Most Hosts Shouldn’t Go Solo


(By Richard Davies) “Interviews! Why?” asks Robert Crandall in his provocative article, “Stop The Interviews. Go Solo” (Podcast Business Journal, July 3).

There are many reasons.

The first, and most obvious, argument for podcast interviews is the need to listen. We learn from people who are not like us.

In our narcissistic social-media age, when everyone is entitled to voice their own opinions — no matter how ill-informed or daft — it’s refreshing to hear from smart, thoughtful, guests of different backgrounds and viewpoints.

When a host asks interesting questions, while listening carefully to the answers, so much the better. We’re on a two-way street.

Lively, spontaneous, well-edited podcast conversations between two or more people are inexpensive to produce and often contain moments of surprise and enlightenment that are far more entertaining than a scripted monologue.

Because most episodes last at least 20 minutes, there is more than enough time for the host and guest to establish a personal connection with their audience.

Laughter is another reason why interview podcasts are popular. Too often, the way we talk about politics, culture, and personal advice is dull and overly earnest. But when you crack a joke, and the person across the table laughs, charm and intimacy erupt.

We have departed from the script.

As a journalist who has done hundreds of radio and podcast interviews, I’m delighted to be challenged by new ideas. And the skeptic in me is happy to push back, especially when guests are well-prepared and agile enough to engage in lively banter or debate.

“Podcasts are the new book tour,” an author friend of mine told me last week. She was impressed by more than a dozen recent podcast interviews where the host had read her book and asked insightful questions.

“There are no absolutes in life, and certainly no absolutes in podcasting,” says aviation enthusiast and podcast producer Max Flight. “There are great solo shows and there are bad solo shows. There are great interview shows and crappy ones.”

The best one-person podcasts are indeed absolutely riveting. But  few hosts have the discipline and skill of Dan Carlin (Hardcore History) or the ingenuity and curiosity of Nate Demaio (The Memory Palace).

While a handful of talk radio shows have massive numbers, their ratings are declining. The medium by old, angry, white men. Radio programmers faced with an audience that’s switching stations or dying off will have to come up with something new.

Interview podcasts are a great way for non-profit leaders, top business executives, journalists, academics, entertainers, and other thought leaders to connect with new audiences.

They don’t have to do a podcast of their own. Their views and ideas are taken seriously by intelligent hosts who ask penetrating questions.

Richard Davies is the host of the weekly solutions journalism podcast How Do We Fix It? He runs DaviesContent, a podcast consulting and production firm.