When I was about 12 or 13 and at school, a teacher would tell the class to write an essay or a report on something or another and the first question from my classmates would be “Sir, sir!” – they were almost all sirs. “Sir, how long sir?” When we were younger the answer would be one or two pages. When we got older the length was measured in words. 500 words was a lot. 1000 words was a punishment.
Pity the poor teacher who had to read 30 500 word essays or worse 30000 badly written and smudged words, scribbled in exercise books as quickly as we possible could.
We were not thinking about our audience. If we were, we would probably have done a better job, and got a better mark.
In radio, we are trained to work in blocks. A commercial radio station might work in 12 or 15 minute segment. BBC tended to work in 15, 30, 45 and 60 minute segments which included announcements, credits and time removed to trailing other programmes. These days the shortest scheduled radio programme I know is BBC Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day at just two minutes.
If a programme is too long it will “Crash the pips”. That is get caught up in the Greenwich time signal. No? The noise that goes: pip, pip, pip, pip, pip, piiip. Too short and there will be dead air – silence. Crashing the pips and dead air are the second greatest sins of radio the first two are failing to turn up on time and swearing in front of a microphone.
You don’t get those sins in podcasting. Except being too long because you have taken a lazy approach to editing. Or being too short and you don’t tell all the story you set out to do.
Put the listener first. The only important time, is the time you are going to talk from them. Make their time worthwhile.
People listen to podcasts differently. I have often sat in my car to hear the end of a programme or interview. Now, I can catch up on demand. If I am enjoying a podcast, I might listen to the end, but if I must stop listening, I’ll return to the story next time.
So don’t get too obsessed about the length. Focus on the narrative, the story you want to tell or your interview wants to tell. Edit out all that distracts from the story. Add pauses and music and your own commentary as you need them to move the story along.
When it’s finished, check the duration. Does it feel right? Can you remove more?
And you will have your own variation on the quotation, “I’m sorry this podcast is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”
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