You’re probably here because you’re a podcast aficionado, or maybe you’re just looking for a great podcast to listen to as you unwind after work.
Or, you could be an aspiring podcaster looking for inspiration. In any case, we’re about to do a deep dive on some of the most successful podcasts, why they’re so successful, and how you can take away some success tips from each.
The Ron Burgundy Podcast
The Ron Burgundy Podcast is basically a continuation of the movie Anchorman. In the movie, the main character played by Will Ferrell (Ron Burgundy) is a highly unique news anchorman that employs sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek comedy. While the movies are hilarious, so is the podcast they developed to allow the character of Ron Burgundy to continue its legacy.
Every episode has its own theme, and topics range from serious to more comedic, with most episodes being comedy based. One of the greatest parts of the show is that Will Ferrell, who plays Ron, rarely breaks character. This makes the podcast feel even more real, even though the character he's playing is not.
This podcast is one of, if not the most successful comedy podcast of all time.
So, what can we learn?
First things first, leveraging a story to keep things interesting. The story of Ron Burgundy was supposed to end once you finished watching the movies, but with the podcast, you have the ability to listen to your favorite anchorman almost every week.
The ability to take a movie fan base and turn them into podcast listeners is one of the best ways to adopt a loyal, consistent following of podcast listeners.
Listen to it here.
Radiolab is a great example of content that is just too perfect not to succeed.
Starting as a radio program, RadioLab originally would discuss politics and religion, which proved to be successful but did not propel them into the limelight.
Over time, this radio show developed into a podcast that discusses topics more related to philosophy and science. On average, scientific content is a much more digestible type of content than politics or religion, which makes discussing these topics much more fluid.
This podcast also does an amazing job at providing straight up interesting content, and it shows. It’s one of the most viewed podcasts of all time.
The first thing we’ve learned from Radiolab is that switching up your content doesn’t always lead to bad things, and can lead to even better things later down the road. If the topics you’re discussing just aren’t resonating with your listeners, think of topics to switch it up.
The second thing we’ve learned is that being able to talk about complex ideas in a simple way is the ultimate storytelling skill. People love being able to understand complex ideas, and not everyone has the brain to do it.
Finding a way to discuss these complex ideas will help you gain listeners.
Listen to Radiolab here.
Arguably the best crime junkie podcast of all time, Serial can tell us a lot about what it means to have a successful podcast.
Serial is a non-fiction podcast that discusses a variety of crimes ranging in time, with one focused in 1999 and another in 2018.
There are plenty of crime junkie podcasts out there, but what makes this one so great?
The formatting of the show does a great job at keeping people interested episode by episode. Each season has its own story, rather than each episode being its own story. This makes it so tuning into one episode makes you want to learn the rest of the story by watching the entire season.
The show won a Peabody Award in 2015 and remains one of the most watched podcasts ever.
What are some takeaways that you can utilize in your podcast?
Obviously not everything is going to apply because it’s likely your podcast doesn’t revolve around crime and investigative journalism, but there are still a few principles that can be seen here.
One of the biggest takeaways from this podcast is the ability to segment your episodes to make them more interesting to viewers. Serial adopts a similar format to tv shows in which each season tells its own story.
If you can find a way to apply the season method of storytelling to your podcast, you may find success.
Listen to Serial here.
Call Her Daddy
Here’s our wild card podcast on this list. Call Her Daddy is one of the most unorthodox podcasts currently airing. With that being said, it’s constantly growing, and might just be the fastest growing podcast out there.
The target audience here is women, and the content varies from relationship advice to sexual content and the overall experiences the two vloggers have had in NYC. While certainly not a PG podcast, that clearly does not matter to listeners.
So, what can be learned here?
Sexual content has always, and will always sell. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and add more sexually explicit content to your podcast, in fact, it would probably hurt you if you did.
A more reasonable lesson here is that you should be unafraid to talk about the hard hitting, potentially uncomfortable topics within your own niche.Taking an opinion on something, or even just talking about an uncomfortable topic within your niche is going to generate buzz.
Listen to Call Her Daddy here.
If the ideal podcast tells its listeners a story in a beautifully crafted way, Cold does just that.
Cold is about a murder mystery that is still essentially unsolved. Similar to Serial in that it is a crime style podcast, Cold provides an in-depth account around the facts of the cloudy, mysterious case. The case in question (Disappearance of Susan Powell) is one of the biggest missing persons cases in American history.
What makes Cold such an interesting listen is the unique information provided about the case. You can hear information here that nowhere else had access to due to the investigative journalism that was provided.
So, what can we takeaway from this podcast series?
Original content. Being able to provide listeners with something they haven’t heard before is one of the best types of content you can provide.
People simply get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. They want information that they’ve never heard before. Most people say that content is king, and this is true. But we like to say original content is king, because it’s even more true.
Listen to Cold here.
Here’s a podcast that takes a boring subject to some: the economy, and makes it highly fascinating. This podcast originated from the 2008 recession and has been steadily growing ever since.
You must be wondering how a podcast about the economy could be that interesting. While sure, the economy isn’t necessarily a riveting discussion, Planet Money does a great job of keeping it entertaining. It all comes down to the specific topics they’re on about. Most, if not all of these topics, discuss highly applicable and extremely relevant things that most Americans can resonate with.
Planet Money is an award winning, highly acclaimed, and seriously popular, but what can we learn from it?
The main concept to take away here is to identify what is boring and what is not in your industry. Doing this can be difficult, but the payoff will be huge. Often times, what is more exciting in your industry is also what is more popular. While this isn’t always the case, popularity is a generally good indicator of whether something will be interesting or not.
There are some topics in your niche that just aren’t worth talking about, and it’s not because they don’t matter. Some topics just don’t appeal to most people. Not everyone is going to be interested in those deep, industry knowledge specific questions. There are some topics that may be interesting to you and your fellow coworkers, but fail to materialize into interesting content once talked about.
More often than not though, high level industry topics are interesting specifically because they’re not talked about as often. So, find that topic and talk about it on your podcast.
Listen to Planet Money here.
The Joe Rogan Podcast
This is a podcast that most podcasters look up to. And it’s hard not to when you have comedian and professional talker Joe Rogan behind the mic.
The JRE podcast is one of the most topically diverse podcasts of all time, hosting the widest variety of guests on any podcast, ever.
Most podcasts just wouldn’t be able to survive the constantly changing topics and conversational environments that JRE endures. Luckily, Joe Rogan is a highly adaptable conversationalist who knows how to keep conversations and ideas flowing.
For this reason, the JRE is able to consistently run with little to no hiccups, and remain one of the most popular podcasts of all time.
At this point you’re probably wondering, “what in the world you could possibly learn from such a high profile podcast?”
Well, we’re here to tell you that there is an important lesson to learn here, and it boils down to understanding the conversational flow of Joe Rogan. If you’re interested in learning how Joe has so many different guests on his podcast, it’s because he can talk to almost anybody.
Listen to the things he says and specifically the way he says them. He invites and elicits responses from everyone he talks to. Not only that, he asks the right questions too.
Emulating a high level of conversation like that can be extremely difficult because there is only one Joe Rogan, but you can always take away a few things here and there.
Listen to the JRE here.
Pardon My Take
Pardon My Take is a podcast produced by Barstool Sports. Aside from all of its rankings, each episode garners around a million listens.
The content within each Pardon My Take episode varies, but it mostly always revolves around sports. So, how does a sports podcast keep things interesting and get such a high level of support?
The answer is comedy. Firstly, the name of the show is a parody on ESPN shows “First Take” and “Pardon the Interruption”, which potentially attracts fans from those ESPN shows.
The content itself is highly original in that it provides a comedic spin on each topic. This comedic spin is an extension of the brand attitude that Barstool Sports has, which is that of a media company that does not care to be politically correct.
What is there to learn from a sports podcast that implements comedy in their show?
Well, one of the more enticing features of the show is the specific segmenting that the show has. Pardon My Take episodes begin with a sports recap, then interviews with athletes or other sports figures, and follows up with random segments depending on the episode.
This beginning of the show gives some structure and provides reliable news, and the end of the show has surprises that keep you coming back for more.
It’s a structure that could be sought after in multiple different podcast niches, not just sports. If you’re having trouble structuring or segmenting your podcast, Pardon My Take’s format could be one to follow.
Listen to Pardon My Take here.
Even the name of this podcast knows the true intentions of its listeners.
Crime Junkie’s entire goal is to satisfy your average crime junkie’s fix. While the idea of delivering crime content to listeners is similar to both “Cold” and “Serial”, the format of the show is entirely different.
Each episode is a completely different topic ranging from conspiracies to serial killers. While the topics vary episode to episode, the hosts, and the way in which conversation is done remains the same.
Every topic is discussed as if you’re talking about crime with a friend, and that’s the way the show is intended.
The main takeaway here is the ability to spot out and cater to a specific fanbase. Your content may or may not involve crime, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are die hard fan bases for plenty of other niches other than crime.
Find a fanbase that loves something very specific, but is hardly ever talked about and make a podcast about it. They will not only love the original content, but will be timeless loyal fans.
Listen to Crime Junkie here.
This American Life
Last on our list is This American Life, a podcast that deserves to be on just about ever “best podcasts of all time” list.
Seriously, this podcast has been around since the beginning, and remains one of the most sought after podcasts ever. It should be noted that this podcast is also available as a radio show, and originated as radio.
What makes this podcast so amazing and worth the 5 million listeners a month?
Compelling, heart wrenching stories do the job. Each podcast has a wide variety of contributors and stories, mostly told in the 1st person. The tone, style, and format of the show is constantly changing, but what never changes is the guarantee of a story-rich episode.
What can we take away here?
Podcasts that focus more on the story of individuals tend to have more success. Think about ways you can tell someone’s story. First person accounts are the best because of the loaded emotions behind every word.
Listen to This American Life here.
That’s Our List
We hope you enjoyed our list of the Top 10 Podcasts of all time. While you may disagree with a few of our choices, our takeaways from each one are sound.
If you have a podcast that needs enhancing, be sure to take notes on each of the takeaways from these podcasts, and see which ones you can implement into your own.
Not every podcast is going to be easily imitated, but we hope we covered enough podcasts for you to have at least a few takeaways.
If you’re looking for a podcast studio to start recording in, or just need help formatting your podcast, we know of just the podcast studio for you.