Creating compelling podcasts is on the to-do list of every public radio station in the country. Until recently, WHYY, the public media entity serving greater Philadelphia and home to Fresh Air with Terry Gross, had just dipped a toe into podcasting, mostly by turning its radio programs into podcasts.
ea-header-socialmediaBut we felt it was time to be more intentional. We wanted to better serve our listeners and harness energy within our building. We knew the only way to learn was to start, so we held an in-house competition to foster the creation of new podcasts. And that’s how we got The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified, a new podcast for kids targeting 8- to 12- year-olds.
This past summer WHYY launched the 10-episode series, releasing one episode per week. Here’s what we saw:
Shortly after launch, Eleanor reached number 1 on the iTunes Kids & Family chart and stayed there for five weeks.
Eleanor also reached number 23 on iTunes’ overall list and spent nearly a month in the iTunes Top 100.
In less than six weeks after launch, Eleanor reached 250,000 downloads and has more subscribers than all other WHYY podcasts combined, with the exception of Fresh Air. This is particularly striking for a show that targets a limited age range.
High-profile attention has kept listening up even after all 10 episodes were released. Eleanor was featured on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls website a couple of weeks after the final episode, reaching new fans who had the luxury of binge-listening instead of waiting each week for a new episode. And Matt Lieber, the president and co-founder of Gimlet Media, said on Gimlet’s Sampler podcast that his kids love it.
WHYY sees The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified as a big success. The barriers to entry aren’t high in podcasting — certainly not as high as in broadcast. Of course, the challenges for reaching an audience are greater. So without a lot of experience in podcasting, how did we do it?
First, we made it a team effort from the start. Senior station leadership pulled together an internal team that included the creator/producer of the podcast, marketing, promotion and WHYY’s digital team. In addition, recognizing we didn’t have a lot of internal experience with podcasts, we brought onto the team from outside of WHYY a seasoned podcast producer and marketer, Rekha Murthy, whose savvy judgment and key contacts in the industry proved invaluable.
Then we made sure the content was outstanding. It’s easier to produce a podcast than a radio program. Therein lies a problem — the podcast can be created easily, and the urge is to push it out quickly. But in an ecosystem of nearly 350,000 podcasts offered on iTunes, if your podcast is not exceptional, you may get a first listen, but listeners won’t come back.
John Sheehan, a Fresh Air producer and the creative mind behind Eleanor, created a highly produced, very sound-rich pilot. We knew we had something great but still took the time to have our external consultant review the content and suggest changes.
We also had a children’s content expert listen to pilot episodes and give us feedback. We weren’t looking for marketing advice. Instead, we were looking for help in defining a target audience and also looking for a content review to ensure appropriateness and comprehension. It wasn’t a seal of approval, but more of a gut check.
Our consultants advised us to keep language simple and the narrative moving along. Rekha Murthy also emphasized the importance of an inviting and readable logo. Meanwhile, our content expert suggested that we narrow our target age range from 7–13 to 8–12 years of age and that focus on writing for a sweet spot of 11-year-olds.
John, who hadn’t created a podcast before, welcomed the input. The combination of seeking help from someone with more experience for an outside review, and the creator’s openness to editing advice, only made better what was already pretty special.
Eleanor is unlike anything our station has ever produced on the radio side. WHYY didn’t set out to make a fictional podcast for children. But we did set out to launch the best podcast we could find from among our talented staff. In other words, we let talent and quality, not subject matter, guide us.