The Guide #35: Our podcast pet peeves, from bad ads to marathon runtimes

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

The podcast is arguably the first great art form of the 21st century. Podcasts have launched careers and inspired endless innovation across comedy, documentary, drama and more. I reckon I probably get through close to three hours of listening every day, and I can’t really remember what I filled my ears with before they existed.

And yet, as marvellous as podcasts are, there are some aspects to them that I find really, really annoying – and which maybe you do, too. Here, then, are a few podcast pet peeves I hope to see the back of in 2022:

Badly placed ads

You know the feeling: you’re approaching the climax of some gripping true crime epic when suddenly, just as you’re about to find out whodunnit, an advert for super-soft mattresses/artisan men’s razors/life insurance/another podcast is dropped in without warning. Sometimes these adverts arrive mid-sentence, which is even more infuriating as you invariably have to rewind back to remember the point the host was making … and then listen to the ad all over again.

Random release dates

Because podcasts aren’t beholden to a tight schedule like TV, they can be dropped on to feeds whenever their creator fancies. Which, in theory, is great: who doesn’t like a surprise bonus episode every now and again. But, in practice, it often means that new episode you were looking forward to listening to on the train arrives hours or even days late.

Live episodes

This one might be a little contentious, but I find episodes of podcasts recorded in front of a live audience immensely irritating. The entire appeal of podcasts is their intimacy – that feeling of eavesdropping on a conversation, or having a presenter speaking directly to you and you only. So there’s something extremely off-putting about a crowd of 300 people guffawing away in the background of saidconversations.

Also, audiences ruin the flow of podcasts – panellists are forever having to pause their train of thought to account for an impromptu round of applause. I’m a fan of the model used by the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast, who treat live episodes as their own distinct thing, and don’t make them available as part of the podcast feed.

Paying for podcasts

Podcasters invest huge amounts of time, effort and money into creating their shows, so why shouldn’t they be compensated for them? It’s a job, after all. Yet, one of the great things about podcasts is their DIY ethos: anyone can make one and send it out into the world. Until recently, adverts have ensured that this status quo is maintained, but increasingly companies like Spotify, Apple and Audible are putting podcasts – including series that, for a long time have been free to all – behind a paywall. Perhaps this was always inevitable, but it does seem a shame.

That said, I can understand the dilemma faced by podcast creators, particularly those who are also responsible for hiring and firing staff – this New York Times piece lays out that dilemma very well.

Epic running times

There are short podcasts, there are satisfyingly in-depth podcasts, and then there are podcasts that amble on for two-plus hours without any sense of structure or direction. Podcasts should be a maximum of an hour, or an hour and 15 minutes if we’re being generous. We’re talking about people chatting amiably into a microphone here, not a King Crimson record. Anything that requires several commutes to listen to in full should immediately be sent back to the editing booth.

Of course, there are caveats – The Rewatchables, one of my favourite podcasts, regularly stretches into the 90-minute mark. Also, Joe Rogan – the world’s most successful podcaster – releases three-hour tantric chat-gasms on a daily basis, and everyone seems to lap them up, so hey – what do I know?

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