Not many podcasts have the power to make you stop and rewind to listen again, but the ones that do are special because they’ve succeeded in making you learn something new. Adrian Bradley has managed to do just that with his newly launched podcast for Tortoise Media looking at the UK’s social housing crisis, titled Making Sense of Social Housing.
Bradley is an experienced freelance podcast producer and broadcast journalist, having worked for a number of other publications including Times Radio, the New Statesman and the BBC, which has turned his love for radio and journalism to a love of podcasting. We spoke to Bradley to learn more about his experience in the industry and the essential advice he’d give to fellow audio professionals.
How many podcasts do you work on?
I'm a freelance producer at the moment so it kind of depends. I have about three different podcasts, but it can vary. I'm working on one podcast called What’s Happening Now, which is with a comedian and a journalist taking a look at what's going on in the world, helping people work out what's important and why.
I'm working on a couple of podcasts with Tortoise, working with NGOs and other bodies to produce audio podcasts for them. I've got a couple of projects coming out of that.
How many podcasts do you listen to per week?
I could easily listen to two or three a day sometimes, depending on what's come out that week. Speech audio is kind of my general listening, at the gym or if I'm going for a walk, I'll always have a podcast in my ear. At the moment, I'm really enjoying this Irish podcast called Why Would You Tell Me That? with Neil Delamere and Dave Moore. It's right on the line between taking things seriously but being fun; they really treat the experts with respect.
One of my favourites is a podcast called Switched On Pop. Apparently they started it as a bit of a joke, and then it became looking at pop music seriously and looking up how pop music works. A Problem Squared is great - that’s Matt Parker and Bec Hill and they answer listeners' problems in either mathematical and scientific or sociological ways; it's very good fun. I love You're Dead To Me, which is back for another series. I listen to a lot, but at the moment they're probably my favourites.
What's your podcast app of choice?
I'm probably a bit weird - I use Downcast, which I don't think loads of people use. Maybe other apps now do this, but what it does is it lets you make a playlist of episodes if you're going out for, say, a long cycle or a long run, or something that's longer than your podcast episode. You can choose a whole series of your podcasts and it'll just go right to an episode without you having to do anything.
That as a feature is brilliant, because quite often if I'm doing a cycle or I'm doing a run, it's gonna be more than half an hour, and you stop and you have to change podcasts. That feature makes it worth it. It's only on iOS so I know lots of people won't be able to use that, and I'm sure readers will tell me lots of other podcast platforms do this, but I've got used to it and I'm stuck with it.
What are your three items of essential podcast equipment?
My Zoom H5 recorder. I bought that years ago and it's an amazing piece of kit; it's been through the wars, and it's incredibly resilient. It records in superb quality - I've used it for radio broadcasters and it's broadcast-quality audio. It's light and it's easy to have on you; that is my number one piece of kit.
A good pair of headphones would be my second piece of kit - and ideally not headphones that are good for listening to music, because it's kind of different. I've got a good pair of studio monitors, and if you can get studio monitors, it makes a big difference, especially when you're editing. Things like AirPods and good music headphones are doing the consumer a favour by making your audio sound brilliant - and that's great if you're listening, but if you're trying to edit a podcast to make it sound good, you want to hear the flaws.
I think the third one I would say is an inquisitive mind. I think if you want to be a podcast producer, a lot of the time you’re pitching, and you're trying to come up with what you do next. If somebody's got a story to tell you, listen to that, because you never know; they might say something fascinating.
How long does the average podcast take to turn around?
I think that depends on the sort of podcast you're making - so if it's a panel discussion and two or three people just talking about a random subject on a microphone, in theory, I could turn that around in about two or three hours.
When you're doing something more creative with audio, that'll take much longer. So looking back to the podcast that we put out with Tortoise with Making Sense of Social Housing, we did a lot of field recording, we had a lot of interviews, and we were really kind of trying to structure it. If you listen to a lot of Tortoise podcasts, that interesting audio is really important. These are nicely produced pieces of audio and finding those right bits of audio and then getting the pacing right and getting the time right will take longer.
What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis?
It varies from podcast to podcast, but generally as a producer, my job is to help us get from the beginning of an idea on paper to a finished piece of audio at the end of it. Sometimes that's helping to find guests, sometimes that's logistics. My background is in broadcast journalism, so I'm creative as well. So coming up with ideas, coming up with structure, helping a reporter or a presenter or a client come up with the right structure that would sound good and interesting is also part of a producer's role - and that's something that I very much enjoy doing.
Often, it's kind of like editing scripts, especially if you're working with reporters or presenters who are maybe more used to text-based things rather than audio-based things. When you write, you write these beautiful similes and metaphors and you have loads of really long flowy sentences which are beautiful to read - until you start trying to read it out loud. So a lot of my job as a producer is taking great journalistic work and turning it into audio, and turning that into something that’ll be easy to listen to because it's a different scale. I prefer writing for audio; it feels like I'm talking to somebody, and I quite enjoy doing that.
What's one thing that you wish every podcast host knew?
If you make a mistake, don't try to cover up; go back and start the sentence again. It's less annoying for me to go back to the beginning of a sentence and much easier to edit when I have a clear point. I think a lot of people - whether that's podcast hosts or guests - are really nervous, because they hear podcasts and everyone sounds so fluent and brilliant.
I wish they all know we will make you sound better - that's our job. So we will clean those bits up and remove those ‘ums’. When you hear the finished audio, I will make it sound the best so that you can just tell us what you know and what your expertise is. I wish more presenters and interviewees just had that confidence to know that it’s the producer’s job to do that for them, and to make them sound good - and therefore they can just relax.
What makes a good episode?
Hearing something that makes me want to stop and go back 30 seconds and hear it again. I was quite pleased: I played my mum an early version draft of the first episode of Making Sense of Social Housing and at one point in it, one of the guests talks about how long they were on the waiting list for housing, and she said, “I didn't know it was that long.”
Having those moments in it, that's what makes a great podcast - and it doesn't have to be a big shocking revelation. It could just be "I've never thought of it that way." A great podcast just keeps you listening and for me, because I like a kind of factual, interesting and nerdy podcasts, those are the ones that make me hear something that I've not heard before.
How did you get into the podcast industry?
I did student radio at university about 20-odd years ago, which I loved and whilst I was at university, I used to do a little bit of broadcasting work here and there at the BBC, but that never really went anywhere. Then I left broadcasting and journalism in total; I went to be a press officer, and I worked in government, and then I was working with some charities - and then decided I wanted to be a journalist and went back to university and did a Master's.
Radio and audio have always been my love and from that, it kind of felt natural to do radio shows that you do podcast versions of, to eventually leaving the BBC and going to a print magazine and online magazine and running their audio team - because that's what you can do now with podcasting. If you like audio, you can just start playing with the tools, learn how to edit, listen to a podcast and think, "How did they make that?" Once you get that curiosity of how it’s been made, that’s the start of the job.
What's the last podcast that you listened to?
Lateral with Tom Scott. It's kind of a quiz show podcast which is a really interesting format and I don't think many people have really tried this. I didn't think it was gonna work when it first started, but it's been going on for nearly a year now and it's part of my weekly routine. Normally a lot of them are YouTubers and between them, they get asked a question that sounds odd, to try and use lateral thinking to work out what the answer is.