When Filipinos first heard about podcasts, it initially sounded too alien and out-of-this-world. We were in the middle of watching influencers do pranks, house tours, workout routines, or makeup tutorials on YouTube, and that was just a completely different form of entertainment – different from waiting for a new series episode on TV or waiting for the premiere of an upcoming film in the movie house. YouTube and Netflix came into our lives in an in-demand fashion.
So when podcasts came, it was not completely snubbed, although we were not too thrilled by it either. Why would we want to follow an audio-only medium when YouTube and Netflix – with their delicious visual and audio content – were already there for us to glue our eyeballs on?
We got into the pandemic early on in 2020 and had YouTube and Netflix all to ourselves… until we (or so we felt) watched everything and there was nothing left to see anymore.
That is the power of the podcast. Here, the audio is the king.
But that thing that they called a “podcast” was on everybody’s smartphones already, just patiently waiting to be tried on.
And suddenly, we were laughing stupidly while looking at nothingness and wearing our AirPods on. Sometimes, we would catch ourselves doing nothing but just listening intently, looking as though we were eavesdropping on somebody else’s conversations, and eventually cracking up a smile. We did not admit it to ourselves just yet, but we were genuinely entertained already.
That is the power of the podcast. Here, the audio is the king.
How to make a podcast hit
Spotify provides a list that regularly posts the top or most-listened podcast shows and episodes. One of the few shows that have rarely left the Top 10 in the Philippines is Ang Walang Kwentang Podcast (currently in the Top 8), a podcast where two filmmakers and real-life friends Antoinette Jadaone and J.P. Habac discuss different topics that are oftentimes centered on cultures, trends, and traditions.
"Our podcast works maybe because the kind of community where Direk J.P. and I grew up in is the same kind of community where our listeners came from," said Jadaone in Filipino, referring to their being "jologs" and "grepa" (which translate to being a poor person who is devoted to popular culture that is consumed by people in middle to lower classes).
She added, "Our listeners find our episodes on jologs or grepa moments funny simply because they can relate to those moments and because they also had their fair share of those moments."
Jadaone and Habac have already released episodes with different topics – they have already discussed memories of high school and college, being drunk, living in apartments or boarding houses, petty fights, and filming (both of them are popular film directors; Jadaone is the director of "That Thing Called Tadhana," "Fan Girl," and "Love You to the Stars and Back," among others, while Habac directed "I'm Drunk, I Love You" and "Dito at Doon") – but surprisingly, they are still able to come up with fresh episodes twice a week.
Jadaone shared, "Usually, a day before the recording, we would just chat each other and raise different mundane topics to see if we can share two to three funny anecdotes that fall into the topic.”
Both Jadaone and Habac have one important consideration before they approve a topic: “It has to have really funny anecdotes,” said Jadaone. “If we cannot think of funny anecdotes to share on a given topic, we would scrape that off the list and come up with another possible topic.”
But, Habac noted, “Sometimes we come into a recording with two to three funny anecdotes, right, but we would forget about all those because we would suddenly remember, on the spot, other funnier stories that we would like to share instead. So in the end, we do not forget that it is still a conversation of two friends, where spontaneous topics can come up.”
"Our listeners find themselves in our episodes. When they see their stories from other people’s stories that are narrated on our episodes, they stay.”Mark Marcos, Dear MOR: The Podcast
The relatability factor is also what makes the listeners of Dear MOR: The Podcast stay, according to its producer Mark Marcos. He said, "Our listeners find themselves in our episodes. When they see their stories from other people’s stories that are narrated on our episodes, they stay.”
Dear MOR: The Podcast is formatted from its radio show counterpart, Dear MOR, where the hosts read letters sent by their listeners, narrating their different struggles with life and love. Currently, they are in the Top 7 of Spotify’s charts.
The podcast used to target people in older generations because those were the same listeners as their radio show counterparts. "The challenge for us was how do we introduce Spotify to them? So we took the time to carefully tell them, 'Hey, so this is Spotify. Click it so you can listen to our previous episodes,'" recalled Marcos in Filipino.
Until later, they would get tweets from younger people. Marcos shared, "We got surprised one day that there was this high school student who tweeted something like, 'I listened to Dear MOR on Spotify!' Even we were surprised that, suddenly, we also have younger listeners tuning in to our stories.'"
Marcos gives credit to their slowly-but-surely approach to podcasting that made Dear MOR: The Podcast a regular fixture in Spotify's top charts. "Many newer podcasts release as many as 200 episodes in a few weeks, thinking that they would get new listeners that way," he shared. "But we never worked that way. We made sure to only release quality episodes. Listeners would come to you for your quality."
One of the relatively newer podcasts on Spotify that works is Charot Readings with Macoy Dubs (currently in the Top 5), which launched in November last year. In this podcast, online personality Macoy Dubs — who first rose to online fame because of his funny videos on Tiktok and Twitter particularly during the pandemic — provides daily astrological readings on love, career, or adulting for each zodiac sign every day.
The concept is perfect, especially because Filipinos have always followed astrology, particularly the horoscopes. That is also why despite being a relative newcomer on Spotify, Charot Readings rarely leaves the top charts.
"We have this culture growing up that we listen to daily horoscopes by Madam Zenaida Seva," said Macoy Dubs in Filipino, referring to the former regular astrologer of a now-defunct morning show. "We like depending our decisions in prophecy or fortune-reading. We love superstitions. That is just our culture."
Charot Readings also tries to make their followers’ listening experience more relaxed. According to Macoy Dubs, "Normally, when we say astrology, zodiac, or horoscope, there is that tinge of nervousness because what you are about to read or hear about your luck may be good or bad, right? In Charot Readings, we try to present your fortune or luck in a fun way.”
Interestingly, while the podcast is called Charot Readings – "Charot," being a Filipino slang term that usually means "Just kidding!" – their readings are actually professional.
"Aside from having our main astrologer Rob Rubin, our writers are also practicing astrology or are mere hobbyists of the field; two of our four writers are genuinely into tarot reading, for instance," shared Macoy Dubs, who also goes by the name “Ma’am Tarot” in the podcast show. "And then, I bring in my online personality as Macoy Dubs into the readings. So, Macoy Dubs remains present in the show."
The growth of podcasts in the pandemic
The pandemic ultimately catapulted podcasts into the world’s consciousness. Many people became curious to try out new hobbies while they were stuck at home, and maybe making podcasts would be something great to try. And why not? It is free and convenient; you only need decent audio recording equipment and enclosed space, and voila, you can already boot up your very own podcast show.
"Our podcast has become an alternative for us and our listeners to feel companionship through exchanging stories.”Antoinette Jadaone, Ang Walang Kwentang Podcast
"Ang Walang Kwentang Podcast started in the pandemic, too, and I think the pandemic has taken away the physical experience of talking or drinking beers with your friends, right?”, added Jadaone. “Because of that, our podcast has become an alternative for us and our listeners to feel companionship through exchanging stories.”
She added, "We have listeners from abroad, the overseas Filipino workers, who have been away for a long time. They would message us and say that they relate with our episodes because we speak in Filipino and that they miss being in Filipino conversations."
For a show that has already successfully penetrated the radio airwaves, venturing into the quickly growing podcast industry was nothing but a logical decision for the guys behind Dear MOR.
"Podcasting is the natural avenue for a radio show to explore, being an emerging audio-only medium," he said. "This is no different from why television shows produce digital content on YouTube or other streaming services. For us, as a radio show, podcasting is like the next big thing."
It was Marcos who pitched to the big heads of their radio channel that they explore podcasting. That was back in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Marcos said, "My idea was that if we do not venture into this growing platform now, others might go past ahead of us and, soon, we would be the losers who would try to start in podcasting when it has already taken off with the other successful shows. We would not want that."
For Macoy Dubs, the podcast also provides more convenience not only to the producers but also to the listeners. "When you watch something on YouTube, for example, you need to be sitting and watching on the screen," said Macoy Dubs. "But it is different with podcasts. Here, you can listen to a podcast while also doing your thing like washing the dishes, watering your plants, or cleaning your car. You can do many things while on a podcast."
The future is bright for podcasts, said Macoy Dubs. He noted, "I think we do not have yet popular or established podcasts that talk about visual arts in museums, or about motoring, or K-Pop. There are still so many topics and concepts that can be explored in the coming years that may lead to a more prosperous audio entertainment industry.”
Advice to aspiring podcasters
Habac has advice for those who would like to venture into podcasts. "Usually, the process of getting something done is prolonged because we are overthinking too much; in podcasting, usually we overthink the concept or the format, or whether it will work or not," he noted. "If your heart tells you that you should try it, then just start it. Do not think too much."
The topic, for Jadaone, is very important. "If you are into Korean dramas or music, that sounds to be a perfect topic. If you are into films, produce a film podcast. So think of a topic that you are genuinely interested in," she said. "If you are passionate about a topic, you would probably not realize that you have already produced a lot of episodes already."
One “sickness” of newer podcasts, according to Marcos, is that they forget the fact that podcast is an audio-only medium, so here, the audio quality is just as important as your concept.
"Sometimes, new podcasters are just lost in the excitement of finally becoming a podcaster. They have all these nice ideas and topics in mind, but they do not have the proper audio equipment," noted Marcos, the producer of Dear MOR: The Podcast. "But in a podcast, audio is king. If you have bad audio, it would be an unpleasant listening experience for your followers."
Marcos also said that it works to come up with a concept that not only you are passionate about, as Jadaone said, but also something sustainable in the long run.
"If you come up with a podcast show that talks about something that is currently trending, that might be good on your first few weeks or even months, if you are lucky. But what if that trend fades, just like any other trends?", he said. "You would reach the point where you just say, 'What now?'"
Meanwhile, consistency is key for Macoy Dubs in being a podcaster.
"If you are doing it because it is your passion, then remember that. If you are doing it because you feel that it is your service to the people, then remember that as well."Macoy Dubs, Charot Readings
"In being a podcaster, there is this honeymoon stage – usually the first three months – where you are always excited to record a new episode. Eventually, you would feel that it becomes a routine already, like a chore that you just have to do," he shared.
"Just continue remembering why you are doing the podcast in the first place. If you are doing it because it is your passion, then remember that. If you are doing it because you feel that it is your service to the people, then remember that as well."
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender.
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