Podcasting for museums

How museums can use podcasts to broaden their reach

‘Stories are the way we understand and make sense of the world we find ourselves in.’ 

Clare Patey, Director of the Empathy Museum.

Have you ever gone to a museum with a group of friends? It can be a fantastically frustrating day out. In my experience, every group has a few people that fall into one or two broad reaching stereotypes. From the borderline ADHDer, who zooms around the museum before most of the group have read the introductory text, to the functionally autistic friend who reads every printed word for fear of missing something. 

Many people fall somewhere in between. The challenge for museums is the same all over the world. Present information in a succinct, accessible way. They need to reduce mountains of data to bite-size nuggets. These nuggets need to satisfy enthusiastic connoisseurs, as well as day-trippers with a passing interest. How many curators find themselves frustrated by the limitations that “general accessibility” places on them? 

Museums are often thought of as places that collect, care for, display and interpret objects. While valid in many ways, this view omits the human element of museums. An alternative approach is to think of museums as places that collate and share human experiences. Most museums are, in essence, libraries of stories. These stories can relate to great overarching themes such as humanity, love, hate, and our very existence in general. They can also tell the story of the daily experiences of a 13-year-old girl hiding from Nazis in occupied Amsterdam. 

Increasingly more museums are choosing to engage with their audience outside their premises. In 2022, the New York Times noted in an article titled Using Podcasts to Broaden the Reach of Smaller Museums, “…museum podcasts draw in listeners close to home as well as faraway places.”

There are many reasons why a museum may choose to produce a podcast. 

  • Podcasts allow curators and aficionados to delve deeper into subjects and themes that are given limited wall space in a museum. 
  • Podcasts allow museums to reach a much wider audience.
  • Podcasts allow museums to tell more detailed stories. 
  • Podcasts allow museums to strengthen their global brand. 
  • Podcasts allow museums to collaborate and strengthen connections and bonds with other experts. 
  • Podcasts allow visitors to take part of the museum experience with them once they leave the museum. 

There are many different formats within the world of podcasting that can be used by museums to explore topics and themes. 

1. The interview podcast format

An interview style show features a host (or two) who interviews a new guest in each episode. The guests bring their own unique expertise and experience. After a brief guest introduction, the host takes over asking questions to guide the conversation around the episode’s topic. Over the course of the interview the host works to unpack the stories and lessons.

Example: SpyCast

This weekly podcast series by the International Spy Museum in Washington DC is dedicated to all things espionage. Interviews with authors, scholars and ex-spies cover every topic imaginable in over 240 episodes of this series. If classified information, covert operations, and undercover missions are your thing, this is the podcast for you!


2. The solo/monologue podcast format

This podcast format is fairly common. It’s used by people who have a specific kind of expertise they want to share. The set-up is quite straightforward. You simply talk into a microphone. The level of editing and pre/post production is up to you. If you choose this podcast format, you’ll have to decide how much you want to plan each episode. Some podcasters are comfortable ad-libbing, but others have a hard time talking for 30-45 minutes without detailed preparation. You may decide to write a complete script for each episode. The skill would then be to deliver the information in a way that doesn’t sound scripted. 

Example: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

In “Hardcore History” journalist and broadcaster Dan Carlin takes his “Martian”, unorthodox way of thinking and applies it to the past. Was Alexander the Great as bad a person as Adolf Hitler? What would Apaches with modern weapons be like? Will our modern civilization ever fall like civilizations in past eras? This isn’t academic history (and Carlin isn’t a historian) but the podcast’s unique blend of high drama, masterful narration and Twilight Zone-style twists has entertained millions of listeners.


3. Conversational podcast format

This is another common podcast format. It involves two people who share a great chemistry having a straightforward conversation. Unlike an interview podcast format, however, these two people are both hosts. In many cases, each host will play a specific role in the conversation. One might report on a specific piece of art while the other host provides historical context. One might teach lessons while the other tells stories from their own experience.

Example: Stuff You Should Know

Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant’s easy conversational style is an entertaining way of learning about a great number of topics, including some museum-related ones. “If you’ve ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks, then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.”

4. The panel podcast format

A panel podcast is similar to an interview podcast, but with more people. Each episode has a single host and a group of guests. For your listener, it feels like overhearing an organic conversation between friends. This format is difficult to produce on a weekly or even monthly basis. It works best (in my opinion) as a one-off per series. This type of podcast would be easiest to record at an industry-specific conference, where a number of willing (expert) participants have already gathered. In general, the panel podcasting format tends to suit news, current affairs and sports podcasters. 

Example: NPR’s 1A

Listening to the news can feel like a journey. But 1A guides you beyond the headlines – and cuts through the noise. Let’s get to the heart of the story, together – on 1A. It consists of a host and a number of guests (often experts) that rotate each week.


5. Non-fictional storytelling podcast format

Non-fictional stories are podcast episodes about real life events. This format easily lends itself to museums. You might dive into a series on the life choices made by Van Gogh, chronicle an expedition to the Antarctic, or recreate a local historical event. You can tell one story per episode or spread the story across an entire series. Or you can show a global event from one specific person’s point of view. 

Example: De Perimeter (NL only)

In 2022, Ludejo partnered with the Airborne Museum in Hartenstein to produce De Perimeter  (The Perimeter) podcast. This podcast was made as an accompaniment to a temporary exhibition, De Perimeter. 

The Perimeter was a line of defence in and around Oosterbeek, a village near Arnhem, during the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. Soldiers involved in Operation Market Garden were not prepared for the events that would take place around Oosterbeek. The inhabitants of Oosterbeek, less so.

The podcast allowed the museum to expand on the stories related to 6 locations in the defensive line. Using a combination of narration, actors reading from diary entries, and interviews with eyewitnesses and the children of survivors, the Airborne Museum was able to weave a beautiful narrative, related to their specific surroundings.


Podcasts are cost-effective

How many museum curators have wanted more time or space to really tell the story of a person, place or item that means the world to them? Podcasts are a cost-effective way to explore subjects and expose them to a wider public. It’s a tool that, when handled correctly, can add vital additional exposure to, and possibilities for, all museums. Museum podcasts have allowed me to recently experience two museums without the stress of feeling like I was slowing people down, or forcing them to speed up! It’s a great way of taking a bit of your favourite museum experience home with you. 

Do you want to know more about how Ludejo can help you develop your own podcast? Have you recorded your own audio, but want to make it sound a little more professional? Contact us at: pm@ludejo.eu for more information. Ludejo – Create Convert Connect

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