How to Create a Blockbuster Podcast (#58 & #59)


“What makes ‘good tape’? That is the question that has consumed my life for the past 20 years, and I have an answer for you…”

– Alex Blumberg

How do you create a blockbuster podcast? This episode explores the tips, tricks, and best practices of a master.

My guest is Alex Blumberg, who cut his teeth on the king of all radio shows (This American Life) and recently co-founded Gimlet Media. Gimlet swiftly conquered the iTunes rankings with two blockbuster podcasts: Reply All and StartUp.

Podcasters everywhere asked: how the hell does he do it?  

This episode provides some answers. Part 2 also includes a sample of my upcoming episode with Arnold Schwarzenegger (!!!).

You can find the transcript of Part 1 (Episode 58) here. You can find the transcript of Part 2  (Episode 59) here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

This discussion is split into two parts, and we cover a ton. Please listen to both parts, as they work together. We discuss what Alex learned from Ira Glass, his field recording gear, the nuts and bolts of producing world-class audio narrative, and much more.

Part 1 is my interview and conversation with Alex.

Part 2 is ~40 minutes of an amazing masterclass Alex taught on creativeLIVE, including the art of the interview, the power of the right question, and more (Get all 21 videos here).

This episode is sponsored by OnnitI have used Onnit products for years. If you look in my kitchen or in my garage you will find Alpha BRAIN, chewable melatonin (for resetting my clock while traveling), kettlebells, maces, battle ropes, and steel clubs. It sounds like a torture chamber, and it basically is. A torture chamber for self-improvement! Ah, the lovely pain. To see a list of my favorite pills, potions, and heavy tools, click here.

This podcast is also brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.  Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade.  Give it a test run.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY:  What are your 2-3 favorite podcasts and why? What makes them unique? Please let me know in the comments!

If you like this episode, you’ll also love my episode with Neil Strauss, 7x New York Times bestselling author. He’s cray-cray like me.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

StartUp | Reply All

  • Learn more about Pro Tools
  • Pick up Alex’s recommended equipment for field recording:

AT8035 Microphone | Tascam DR-100KII Recorder

Sony MDR 7506 HeadPhones | XLR Cable

Show Notes

  • On the 4-5-month startup burnout phase [3:24]
  • Defining tracking and work flow. What makes something worthy of being included in the show? [4:14]
  • What makes good tape? [6:14]
  • What makes a world-class editor? Acknowledging Ira Glass and his time at This American Life [12:15]
  • Defining the role of a “producer” [22:17]
  • The nitty gritty of producing high-level narrative podcasts. Includes: editing software, planning timelines, and much more [25:00]
  • Tools for capturing tape in the field [30:00]
  • The nuts and bolts of recording in the field, as well as tips for capturing the ‘vivid moments’ [31:14]
  • Microphone tips: directional vs. omnidirectional? [34:20]
  • Metrics used to define progress at Gimlet Media [36:00]
  • The story of acquiring a position as a top radio producer [37:29]
  • Transitioning from This American Life to Planet Money [49:12]
  • Why good radio doesn’t apply to television shows [51:00]
  • On the value of perfectionism [55:45]
  • Good and bad habits picked up from This American Life and Ira Glass [58:20]
  • Turning a bad situation into a good one – Deconstructing We Made a Mistake [1:12:20]
  • Rapid fire questions: most gifted books, favorite documentary films, and more [1:21:10]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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