Podcast at the BBC 002 PODCAST PRODUCERS PODCAST Neil Mossey | Stuart Thomas BBC England

Podcast at the BBC 002 PODCAST PRODUCERS PODCAST Neil Mossey | Stuart Thomas BBC England


Hello, welcome back to the Happy Hut for this
the second ever episode of the podcast producers podcast with me Neil Mossey.
Thanks so much for clicking on this – it’s really good to have you there and man did
I learn so much from making episode 1. I’m going to get to today’s interview as quickly
as possible and it’s the thing that kicked me off on this whole journey. It’s a chat
with one of my best friends, Head of Programmes at BBC England: Stuart Thomas. He’s talking
about a podcast at the BBC. The whole point of this podcast is that it’s for podcast producers
to share their experiences to help anyone with how to start
a podcast and I just wanted to tell you about how things are right now.
I’m so glad that I’m on the second episode. I found out this week – there was research
– I’ll try and put a link into the description – but the figure is this:
12% of podcasts never make it past the first episode.
The number of podcasts at the moment right now at the time of recording has been put
at about 675,000 podcasts. That figure will obviously have grown by the
time you see this – but 12% of them never make it past the first episode.
6% never make it past the second episode. So if I can get past this one, we’re home
and dry and we’re in the top four-fifths of all podcasts – just for numbers of episodes
alone! I’m telling you this so that you can get your
podcast past episode 2 as well, so let’s all hold hands and get through this one. This
whole scheme, this whole project, started with a chat with a very very close friend
of mine. His name Stuart Thomas and he is currently
Head of Programmes at the BBC in BBC England. I’ve known him… it feels odd talking to
you about him like that because I’ve known him since we were at university.
We ran a college radio station together – UKC RADIO 999 kilohertz, “it’s the killer
that hurts”, and since then we’ve both had careers in the broadcasting industry and I
wanted to talk to him about just podcasts generally.
I didn’t know that he’s the executive producer of a brand-new podcast which has just been
launched and we were talking about this and we didn’t stop talking about this and I knew
that this was going to be the start of my journey to share experiences of people who
have made podcasts. So I got my phone out – I would never record
a podcast on my phone just with the just the normal handset microphone – I would never
do that, but I wanted to do it just to get this thing started.
So firstly I apologize hugely for the audio quality of what you’re about to hear – this
is the chance that is the reason why I am making this podcast, so I hope you enjoy it.
There’s a transcript of the conversation on the blog and there’s a link to that in the
description. My chat with Stuart Thomas, Head of Programmes at BBC England, executive producer
for a brand-new podcast called MULTI STORY. You can’t just put a radio programme out as
a podcast, and expect it to do well because with a few exceptions of, you know, The Archers
and stuff you just won’t. And that’s really just it’s not really podcasting – that’s catch
up radio, which I think is a different thing. Sorry, this is really obscure, but you know
Groundhog Day? The film? Yeah.
You know the the guy who’s really annoying who interrupts Bill Murray on the pavement,
on the sidewalk, Yes!
And he ends up punching him? Yeah yeah yeah.
That actor is called Stephen Tobolowsky, and he’s – he’s got a podcast – and it’s just,
I don’t know if it’s real or not – it’s just him reminiscing…
Right But it sounds like it’s really intricately
written. But it’s just him talking in a… and it even
starts with him just talking to someone else like he’s being interviewed and then without
any warning he just carries on with the story. And the story is just like this half
hour radio play. But narrated by him. So, you know you’ve got that whole other strand
– where it’s like an audio book. Yep.
I love that. It’s also the niche fandom kind of thing,
isn’t there. So like every football club has got multiple
podcasts in a way that they used to make fanzines – people now make podcasts about them and
they do really well, the football ones. I’m sure I’ve bored you with my favourite
fan podcast which is The West Wing Weekly, you know presented-
Is it still going? Right, so The West Wing Weekly – every week
they go through an episode of The West Wing. They started with episode one, series one,
and they’re now up to – they’re half way through series five. And it’s this guy who actually
has got another podcast, called Song Exploder, so he’s kind of the podcast guy…
And then the other presenter is Joshua Malina who would played Will in The West Wing so
he was you know he’s got a part in it! And so they get on… they get on you know all
of the stars of The West Wing have been on it… Aaron Sorkin’s been on it numerous times,
and they spend at least an hour sometimes an hour and 20 minutes talking about 44 minutes
of television! So the conversation about the episode takes
longer than the episode. And they came to Britain to record one in
one of the theatres, here in London, I think earlier this summer and I was desperate to
go and the tickets sold out in about ten minutes and that’s from British fans of a
podcast about The West Wing. And they filled a theatre in ten minutes – I
mean it’s just you know – and they’ve filled, they’ve done a few live in America, and you
know, tickets just go straight away. And is that one episode per episode of West
Wing? So one episode, per episode, so it’s a weekly
podcast and y’know as I say they’re up to, say, 22 episodes per series, so 22, 44, 88,
so they must be up to about 95 episodes of this podcast – about two years they’ve been
going – and it’s you know – it’s great! And if you’re a fan of The West Wing hearing it
pulled apart, you know they get the Director on… they might get one of the actors on…
sometimes they just talk themselves… in various week-to-week…
And your – a podcast you’ve just launched… Yep.
Multi Story. It’s called Multi Story.
Not like the carpark. It’s like “Story” – s – t – o – r – y.
And is that one word, or hyphenated? Two words actually.
No hyphen. We debated this. There are many many debates
about it, yeah. Tell me about the debate – is that because
of the searchability? Yeah well the original title was gonna be
“Home” because the first episode was all about home, and it was supposed to become homely
and about stories about England – “England’s your home” – you know, wherever in England
is your home. It was called Home for a very long time.
And then, relatively close to launch, I suppose one or two months beforehand – maybe a couple
of months beforehand – a lot of people started to tell us that it was a terrible name, because
you type Home into Google – you know you’re never gonna get your podcast coming out, if
you type home into anything. It’s just utterly unsearchable. And the other
title we kind of flipped around with a lot was Multi Story, and then we went around a
million other different names after that and then we came back to Multi Story in the end
as the one that kind of stood out as, it kind of does what it says on the tin… it’s a
bit of a play on words… and hopefully it you know will stick with people.
But yeah it took quite a long time to get there and now it just feels like well it is
Multi Story, that’s what is. It feels like the name of it.
And did you change that just before release? No, it was a few… it was it was probably
six or eight weeks beforehand that we settled on Multi Story, because then we had to get
logos done and all of that. But it was yeah, it took us a while to settle
on that. It was probably the the most difficult bit
of the entire process, was settling on a name that we were happy with.
Right, because it’s not just a title, is it. It’s like the whole thing, the thing that
it will be referred to as… the thing that will be forwarded… it’ll be the thing that
you say in it… I hadn’t really thought about that.
And then you’ve got the whole URL, SEO, negative checking… and other things like that.
Even simple things like “Would you want your URL to be bbc.co.uk/home?
Well that clearly will take you somewhere else, like the homepage!
So, none of it worked. It just didn’t work. I found this with – there was one that I wanted
it to end with “UK”. So, for instance something like “Podcast Producers
UK” is PodcastProducerSUK! [Laughter]
That’s not right, is it. So it has to work… saying it, as well as
URL as well as text in a lozenge. And there’s a little bit with Multi Story,
having to say “story”, as in “Not the carpark”. But that could be a bit of a catchphrase.
“Multi Story, Not The Car Park” And is it weekly?
So it’s weekly, but we’ve made it for ten weeks. So the first series – hopefully there’ll
be more – the first series is 10 programmes. One released every Wednesday for ten
weeks. And is it based in one region or is it–
No, so the concept is– It’d take me 5 seconds to look it up, it’s
just it’s good to ask you. The concept is – I suppose it’s good to explain
where the concept came from. Which is, the concept was we’ve got 40 radio
stations across England. Their job is to tell stories about what’s
going on around them. But so many times you hear one of those stories,
you think goodness this deserves a much wider audience than just Radio Cornwall or Radio
Devon or Radio Cumbria you know this would, you know, everyone would find this an extraordinary
emotional story. And, look, if we’re telling stories across
40 radio stations every day… surely we could find three a week to pull out… and re-tell
for a podcast audience across England, about just tell you what life is like around England
and so that’s what we decided to do. And we piloted it and at that point it was
called Home, you know the pilot, and the entire pilot was was branded as Home… and
largely taking stories from local radio… and either editing them to be more podcast-ish…
or maybe even retelling them completely. But the basis being the local radio story that
originated them. So the first story on the first podcast is
just this extraordinary bit of audio of a farmer from Lincolnshire who’s got the most
extraordinarily broad Lincolnshire accent which you would never have heard on radio
or television before. He’s called Farmer Wink, and he goes on the
train to London because he’s only ever been to London in the middle of the night, once
on the back of a milk lorry. And he’s never been in the daytime.
He’s never been underground. He’s never been on the train.
He’s certainly never been on a fast train. So they take him to Lincoln station, he gets
on the train and they just follow his day as he goes to London.
And that was the kind of thing – the concept of the podcast is that story is just a brilliant
listen and doesn’t matter if you didn’t live in Lincolnshire it’s an amazing listen if
you’re anywhere in the country or the world actually.
It’s like you know, “and how could we reflect life outside of the big cities better by telling
some of these stories”. Some of them actually come from big cities.
One of my favourite ones, being a transport anorak- I think, I genuinely think it’s a
great listen as well – is Radio London going round the Lost Property Office at Transport
for London. Now you might think well that’s been done
a million times before but they’ve just did it really well and it wasn’t about the Lost
Property Office. It was about the guy who works there… and
how he ended up there… and his story – and it’s just fascinating.
And then some really clever questions like how long does it take between the launch of
a new product and it appearing in The Lost Property Office. And he went “well it’s
something we measure every time”. So a new iPhone comes out and they’re like
you know three or four days later the first one will arrive at the lost property office.
And they’re like how can this happen? How can someone have got this new phone and
they’ve gone in, they’ve been showing it off to all their mates… they’ve been down the
pub… “Look, I’ve got the new iPhone!” and then
they’ve got on the tube that night and they’ve left it on the tube.
It’s like and that we love it, they love it, you know it’s like they count down how many
days it is before each new product launch – before they get one in to the office.
That’s such a great detail, I’ve never heard before.
Just like interesting bits of audio, interesting stories, interesting tales.
Some of them may cry, some of them make you laugh. Some of them are just interesting,
you know. So it’s repurposing – if you like – local
radio for a younger podcast audience and telling it in a podcast way, so it’s all hung together
my Becca, who’s the producer and the presenter, and she tells us stories in
between each of the three main bits of audio and it’s presented in a very podcast-friendly
way. So you’ve got these stories…
Yeah. They don’t have to fit a “28 minutes dead”
(slot), do they? It’s true.
Or a 3 minute package? I wonder whether if we have been too harsh
on some of the durations, if I’m honest. I played, or I asked, someone who’s very well
respected in the radio industry to listen to the first episode and he said “I would
have taken so much more of Farmer Wink – should’ve let it run even longer”
We were really conscious about the overall length of the episode.
How long is it? They’re running kind of 30 – 40 minutes, and
maybe we should have been less worried about letting it run long.
I’ve faced this with my stuff which is – “do you let the moment run long and be rambly”
But it’s interesting, because it’s authentic – and you’re kind of listening in on this
totally authentic, round the houses, tributaries and coversations that go off to dead ends.
Erm, even leaving in “erms” and “ahs” and “you know”,
OR… do you tighten it up? So you keep more listeners on board.
And it’s a really– there’s no right answer. No there isn’t.
That’s what’s really interesting. Going the “saggy” route is actually more compelling
– if you are along for the ride, you really like it.
And I think you know the TFL conversation – The Lost Property Office – is probably one
of the longest segments on any of the ten podcasts, and we’ve debated whether it’s too
long… and there are bits you could take out…
but actually, every bit of it is so interesting. It’s like – and it’s not just me as a transport
anorak who thinks this – it, you know, we all keep listening to it again.
“Yeah we could take that bit out, but it works really well with that bit”
Actually, it’s just a really interesting conversation. I’ve listened to it, you know, multiple times
and I can listen to it again. And I think now about all of the ones we made
so far – is that they’re just interesting conversations and they’re worthy of listening
to more than once. Which therefore you know should mean that
they’ve got a place. But the duration thing’s interesting – and
also you know what makes it a podcast, as opposed to radio.
And there is this kind of you know less formal use of language and things like that.
But maybe we should be doing that in radio and we’d have more listeners rather than thinking
“well this is where you do it for podcasting, and this is the way you do it for radio.”
Maybe it’s successful in podcasts because actually that’s what people wanna listen to.
You’ve got the kind of contemporary podcast, haven’t you, that works on that day or that
week, but that kind of only works then. So, kind of news-based, current affairs type
podcast. And actually, although we’re– we tell a lot
of news stories, actually the stories we’re telling on Multi Story, are timeless.
So the idea is that – those ten episodes will sit there forever, and hopefully more and
more people will find them at some point and enjoy them, and it will become a growing thing.
You know the West Wing podcast that I love, they record one every week and occasionally
there’ll be contemporary references around an American election or whatever, you can
sit and listen to them you know sometimes I miss four weeks, eight weeks, I’m gonna
get back into it and listen to four in a row. But you could start tomorrow listening to
episode one series one, even though it’s two years old. And it’s it’s you know just as
relevant as it is now. And people have said about Multi Story that
it’s the kind of podcast that will grow slowly, so once there are ten there, that’s almost
where you want to start really publicizing it.
And in fact we’re looking at a spike around week five because we think you know once you’ve
got five episodes up, people like to binge these things – they like to,
once you’ve heard one they want to hear another they don’t want to kind of – people don’t
want to wait these days for anything. So you know once we’ve got five there, we’re going
to have a bit of a push with publicity and then I think once all ten are there, hopefully
it will you know grow by word of mouth that there are these interesting interesting bits
of audio that are worth listening to. What are your favourite podcasts?
What are my favourite podcasts- Sorry, it’s very formal of me to ask this.
[laugh] So in terms of American podcasts, I love This
American Life and I love Radiolab you know it’s kind of the obvious American podcast
– I’m just gonna get my phone out to show you my…
This would be a feature of the show where: “May I see your podcast catching software
please?” I use PocketCast. And as you can see – The
West Wing Weekly is at number one. Sorry, I interrupted, so you use Pocket Cast.
Yep, and then so I’ve got West Wing Weekly… Multi Story from the BBC.
Serial, which obviously in many ways started the podcast revolution with series one.
Series 2, take it or leave it. The new series really really good – series three’s coming
out now weekly, really good. Slow Burn, the first series told the story
of Nixon’s downfall, over many many hours. I don’t know, I can’t remember how many episodes
there were now. Many many hours of telling the entire story
of Nixon’s downfall which was fascinating and they’ve just, series 2 was about Clinton
Lewinsky with lots of detail I didn’t know about, which is fascinating.
Song Explode is great, so this is from the same guy as the West Wing Weekly and
they just pull apart a song and how it came about.
I really like Here’s The Thing. It’s Alec Baldwin interviewing people in New
York but it’s just – he’s brilliant and he’s got such an amazing voice and it’s really
interesting. And he’s really interested as well, he’s really
into it. Have you heard it?
I love it. My favourite bit though is when he–
He’s so intense. — when he talks then he’ll cut to a sponsor
and he’ll be just as intense. Yeah.
“If you need software…” Oh he knows how to sell.
[laugh] But he’s just – I love it.
And you would think, being a big Hollywood actor he would want to have his say all the
time but he really does want to hear and engage and I love that. I really love it.
That’s good, because it explodes his archetype doesn’t it?
It explodes the assumption that you would have of Alec Baldwin.
Yep. So this is something else that the medium
can do, I guess. It’s like – it means you can go long–
You will love this one. So have you heard Twenty Thousand Hertz?
No. Oh my goodness, Twenty Thousand Hertz is about
noise and so there’s a whole one about jingles… Sonic branding… the
THX deep note… so you know [IMPERSONATES THX DEEP NOTE]
A whole 30 minutes pulling that apart. How it came about.
“Quite randomly” is the answer. And is it hosted by one person?
Yeah, he interviews people who were involved so he interviews the guy who invented it.
But things like the different beeps on computers. So it’s like a mini-documentary?
Yeah – Muzak – the history of Muzak. Disney – the sounds at Disney theme parks
– you know it’s about how sounds in everyday life came about – it’s absolutely brilliant.
If you had to basically so you’ve got the bandwidth to download one podcast, you know
the next episode, which one? West Wing Weekly.
It’s always my first go-to podcast of the week, yeah.
Do you have a second one? At the moment, Serial, when that’s finished
it will probably be This American Life. This feels like a regular question as well
– do you listen at normal speed, do you– Yes.
Or do you speed it up? No I listen at normal speed.
Is that heresy to– I used to to have that setting on that takes
the gaps out so it doesn’t speed it up but it takes all the pauses out. And I hated
it, and it just you know ruins the flow of what you know someone spent you know maybe
I’m just an audiophile. But someone spent hours – you know there are
people credited with sound design on these things, and you’re like speeding them up or
taking the gaps out. Right, so you’re poring over, “shall we leave
in this clip, shall we not…” And then someone’s just bang bang bang take
out all your breaths and your pauses, and no I left that there for dramatic effect cause
someone’s just died in this story and you’re getting bang straight into the next thing
because you haven’t got three seconds to hear a pause. So no, I’m afraid I turn that off.
When you’re recording on location obviously you need to do things correctly and to do
a risk assessment but essentially this is a way of getting into places and communities
and like you said earlier – that you know people you wouldn’t hear from – like so a
really obscure Lincolnshire farmer. It just feels like you can get into a niche
situation more easily than perhaps a broadcast machine might.
Yeah I think you can be less worried about whether your audience will, you know, ” Who
am I doing this for?” It’s not like if you’re listening to Capital
and the song comes on you don’t like you can press flick and you’ll be on Heart, or
Smooth or you know Radio 1 or whatever. You’ve made a commitment to listen to a podcast.
So I think at the point that you’re listening if a moment comes on that you don’t love you
can fast-forward it or you probably just, I think you’ll probably just listen through
it. If you put too many of those in, then they’re
not going to listen to the next one, so you’ve got to have some compelling element – but
there is a different commitment to having listened to a podcast because you’ve either
gone and found it and streamed it or you’ve actually downloaded it – you’ve made some
kind of commitment. It’s like renting a film – you know there’s
just a bit more of a commitment to it than – not that people rent films any more.
It’s like you’re either with us, or you’re not.
Yeah. And there’s something quite wilful about that.
Yeah. Because I’m trying to do this in a way that
is platform agnostic. And it might not be possible but I think there’s
a way of doing it so the easy way to do it, is to go to a podcasting company – there are
many of them – and and you pay a monthly subscription – right – and they host it, and they distribute
it and that’s great. My fear is what happens if that company goes
bust, what happens if they double their rates? It just feels like you’re handing over your
brand and your life’s work, potentially. To a company that may or may not be here in
5 years time. I’m also a tightwad as well, and want to do
it for free! [laughs]
And the idea I’ve got is to – apparently there’s a way you can host in Google Drive.
Right. And then you just point a blog to that as
an “enclosure”. So this is like beyond me, but that is then
found by an RSS feed, and it spots it as a podcast.
So we’ll see! We’ll see if it works.
Do you see the blank look on my face? Nodding sagely.
Yeah yeah. And it just struck me that there’s no established
way of making a podcast. Distributing it or even structuring them.
Yep. And I’m genuinely interested in talking to
people who’ve actually gone through that experience. Do you think that might fly?
I’m sure there must be a hundred podcasts who’ve done that already, I’ve yet to find
one. What do you think?
I think you’re right – there is no set way of doing it.
Lots of people want to do it, and are trying to do it.
I haven’t heard anyone telling the story of how we do it.
I think there’s an American podcast about it’s all about the business side of it – how
to make huge amounts of money out of it, which I don’t think this is.
I think this is about the practicalities – if you want to start Tottenham Hotspurs
podcast in your bedroom – how would you actually do that?
Not how would you make a million pounds by setting up a business to monetize it.
And now I’m looking around this cafe wondering how many of these people on laptops are currently
editing podcasts, or looking up how to make podcasts…
Look, he’s got headphones on over there must be what he’s doing.
He’s on Pro Tools, I guarantee it. It’s a bit of, everyone’s trying to do a podcast
and the numbers are extraordinary. But you know you can’t just talk for an hour
and expect people to listen – it’s got to be – there’s got to be a reason.
It’s like YouTube, isn’t it. How many million minutes a day get uploaded
to YouTube and how many actually get watched. You’ve got to – you know – it’s got to be
a concept, a reason, for watching something. And you really kindly said that maybe I should
speak to Becca. You definitely should talk to Becca.
She’s actually made the thing – she would understand what you talk about when you’re
talking about encoding, uploading… See you’ve added more terms!
If you made a personal one – personal podcast – what would it be about?
I don’t know. Trains maybe? I could do with a train podcast, actually.
Of course, when I was growing up I did used to listen to national railway roundup which
is a monthly half hour radio programme on County Sound which they actually syndicated
to other commercial radio stations. And it used to end – the programme used to
end – this half hour monthly programme – “National Railway Roundup” – and it would end with a
recording of a train coming and it was in stereo obviously… which was really modern
in the eighties… and so on the right hand side – so it’d be silence, and you’d hear
birds tweeting and on the right-hand side you just begin to hear something coming – and
this train would come – and then go past you in the middle and then it would go off, and
you’d hear it go right into the distance, on the other speaker, or your other earphone
depending on how you were listening, and then it was silence again.
“National Railway Roundup’s back… in a month’s time.”
And that’s how it would end! Brilliant!
Loved it. I’ve probably said too much.
[Laughter] So that was it my very first chat for the
podcast producers podcast – thanks again to Stuart
Thomas, Head of Programmes at BBC England. The podcast that he was talking about – MULTI
STORY – is just a thing of beauty. Really really gorgeous, currently ten episodes, the
host Becca Bryers she’s also the producer as you heard – she manages to just guide us
the listener through I think her personal journey of putting these stories together
from around the country from around all the different local radio stations in England
and she themes it I think in a very personal and vulnerable way.
I really urge you to take a listen it’s called Multi Story, two words not like the carpark
– so thanks again to Stuart. You’ve helped me get this thing off the ground
– I really appreciate it – just by just by talking and if you’ve got to
this part of the episode it’ll be lovely to hear from you – just to hear that someone
somewhere managed to make it to this point.
If you’re a podcast producer you know the value of a subscription – on YouTube I’m trying
to get to 1,000 subscribers I’m about 290 in – I don’t think I’m ever going
to hit the thousand but if you could hit subscribe there’s a there’s a link at the bottom and
a thing in the corner and my face at the end of the video.
If you’re listening online as an audio podcast please feel free to subscribe in your pod
caching software – just send me a message it would be lovely to hear from you and if
I can help at all by linking to your show let me know – because I think we can really
help each other out and share our work with each other.
So well this is it. There’s no turning back now we’re gonna have to head for episode 3!
Can you please help my dad get 1,000 subscribers – just click on his face thanks bye!

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