Arranging Delivery, Delivering Arrangement:
An Ecological Sonic Rhetoric of Podcasting

It is a huge burden and a huge responsibility you undertake, when you claim that, before a vast assembly of people where all other stand silent, you alone are to be heard on affairs of the highest importance. For there is hardly anyone in such a crowd who will not notice the speaker’s faults with a sharper and more discriminating eye than he does his merits; thus, whatever mistake he makes smothers even his points of excellence. (Cicero, 2001, p. 83)


Part 1:Entering Radiotopia Part 2:Visualizing Sonic Evidence

Entering Radiotopia

(00:00) Hello, this is Abigail Lambke again, with the Procedures section for “Arranging Delivery, Delivering Arrangement.” This one is in two parts. The first part covers the artifact and some terms that I’m coining for this webtext. The second part includes further analysis, defense, and some visualization of those terms.

(00:22) Music: Podington Bear “Autumn Leaves” (2014a)

(00:23) One of the main objectives of this project was to analyze successful professional podcasts for arrangement and delivery choices and then interpret those results. For this, I needed to almost reverse engineer a number of podcasts and then observe how the data connected between arrangement and delivery.

(00:43) A part of my sonic ecology argument is about the theory of podcasting process and how arrangement and delivery overlap in the chronological production of a podcast. But another part—a larger part—is more based in data and interrogates the actual choices that successful professional podcasters have made in creating podcasts. This Procedures section indicates how I went about choosing my artifacts and collecting that data.

(01:14) To begin, I needed a series of artifacts to use as a source. I have been listening to podcasts since 2007. In that time, I’ve heard the development of a number of interesting and influential podcasts, but none caught my attention like 99% Invisible, which has entertained me, taught me, and served as source materials for any number of class days. I participated in Roman Mars’, the host of 99% Invisible, his first Kickstarter campaign, and thus have been hearing about the podcast collective Radiotopia since its inception.

[Sung; With Dramatic Music] Radiotopia. From PRX. (The Kitchen Sisters Present 2015)

(01:54) When I began this project, Radiotopia had 13 podcasts:

Nelson: PRX’s Radiotopia You’re listening to Fugitive Waves—(The Kitchen Sisters Present 2018)
Prest: Welcome to The Heart—(The Heart, 2015)
Richman: This is Radio Diaries, I’m Joe Richman—(Radio Diaries, 2015)
Nadleberg: Welcome to The Mortified Podcast, I’m Dave—(The Mortified Podcast, 2015)
Judge: Criminal is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX—(Criminal, 2015)
Mitchell: This is The Truth, I’m Jonathan Mitchell—(The Truth, 2015)
Hirway: You’re listening to Song Exploder my name is Hrishikesh Hirway— (Song Exploder, 2015)
Thau: Welcome to Strangers from KCLW and Radiotopia, I’m Leah Thau—(Strangers 2015)
Zaltzman: This is The Allusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, feed the linguistic ducks—(The Allusionist 2015b)
diMeo: From PRX’s Radiotopia this is The Memory Palace, I’m Nate diMeo—(The Memory Palace, 2015)
Uncredited Voice: You are listening to Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything—(Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything, 2015)
Van der Kolk: You’re listening to Love + Radio, I’m Nick van der Kolk—(Love + Radio, 2015)
Mars: This is 99% Invisible, I’m Roman Mars—( 99% Invisible, 2015)

(02:51) It now has six more (Radiotopia, 2018), although my most rigorous analyses are centered on some of the long-lasting shows. All of the shows in Radiotopia are story-driven and edited and produced. They are all excellent podcasts.

(03:06) Radiotopia offers a great deal as a rhetorical artifact for this project. The diverse selection of shows cover different themes and approaches and with them a number of strategies, representing alternate attitudes toward podcast innovation and style. There is also a nice balance of male and female voices across the podcasts, an intentional choice to bring more women into the male-dominated medium of podcasting (Radiotopia, 2014b). But while the shows are diverse, they are uniformly quality story-driven audio productions, with talented and inspired hosts and producers doing good work.

(03:42) In creating the project, my initial step was to listen. I selected at least five episodes of each podcast and listened to them over a number of weeks, charting the style of each and getting a sense of the range of each podcast.

(03:57) That listening took many hours of dedicated podcast interaction, thankfully with the added benefit of being about to do the dishes, walk the neighborhood, or drive places. I’ve listed each of the episodes I listened to in the blue box on the webtext, alongside quotes referencing Radiotopia values, intentions, funding, and a defense of the term radio in a podcast collective. Once I had listened to a number of episodes, I began to chart the outliers and create my own descriptions of the podcasts.

Radiotopia Episodes Sourced

  • 99% Invisible: “Johnny Cab,” “All in Your Head,” “Viva la Arquieteture,” “The Calendar,” Game Over,” “Sound Design from Digital Devices,” “All in Your Head”
  • The Allusionist: “Pride,” “Bruchtime,” “The Space Between,” “Mixed Emojions,” “Behave”
  • Criminal: “Triassic Park,” “Ex Libris,” “Bloodlines,” “Gill from London,” “Mothers Little Helper”
  • The Heart: “Dual Control Model,” “Riis Park,” “The Lost Pardner,” “How to Become a Princess,” “The Real Squishy”
  • The Kitchen Sisters Present: “The Nights of Edith Piaf,” Cry Me a River,” “The Birth of Rice a Roni,” “Texas with Willie Nelson,” “War and Separation”
  • Love + Radio: “Paremoremo,” “Eternity Through Skirts and Waistcoats,” “Greetings from Coney Island,” “The Living Room,” “The Magical World of Eva Julia Christiie”
  • The Memory Palace: “Charlie: God of Raid,” “Developments of the Design and Manufacutre of American Menswear,” “Giants in Those Days,” “Run of the River,” “White Heat, White Light”
  • Mortified: “Brooke: I was a Teenaged Witch,” “Katie: Saving Katharine Hepburn,” “Jordan: Jurassic Park Fan Fiction,” “Why I Hate the SATs,” “Life of the Party”
  • Radio Diaries: “When Ground Zero Was Radio Row,” “The Traveling Electric Chair,” the “Greatest Songwriter You've Never Heard Of,” “From Bullets to Balance Sheets,” “Seeing the Forrest Through the Little Trees”
  • Song Exploder: “Will Butler—“Anna,”” “Sylvan Esso—“Coffee,”” “Death Cab for Cutie—“El Dorado,”” “Game of Thrones,” “Age of Ulton”
  • Strangers: “Alaska Bingo,” “The Teacher Who Couldn't Read,” “Unconditional Love Hurts,” “Love Hurts 2”
  • Theory of Everything: “Radio WIFM,” “Dark Karma,” “Making it Happen,” “An Illumination,” “Enchanting By Numbers”
  • The Truth: “Naughty or Nice,” “Sketchballs,” “Falling Tape Delay,” “The Last Job”

Radiotopia Intentions and Funding

Sponsored by the public media company PRX (Public Radio Exchange) but funded in a large part by the public through Kickstarter, The Knight Foundation, as well as individually through ad revenue, Radiotopia branded itself as a “collective of the best story-driven shows on the planet” as well as a “new model for audience engagement and revenue growth in public radio” (Radiotopia, 2015). In 2014, Radiotopia ran a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, suggesting its value to a significant number of listeners. They more than met their Kickstarter goal of $250,000, ending up with a total of $620,412 from 21,808 backers (Radiotopia, 2014a) This outcome made it the most successful project related to radio or podcasting on the site (Jensen, 2014). Their Kickstarter campaign video, a rhetorical event itself, claimed that Radiotopia is committed to the “best sound-rich story-driven audio programs in the world,” akin to being “an indie label for the best producers to do their best work” (Radiotopia 2014a). But more than just producing quality podcasts, Roman Mars, the creator and host of the flagship program 99% Invisible, has frequently remarked that his goal is to change the idea of public radio, subtitling the Radiotopia Kickstarter campaign “a storytelling revolution” (Radiotopia, 2014a).

Labeling Radiotopia

Still, if this is a revolution, why adhere to the term “radio,” when podcasts remediate radio? The answer is that Radiotopia is about both radio and about expanding the idea of radio. Mars explained as a footnote to Update 7 that the name was coined by Julie Shapiro at the Third Coast International Audio Festival: “Julie called this gathering and all the great plans we had for audio storytelling “Radiotopia.” It’s a place where everything is radio and everything is really good” (99% Invisible, 2013b). Radiotopia as a digital podcast collective makes this somewhat paradoxical. It becomes a place, in an abstract way, to find quality radio, without engaging with anything called a radio at all.

(04:29) Music: Podington Bear “Window Shopping” (2017l)

(04:29) I also identified two criteria that I wanted to work on for this project relating to the undervalued canons of arrangement and delivery.

(04:39) Listening to a podcast is a fairly intimate practice of having a person’s voice in your head, telling you a story, and often using others’ voices and words to do so. I wanted to focus on the podcast hosts for this project, because the host is often an entry point for listener engagement. The host generally speaks first and last in an episode, and is the guide for the story. Their voices, the tonal qualities, cadence, accent, all create an image of the person in the mind, and in this transmission of the voice, leads to connection with the host. With these ideas in mind, I clarified my thoughts into two terms: vocal presence and vocal engagement.

(05:27) Vocal presence refers to how much a host is vocally present in an episode. As I said previously, the host is always present at the beginning and the end of an episode, but I was curious, as I listened to the variety of podcasts in Radiotopia, how some podcasters were continually interjecting their thoughts, questions, and comments into the story, whereas some edited the story so that the listener makes those connections themselves without any guidance from the host.

(05:56) This I see as primarily a feature of arrangement—for the story to speak for itself, as in an episode of The Kitchen Sisters Present, the episode has to be arranged so that the audience can make the connections, can follow along with the thought process. For shows that have high vocal presence, like 99% Invisible, the episodes are arranged so that the host is there to add commentary, or response, or introduce interviewees, or share the joy of being a part of the episode.

(06:26) For an example of high vocal presence, let’s listen to a piece of the podcast, The Allusionist by Helen Zaltzman. She’s present throughout the podcast, talking to the interview subjects, guiding us through the journey of a word and in conversation throughout; here’s an example from the July 17, 2005 episode about emoji:

Zaltzman: Aside from the challenges of building and running the app, even simple communications turned out to be a bit of a struggle
Gray: I tried constructing sentences with it for a bit. Like “meet me somewhere at sometime.” So you can do meet me at time because there is an hour emoji for every hour. Places are impossible to say.
Zaltzman: So anything that’s not a noun, presumably, is challenging.
Gray: Yeah.
Zaltzman: Maybe Matt just wasn’t ambitious enough in his emoji compositions.
Wiles: Have you heard about someone’s translating Moby Dick into emojis
Zaltzman: Oh No
Wiles: Guess what it’s called. Emoji Dick. (The Allusionist, 2015a)

(07:20) In this clip, you can hear Helen Zaltzman interviewing people about a topic and also introducing narration that connects interviews together. Thus, she is a very vocally present host, scoring high on my vocal presence spectrum. These audio productions you’ve been listening to alongside this webtext are also very vocally present because that is part of my ethos as an academic in creating these audio productions is to showcase my guidance through my arguments and ideas.

(07:51) In contrast to Helen Zaltzman and The Allusionist (or myself) is a show like The Kitchen Sisters Present, formerly called Fugitive Waves, in which the Kitchen Sisters Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva weave the story together without their voices. I’ll give you an example from the July 13, 2015 episode on “Hidden Kitchens Texas,” but what I want you to listen to is what isn’t there—their voices:

DiMingus: We have people who sell corn, put sour cream, chili, lemon and mayonnaise. My name is Norma DiMingus. Right around 4 o’clock there’s a lot of business.
Music: N. Tamaulipas “Outside”
Unknown: Fridays and Saturday nights I have a DJ outside and he’s jamming and playing music. Kinda a place to be seen.
Music: The Flatliners “Dallas”
Wright: I’m Robin Wright Penn. I was born in Dallas Forth Worth Airport Hospital. My mother took us everywhere with her. (The Kitchen Sisters Present, 2015)

(09:12) Here you hear three voices and two songs, but you infer the transitions yourself, without the guidance of the Kitchen Sisters, who are vocally hidden, scoring low on my vocal presence spectrum.

(09:25) That choice on how to arrange a host’s voice in a podcast is a rhetorical choice of arrangement. How much do you want to guide your listeners through a story? How much do you want your audience to hear you as the voice? Where do you fit in the story? When deciding to be vocally hidden, the Kitchen Sisters aren’t choosing to do less work: in a very real sense, it is more work to be vocally hidden. They explain in an episode of This is Radio in March 2014 (Norton, 2014) that they made this choice in the process of producing a show so the story becomes more intimate:

Silva: We don’t voice our pieces. You don’t hear our voices, or very little, in most of our stories. When we started out we were working on this one story about Ernie Morgan, the world’s champion one-handed pool player. We got there and it was just fabulous, you know the jukebox, the smoky barroom, the guy. He had this great voice, wonderful storyteller. We began to put it together, our voices were in it and when we listened to it in the studio it just completely took you out of the place. It became a different story. And I think we began eliminating ourselves. Pretty soon we were out of it. It was very cinematic. And very much like you are here and this person is talking to you in your ear. (Norton, 2014)

(10:55) The Kitchen Sisters’ decision not to narrate their show, or to be vocally hidden, was not only devised during the process of production and editing but it was also a decision based on medium. They compare it to cinema, but this is also more intimate, with the speakers almost speaking directly to the listener, without the intervening voices of the hosts. To see the range of choices of arrangement, please see my chart locating 13 podcasts from vocally hidden to vocally present.

(11:25) Vocal presence is the first of the terms I invented for this project.

(11:29) Music: Podington Bear “60s Quiz Show” (2015a)

(11:31) The second is vocal engagement, referring to the performative delivery of the host’s voice. This has to do with tonal qualities, with how the voice, in Quintilian’s terms, has been used (pp. 604–605). Different voices produce different effects. And, a casual read of comments in iTunes about podcasts will give you a sense of how voices are crucial to podcasting, just as they are to radio.

(11:54) Listening to and evaluating a voice is admittedly a subjective practice. Some people just can’t stand certain vocal tics, like vocal fry, uptalk, high tones, low tones, slang, or a slow pace. So, in my evaluation of voices, I wanted to choose something that was less pejorative and clearly a choice that the podcaster is making, not necessarily a feature of how their body might make their voice. So, I’ve chosen vocal engagement, referring to the amount of enthusiasm a host’s voice carries toward the subject material. I mapped this on a spectrum from detached (low vocal engagement) to enthusiastic (high vocal engagement). You can see the chart in this section.

(12:48) On the enthusiastic side, you have podcasters who sound really excited and engaged with the cool subjects they're covering. Ok, I’m overdoing it some. Let’s listen to a few examples from Roman Mars in 99% Invisible, who scored high on this spectrum. Here's a clip from an early episode on sound design for digital devices, from February 2011, one of my all-time favorite podcast moments:

[Electric sounds]
Mars: I love that. I could listen to that all day. In fact, let’s hear it again.
[Electric sounds] (99% Invisible, 2011)

(13:26) And another clip from June 10, 2015 on sound design in scary movies:

Mars: It’s biological. Your lizard brains hears Bernard Herrmann’s knife stabbing music in Psycho and says, “Something terrible is happening right now.” (99% Invisible, 2015)
(13:42) Music: Podington Bear “Climbing the Mountain” (2015c)

(13:45) Now, 99% Invisible is a show broadly about design, not just sound design as my examples would seem to indicate. They just worked well for this piece, and I like them. You can tell Roman Mars is really engaged and is having fun with what he’s doing. Indeed, last year, in 2017, he won best host voice for podcasting (Webby Award, 2017). You can tell why.

(14:07) But on the other hand, you have more detached podcasters, who use their voice to sound more objective and distant from the subject, not as actively enthusiastic. It isn’t at all that these podcasters don’t care or aren’t intrigued by their subject, but they’ve chosen to narrate or introduce their subjects differently. Here's an example the end of Love + Radio’s March 6, 2015 episode “The Living Room.”

Van der Kolk: That’s it for Love + Radio. Just after this interview was recorded last spring, Diane’s neighbor closed her curtains and hasn’t opened them since. (Love + Radio, 2015)

(14:50) The vocal choices in performing the voice are rhetorical ones. You choose what you want to sound like, in some measure. In my description of enthusiastic I was enthusiastic, and in my description of detached I tried to sound objective. But, anyone with a vocal range can sound either way, so the sound of delivery, the performance of delivery, is an intentional choice.

(15:18) In talking with Rob Rosenthal in 2011, Roman Mars spoke about this formula for creating a show. He specifically looks for...

Mars: A person exhibiting geeky enthusiasm (Rosenthal, 2011)

(15:29) a piece of the show. And, the geeky enthusiasm of the interviewee matches the “geeky enthusiasm” of its host. He also spoke about motivation behind the show and some of the choices he’s made:

Mars: I do this to make an audience happy, and get them interested and engaged in the show. (Rosenthal, 2011)

(15:50) To be fair, in this clip, which I also used in the introduction, Mars is speaking about why he cuts a different show for the podcast audience than for the radio audience, but I think we can interpret that sentiment broadly. Happiness and fun for Mars is connected to engagement, which we hear in his voice. Rosenthal, in this 2011 interview on his podcast How Sound, singled out the fun asides Mars has in the episodes, saying:

Rosenthal: One of the ways Roman has fun is by inserting his personality. I feel like I get to know a little bit more about Roman each episode. (Rosenthal, 2011)

(16:24) So while we can hear Mars’ enthusiasm and engagement, other podcasters show different rhetorical choices regarding performance of their voice in delivery. Nick van der Kolk of Love + Radio also discussed his motivations with Rosenthal on How Sound in 2013, saying that he considers himself a documentarian and chooses subjects that divide him:

Van der Kolk: I‘m much more interested in stories where I don’t know where its going to go and I don’t know exactly where the moral boundaries are. (Rosenthal, 2013)

(16:55) This skirting of moral boundaries might influence his vocal delivery. Indeed, some people who serve as subjects on Love + Radio, and it is a people-oriented show, they’re difficult to accept. This is a place where we see invention, or the idea or topic of a show, also impacting its delivery on a secondary level of ecology.

(17:17) These terms—vocal presence and vocal engagement—can also map on to other rhetorical canons. They can come from invention, as I just indicated. They result in different styles of podcasts. And just like writing, listeners might have a preference for one style, topic, or another. But for me, these are fundamentally intertwined with arrangement through the audio production process and as well as delivery through the performance of the voice.

(17:45) These choices about arrangement and delivery are rhetorical ones that podcasters make when considering what they want their piece to be and who their audience is. But, interestingly for this study, there are patterns when you take all of Radiotopia between the choices being made about being vocally present and the choices being made about being vocally engaged.

(18:06) In the next audio piece on Procedure, I’ll provide a visual display of these terms and a further defense of them. Please take a moment to examine the visuals presented and then press play on the next audio section. Thank you for listening.

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Visualizing Sonic Evidence

(00:00) Welcome back to the procedures section of “Arranging Delivery, Deliverying Arrangement.” This is still Abigail Lambke.

(00:07) Music: Podington Bear “Beautocracy” (2014b)

(00:09) In the previous audio, I provided a few examples of vocal presence and vocal engagement. In this section, we’ll go deeper into both terms and I’ll explain and defend my analysis of the podcasts in Radiotopia according to those two concepts. This section involves much interplay between audio and visuals. I might be referencing aspects that are arranged and delivered sonically in the podcasts, but I’ve used the affordances of maps and charts and sonic visualizations as evidence for my arguments. Like much of this webtext, it is not essential for the argument to both hear and see, but doing so rounds out the argument to its full extent.

(00:56) Both of the terms I’ve isolated for my argument—vocal presence and vocal engagement—center on the host or hosts of the podcast. This focus privileges the vocal rhetor at the front of the podcast and has much to do with vocality. Many podcasts are composed collaboratively, but the host is often the first sonic element the listener engages with and can be a make or break element of the podcast. The host’s sonic performance of identity shapes the podcast as a whole. This identity is rhetorically delivered through the questions posed, the tone of voice, personal details revealed about the host. But the host’s sonic identity also connects to arrangement, how much the host is there, guiding you through the ideas.

(01:46) When considering arrangement, I could have gone a number of different directions. I could have mapped the development of story, how much music is used, the presence of sound effects, or the order and variety of interviews.

(02:02) Instead, when considering arrangement, I focused on how frequently the host is present narrating the show for three main reasons. First, because it is something that is generally consistent across a podcast series. The collaborators of a podcast make a choice if they want their podcast to be more or less narrated, and that's a rhetorical choice that is influenced by and influences the other rhetorical canons of invention, style, and as I argue most in this webtext, delivery.

(02:36) Second, the focus on the host overlaps with my focus on the host’s voice for delivery. Thus, my analysis in this webtext is centered on two aspects of one sonic element, the host's voice.

(02:50) Third, focusing on vocal presence of a podcast host is something that can be tracked and compared across podcasts.

(03:01) Music: Podington Bear “Ice Pack” (2017f)

(03:03) I’ll direct your attention to the blue boxes, where I’ve provided evidence from three podcasts from different places on the continuum of vocal presence, which stretches from vocally hidden to vocally present. On the vocally hidden side, I’ve analyzed the episode “Hidden Kitchen’s Texas” from the podcast The Kitchen Sisters Present (2015). To demonstrate a middle ground, I’ve analyzed the episode “Jordan: Jurassic Park Fan Fiction” from Mortified (2015), and to demonstrate the vocally present end of the continuum, I’ve analyzed the episode “All in Your Head” from 99% Invisible (2015).

Sonic Visualizations of Vocal Presence

Sonic Visualization of the episode Hidden Kitchens Texas. The visual is a spectrogram of the sound of the episode in yellow and red, layered with a waveform of the audio in brown. Superimposed is a yellow line on the waveform to indicate when the Kitchen Sisters are speaking during the episode. The text reads: The yellow line on the waveform indicates the moments when the Kitchen Sisters are Vocally Present in this episode. The Kitchen Sisters are Vocally Present for 18% of the episode, including preliminary announcements. If preliminaries are ignored, they are Vocally Present for 9% of the episode.
Podcast: The Kitchen Sisters Present (2015). Episode: “Hidden Kitchens Texas.” My analysis places this podcast low on the vocal presence spectrum.

Sonic Visualization of the episode Jordan: Jurassic Park Fan Fiction. The visual is a spectrogram of the sound of the episode in yellow and black, layered with a waveform of the audio in red and pink. Superimposed is a pink line on the waveform to indicate when the host Dave Nadelberg is speaking during the episode. The text reads: The pink line on the waveform indicates the moments when the host of Mortified, in this episode Dave Nadelberg, is Vocally Present. Dave Nadelberg is Vocally Present for 22% of this episode, including preliminary advertisements. If preliminaries are ignored, he is Vocally Present for 18% of the episode.
Podcast: The Mortified Podcast (2015). Episode: “Jordan: Jurassic Park Fan Fiction.” My analysis places this podcast in the middle of the vocal presence specturm.

Sonic Visualization of the episode All in Your Head. The visual is a spectrogram of the sound of the episode in yellow and blue, layered with a waveform of the audio in green. Superimposed is a pale green line on the waveform to indicate when Roman Mars is speaking during the episode. The text reads: The pale green line on the waveform indicates the moments when Roman Mars, host of 99% Invisible, is Vocally Present in this episode. Roman Mars is Vocally Present for 28% of the episode. There are no preliminaries on the version downloaded from Mars' website

Podcast: 99% Invisible (2015). Episode: “All in Your Head.” My analysis places this podcast high on the vocal presence spectrum due to both amount and frequency of presence.

(03:44) For each, I used Sonic Visualizer (Cannam, Landone, Sandler, 2010) to layer a waveform of sound atop a spectrogram of the sound. Then, I edited in a horizontal line to represent when the hosts are audible during the episode. For The Kitchen Sisters Present this line is yellow, Mortified’s is pink, and 99% Invisible's is pale green. I also included percentages to indicate the amount of the episode the hosts were vocally present, both with preliminaries like sponsorships and introductions, and then percentages that exclude those.

(04:23) Comparing both the lines and the numbers between the episodes is evidence for where I’ve placed these podcasts on the continuum of vocal presence. The Kitchen Sisters are vocally present for 18% of the episode, Dave Nadleberg, the host for this episode of Mortified, is vocally present for 22%. But if we take out preliminary introductions and sponsorships, the Kitchen Sisters are vocally present for 9% and Nadleberg for 18%. In constrast, Roman Mars is vocally present for 28% in a version of the episode that does not have those preliminaries.

(05:00) Numbers might indicate where they fall on this continuum. But, those numbers do not tell the whole story. Vocal presence is not only about quantity. Instead, it also encompasses frequency of narration. In comparing the sonically visualized representations, you can see not only do the Kitchen Sisters speak less of the total time of the episode, but there is also a long gap during which they do not speak.

(05:26) In the episode from Mortified, a significant portion of the episode is Jordan in front of a live audience reading the script he wrote in an imitation of Jurassic Park as a young boy, with an interview at the end of the episode. Nadleberg, the host, speaks at the beginning and with frequency at the end, but there is that long section in the middle during which he is vocally hidden.

(05:51) Both of these contrast with 99% Invisible, during which Mars speaks throughout, in short clips, vocally present throughout the episode.

(06:02) Admittedly, these represent just one episode from 100-plus collection of podcasts episodes. I am not claiming that these exact numbers would apply to every episode from the respective podcasts. Indeed, the ebb and flow of a podcast over time is one element that makes the podcast series an interface while each episode is essentially a static text. Still, I stand by my placement of the podcasts regarding the vocal presence criterion after listening to a number of episodes across their existence.

(06:36) With that caveat, I’ll direct your attention to the Vocal Presence in Arrangement chart in the blue box, where these 13 podcasts have been placed on a horizontal axis from vocally hidden on the left to vocally present on the right. The three most vocally hidden include The Kitchen Sisters Present, The Truth, and Song Exploder. The three most vocally present include The Memory Palace, where Nate diMeo speaks the entire time, The Allusionist, and 99% Invisible. The remainder of the podcasts fall in the middle.

Chart of Vocal Presence

Chart titled Vocal Presence in Arragement. Vocally Hidden is on the left; Vocally present is on the right. Text includes the names of the podcasts in order from hidden to present.
This chart visualizes 13 Radiotopia podcasts on the continuum of vocal presence. There is a spread across the continuum, with just over half of the podcasts placed on the vocally present end.
(07:12) Music: Podington Bear “Jettisoned” (2015d)

(07:15) Let’s move to delivery and vocal engagement now. When analyzing a podcaster’s delivery, I could have concentrated on the transmission of the podcast—its vocal cues in an app or on a website—or on the status of the audience when the podcast is delivered. But I chose to focus on the host’s voice because the tonal qualities of a voice are not only important to the listener, they also match an emphasis on the classical canon of delivery.

(07:45) At the head of each page in this webtext, you might have noticed the epigraphs from Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian. These are nods to the classical heritage of the Western rhetorical tradition, which guided Brooke’s (2009) analysis that I extended in my argument, and my own understanding of how rhetoric functions. In antiquity, delivery was a combination of voice and gesture. Both radio and podcasting strip the gestures and focus on the performance of a voice.

(08:16) Music: Podington Bear “Gizmo” (2017e)

(08:20) My focus on vocal engagement in delivery honors that performance alongside classical rhetoric. But just as there are many aspects to consider when thinking about delivery, there are many aspects to vocal performance.

(08:35) For this webtext, I’m all about enthusiasm and engagement. One reason is that I wanted to be inclusive in choosing a term so as not to be skewed significantly by gender, race, age, class, or other category. Anyone can be enthusiastic or detached when performing their voice, and either choice can be rhetorically effective. Roman Mars, as a vocally enthusiastic podcast host performs his delivery appropriately. Just as Nick van der Kolk performs his delivery appropriately on the detached end of the spectrum.

(09:16) I’ve labeled the low end detached because these hosts aren’t unenthusiastic or unengaged in that they can't muster enthusiasm or engagement about their subjects, but they are detached, in that they perform a seemingly more objective or evenhanded delivery. That is to say, those on the low end of the spectrum are still engaged, but it is a detached engagement. Enthusiastic hosts carry more emotion in their voices, they might share more personal details, and they react to the stories they share more openly.

(09:52) Again, the same caveat applies that I put on vocal presence: podcasts ebb and flow across episodes with some hosts more vocally engaged at some times than others, possibly due to the topic of episode or its invention. For example, Roman Mars might laugh and talk along in an episode about sound design in scary movies (99% Invisible, 2015), but be more somber in the episode about stealing bricking from abandoned houses in St. Louis (99% Invisible, 2017).

(10:18) Truthfully, vocal engagement is a more subjective criterion than vocal presence, because there is little way to quantify it and listener reactions differ regarding what makes a voice enthusiastic or detached. But at its heart, rhetoric is a subjective practice upon which different audiences might have diverse reactions, and delivery has always been subjective based on audience and social cues.

(10:45) So, what I’ve done here is once again place them on a continuum with vocally detached on the left and vocally enthusiastic on the right. And, although other listeners might put an individual podcast on a different place on this continuum, I contend that the extremes will still be distinct.

(11:03) So, I’ll direct your attention to the blue box chart. You’ll find on the detached end there is Song Exploder, Criminal, Love + Radio, and The Kitchen Sisters Present. I’ve also included a longer clip from the Criminal episode “Gill From London,” so you can hear what I mean by vocal detachment.

Chart of Vocal Engagement

Chart titled Vocal Engagement in Delivery. Vocally Detached is on the left; Vocally Enthusiastic is on the right. Text includes the names of the podcasts in order from detached to enthusiastic.
This chart visualizes 13 Radiotopia podcasts on the continuum of vocal engagement. Like vocal presence, the podcasts range across this continuum, although most are right of the center line.

Representative of the Engagement Continuum

Clicking the links will take you to a new page where you can focus solely on listening.


On the low end of the spectrum is Criminal, hosted by Phoebe Judge. Linked is a sample from the May 15, 2015, episode “Gill from London” (Criminal, 2015).

Mid Line

In the middle of the spectrum is Strangers, hosted by Lea Thau. Linked is a sample from the April 14, 2014, episode “Love Hurts” (Strangers, 2015).


At the high end of the spectrum is 99% Invisible, hosted by Roman Mars. Linked is a sample from the June 10, 2015, episode “All in Your Head” (99% Invisible, 2015).

(11:20) On the enthusiastic end, on the right, is The Memory Palace, The Allusionist, Mortified, and 99% Invisible. I’ve embedded a longer clip of “All in Your Head” as representative of what I mean by vocal enthusiasm.

(11:36) And, as evidence of the middle ground of the continuum, I’ve included a portion of the episode “Love Hurts” from Strangers, hosted by Lea Thau.

(11:47) So you might take a moment, pause this, listen to those, get a sense of what I mean by detached versus enthusiastic and decide if you agree with me.

(11:57) Now, once the two metrics of vocal presence and vocal engagement were identified, I began to graph them, using my isolated placements of vocal presence as the x-axis, and my placement of vocal engagement as the y-axis, and then drawing conclusions about where different podcasts fall when we put those two ideas together. You’ll find that analysis and further conclusions in the Sonic Ecology section, although I include the graph here in the blue box so you can look at it now.

(12:30) Thank you for listening. Goodbye.

Presence + Engagement

Graph named Plotting Arrangement and Delivery in Radiotopia
This graph uses the placements of vocal presence as the x-axis and the placements of vocal engagement as the y-axis. The results will be explored in the Sonic Ecology Section.

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