Coronacast… exquisitely tuned to the audience: Norman Swan #PodcastDay24

The ABC’s Coronacast has about 2.6 million downloads per month, making it one of the most popular podcasts in Australia and up there with the best in the world.

The team behind the podcast, Norman Swan, Tegan Taylor and Will Ockenden spoke to Steve Ahern about the production process and the differences between radio and podcasts, at PodcastDay24.

The show is a daily news podcast that is usually recorded in the afternoon or early evening, but if there is breaking news the show may be recorded later or updated the next morning. It is a News podcast, made in cross departmental collaboration with Radio National.

The core of the program is questions from the audience with a story of the day often leading the show. “The way each show evolves is very much an organic process.” Research is another important part of the show’s ten minute format.

The show has had about 200,000 questions so far and, according to Norman Swan, is closely connected to the audience. “It is the most exquisitely tuned to an audience that I’ve ever been.”

As the show has evolved over the 18 months of the world wide pandemic, the content has gone from simplistic information such as ‘wash your hands’ to more complex discussions of health policy and medical research.

“Having an insight into what the specific worries of people are is so useful. The stakes are really high; and you have to repeat the public health messages regularly,” Tegan told Steve.

The podcast is multiplatform, heard on various ABC Radio stations, online, on podcast platforms and has been offered to community and commercial radio free of charge.

“We got started within 7 days of the pandemic… it wasn’t the usual pitching process, then there was a massive growth trajectory in the first few weeks because we were one of the first podcasts to cover the virus,” said Will.

Being in the ABC was an important part of being able to have editorial independence according to Norman:

“We were not obliged to anyone other than the audience.

“We give the information to the audience straight, even if it is unpalatable. That has annoyed the government sometimes…

“The secret sauce is being challenged on the facts, so it makes you better and it builds trust.”

Tegan said the podcast’s philosophy is “just give us 10 minutes and we’ll tell you everything.”

“We made it chatty, not too brainy, accessible to anyone. You can’t take it too seriously because the information can change completely tomorrow. We didn’t try to be too certain.”

What’s the difference between making live radio and making podcasts?

“Podcasts can get an instant response via search and you get it from around the world, not just from your local radio audience,” said Norman.

The difference between live radio talkback and interaction with podcasts is that live radio requires quick turn around on difficult research topics, but the production schedule of podcasts allows for some more people in-depth research, according to Norman.

The team did not think it would last as long as it has. “We thought it would last 6 weeks. The audience has never been lower than 2.6 million and it peaks just over 3 million.

“The lessons we have learnt are predictability, a short duration and dependability.”

Podcasting has revived block style radio formatting

“The problem with flow formatting is that if you miss the time slot, it’s gone and you lose the audience. Broadcasters have talked about that for decades, but the solution didn’t present itself until the development of podcasting… ABC Radio National pioneered it…time shifting for RN has given new life to the network,” said Norman.



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