In the last year, radio networks and stations have jumped on the podcasting bandwagon to keep their listener base tuned in throughout the day. With the addition of podcasts, radio networks and stations not only have 24-hours of content to fill on the airwaves, now they have to find interesting content for their stations’ podcast as well.

While reporters and producers report limited use of podcasts for their on-air news gathering and talk show content, a station’s and network’s expanded broadcast via a podcast does provide PR professionals an opportunity to achieve more exposure for their clients. In most cases, stations are simply repurposing material from on-air programming for their podcasts, but the most interesting podcasts are providing new, original content that has not been used somewhere else.

National Public Radio, an early adopter of podcasting, has found its most popular podcasts have been offerings by topic, rather than just offering podcasts of entire radio shows. For instance, podcasts like NPR Movies, NPR Technology and NPR Music take content from various shows on those topics and make it available via podcast. CNN Radio is now podcasting a variety of programs covering news and business, along with special programming featuring in-depth coverage on a variety of topics and current events.

Another phenomenon occurring in the industry includes a podcast-to-radio trend, instead of strictly radio-to-podcast productions. In May of 2005, podcasts became a source of content for radio broadcasts. KYOU Radio (KYCY 1550) in San Francisco, began broadcasting podcasts made by listeners. And another music veteran, Adam Curry, started a program on Sirius Satellite Radio discussing and airing podcasts.

Christopher Lydon, who began audio blogging after losing his syndicated NPR program, returned to public radio with a phone-in interview program called “Open Source,” promising to involve bloggers and podcasters. The show relies on listeners and podcasters to help produce the show. It went on the air May 30, 2005 on WUML and WGBH in Massachusetts and three Public Radio International affiliates.

What does this mean for PR pros? Podcasting is going both ways, from radio-to-podcast and podcast-to-radio. Either way, podcasts are a way to make your client’s message fresh, compelling and easily accessible to consumers.

What public relations professionals should realize is that consumers are listening to podcasts. Although podcast listenership has a long way to go before catching up to the U.S. radio audience, according to Feedburner.com, an RSS feed promoter, podcast circulation is consistently growing nearly 20 percent per month. In July of 2006, Nielsen Media Research reported that about nine million consumers downloaded podcasts in the month of June.

The biggest question PR professionals are asking now about podcasting is how do I measure podcasts? Audience size of podcasts runs the gamut. Some podcasts have a very large audience, like NPR’s On the Media from WNYC, New York Public Radio, with more than 16,000 loyal subscribers and 40,000 downloads from its website. WTOP’s Daily Podcast News Update averages about 11,000 downloads each week from of its website.

The challenge right now is developing an accurate way of measuring who podcasts are reaching, when and how often? The good news is that Nielson Media Research is launching several projects in 2007 that will explore how to best collect and measure podcasting data. Stay tuned to see how well it can provide the detailed measuring information PR pros must have in order to prove a return on investment.

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