications faster than we can get them on-air. Many podcasters we have featured have since offered new episodes, which has been fantastic, but we always promise to fulfill our concept of discovering new content on Podcast Radio and using the rest of our platform to engage further, listen and follow the podcasts you hear.”
His advice for podcasters? “Don’t give us too many episodes! Remember, we want listeners to discover your fantastic series and become your regular listeners, too — the more followers your series gets, the better for everyone. It might not happen overnight, but just like traditional radio, if listeners like your ‘singles’ on the radio, they’ll usually make their way to a full ‘album.’”
“Feedback has outlined to us that our users want to discover new content, with a fellow human voice, and a curated platform they trust.”
Edwards had high praise for his team’s adaptability through the pandemic. “All of our staff across the board have been phenomenal. As exciting as this has been, and watching us grow weekly,” he said, “it means our staff needs to be flexible, try new things, solve problems in the moment and understand the need to be dynamic and interesting themselves, whether they are formatting next week’s schedule, onboarding new content partners, interviewing a podcaster or creating a brand-new genre of podcast for us. There isn’t another Podcast Radio on the planet, and certainly nothing with a format that we have created together.”
It’s clear Edwards now sees an international future for Podcast Radio. “This is perhaps the most exciting time since launch, as we have international expansion on the cards. In short, we’re coming to the U.S. and Australia, with plans already in motion.”