Perhaps the single most effective thing a podcast can do that conventional radio series cannot is to give the convincing impression that the time between the show’s initial idea and its actual broadcast might have been a matter of mere days. The commissioning process for your average radio series (certainly on the BBC) is famously torturous: sometimes as long as three years from conception to transmission. Crafted, yes. Spontaneous, no.
Take this podcast featuring Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. In each episode he talks about one of his own songs, telling stories, wholly relaxed. “These little podcast things,” he calls them at one point. Had this been suit-and-tie “radio”, you sense he might not have done it at all.
In the first episode he says he wants to talk exclusively about music written post-Led Zeppelin. That’s apparently the whole point of the podcast. But by episode three, he’s happily discussing “Achilles Last Stand” (the opening song on the band’s seventh album), an abrupt shift in the programme’s “pitch” that would never have made it through formal radio commissioning.
Plant is a fantastic talker, his speaking voice so mobile, so musical. Now 70, he sounds just 28 (while in the infamous 1976 music documentary The Song Remains the Same, he was 28 but sounded like a girl of 16). When he plays bursts of his singing, you notice how he put that bluesy, heavy echo over his voice in studio, perhaps to paper over the damage he’d done to it howling primordially and growling coitally in the stadiums of Zeppelin’s early years. He sometimes talks in riddles (“the guy was a shadowy bastard grandson of William Blake living on the side of a hill and…”). His language is gorgeously Seventies: “We are battered… Life is so evident, so heavy…”
At its best, this is a podcast that sounds like it was mooted in a pub one night – and then someone turned up the following morning with a recording device before Plant could change his mind or refer things on to his agent to thrash out details. And each episode is at most around 20 unrambling minutes. So: entirely podcast in spirit – but not in length. Win win.
Digging Deep with Robert Plant