It’s a typical Thursday morning, and 6-year-old Teresa is in the car on her way to school, when her father turns on a new podcast. Her father is always listening to boring podcasts.
But this one is different. It tells a harrowing tale of 2 men racing to the North Pole…for the first time…without modern technology. Teresa is hooked. She hangs on every word, reserving any questions she has until the end, so she doesn’t miss a second. The next day she listens too, and the day after that. In-fact, she doesn’t miss an episode. The show is called History Daily. It’s an important part of Teresa’s morning routine, and it begins to shape the way she perceives audio content on April 6th, 20231.
A story like this is how Lindsay Graham2 starts every episode of the popular daily podcast, History Daily. How popular? At the time of this writing, it’s ranked 11 in the History Category on Apple Podcasts.
In fact he has 2 other shows ranked above that in the same category. So he knows his stuff. And the kicker? He doesn’t even listen to podcasts.
Graham’s podcasts are so popular because he knows the power of story, research, and reuse. And today, we’re taking a closer look into how he and his team pull it off.
👉 In this issue
What’s History Daily About?
History Daily, as the name suggests, is a daily history podcast. From the website:
Every weekday, host Lindsay Graham takes you back in time to explore a momentous event that happened ‘on this day’ in history. Whether it’s to remember the tragedy of December 7th, 1941, the day “that will live in infamy,” or to celebrate that 20th day in July 1969, when mankind reached the moon, History Daily is there to tell you the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world—one day at a time.
Every Monday through Friday, they take a close look at some event that happened on that day in history. The do something special on Saturdays that we’ll get to later.
But unlike a page-a-day calendar, which coldly spews some fact at you in 1-2 sentences, Graham crafts an entire world and paints an incredible picture for the listener, drawing them into the intrigue of this single piece of history.
Storytelling is at the Heart of History Daily
Graham and the whole History Daily team understand the importance of storytelling.
Each episode opens with an in-depth description of a character who is often named, and always related to the historical event.
It could be the main character, as is the case with The Execution of Thomas More. It could also be a bystander to a bigger event, like in The Deadliest Day of Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’. The story, like any good story, is told in the present tense.
The show immediately gives us someone to emotionally connect with; it hooks us within the first 30 seconds.
Moreover, there’s foley3 to create a truly immersive experience. By the time we get to the intro music, we’re hooked. We can see the world around us through the picture Graham painted with his words.
A Fiery Hot Cold Open
Speaking of intro music, History Daily employs a fantastic use of the cold open. That entire opening salvo, in-fact, is part of the cold open. It’s usually 2-4 minutes.
Whereas most podcasts (mine included) do a shorter cold open and dive right into the main content, Graham takes the time to really immerse the listener so that they stick around for the whole episode. He does this a few ways:
He creates a character we can relate to. By giving the opening character a name and a backstory (where they are, what they’re doing, what they’re thinking), we feel like we know the person. Like we could even be that person.
This person is often real — an actual person who was affected by the historical event. But they don’t have to be. Some may be avatars of a common person in that time period. I actually wonder how they could possibly know so much about people who are seemingly bystanders.
The reason it doesn’t matter is, real or not, having this initial character creates tension.
We already know the subject of the episode from the title. But what we don’t know, or don’t always know, is how this individual is impacted by the rest of the story. They may not be the “main” character. If they are, we don’t know what lead them to this place in history, or what happened to them after the event took place.
All we know is something is about to go down.
He also opens a curiosity loop. The cold open is just the start of the story. He paints this picture for us, then cuts to the intro. He spends some time building the character, then he leaves us hanging…we have to keep listening.
Finally, he includes details to fill out this world:
Don’t you feel like you can see the horror on Heath’s face? Maybe even smell the stink bomb?
This world building allow listeners to sink in and prepare for a proper 3-Act Story.
The 3-Act Podcast Episode
If you look at the website and view an episode, you’ll also see transcripts that are more than just walls of text. They have headings:
We have a clear beginning with a conflict that leads to, in this case, the rise of Anne Boleyn as queen.
In Act Two, we have the rising action that leads to the eventual climax of her execution in Act Three: there’s tension between Anne and King Henry because she cannot have a boy.
The fact that their transcripts have these heading proves that Graham, and his team know they’re telling a story, and structure it as such.
Your Takeaway: You should be incorporating some sort of storytelling aspect into your podcast…especially if it’s a solo show.
A Quick Note About Their Research
I should say now that this is the first deep dive I’m doing without direct access to the host. That means I don’t have nearly as much insight into the pre- and post-production process as I normally do.
However, thanks to their credits at the end of each episode, I know there are several writers and researchers on the team. In-fact, looking at the last 20 episodes (some of which were re-aired…more on that in a minute) there were 11 different writers/researchers.
Graham appears to edit each script, which makes sense as he’s ultimately reading it.
After recording, it’s time to edit for content and audio engineering to add in sound effects and supplementary audio. They may need to record other voices, find the right foley, or grab the historical audio, when they can.
All that to say a lot of work goes into creating a daily, story-driven podcast. But it pays off. History Daily sits at #11 in Apple Podcasts’ History charts. And that’s behind Graham’s other shows: American Scandal (#2) and American History Tellers (#4).
If this is something you want to explore, I recommend trying one episode first. Learn how much time it takes you. Then you can find freelance writers or a VA to help you research.
But there’s another important aspect to History Daily’s ability to churn out content: they understand the power of reuse.
Re-Airing Previous Episodes
History Daily doesn’t do “this day in history” episodes on Saturdays and Sundays. That means after their first year, they had roughly 260 episodes they could reuse in following years.
As an aside, since this is a history-based show, they also didn’t need to rush that first year. They could get 3, 6, or even 12 months ahead before dropping the trailer, giving them plenty of runway for new episodes post-launch.
They don’t, but they will re-air an old episode around once per week. There are a few reasons they can do this:
- The topic they cover is the most interesting historical event for that day.
- They are getting new listeners all the time, and many haven’t heard the episode yet.
- Even if someone heard it last year, they’ve forgotten the details (or that they heard it at all).
Because of how deeply researched and well-produced these episodes are, this is the perfect use case for repurposing content. It gives them a little extra wiggle room in their production schedule, and for any episode that doesn’t also happen to be a current event4, they don’t need to change the content at all.
Graham will come on right in the beginning to let people know that this is a re-air, and even that has some personality. He doesn’t just say, “this episode first aired on July 4th, 2022.” He’ll say,
He’s also described re-airs as, “déjà vu episodes,” “pre-loved,” and my personal favorite, “aged in oak barrels.”
There’s one more reason reuse works so well for this show in particular. Only the last year’s worth of episodes is available on the free, ad-supported feed. The original episodes are no longer available in the ad-supported feed.
The full catalog is only for paying members.
Your Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to reuse older episodes…especially if they’re well-produced and timeless.
Premium Content Through Multiple Distribution Channels
History Daily has an ad-free feed and an ad-supported feed. Though it’s actually slightly more complex than that.
Let’s cover the ad-supported feed first. That one’s available “wherever you get your podcasts,” and gives you the past year’s worth of episodes.
This feed uses dynamic ad insertion (DAI), presumably by their audio host, art19. The native art19 player actually handles DAI in a pretty nifty way, serving the ads up completely separately from the episode audio, much like a commercial break on TV5.
There are 3 ad-breaks in the free episodes I listened to, each with 2 ads.
The bumpers for the free episodes are also dynamically inserted. The first bumper (at least in recent episodes…though by virtue of DAI, it could be every episode) is a reminder for Prime Members, that they could listen Ad-Free using Amazon Music.
For Wondery+ members, Graham reminds us that we’re listing ad-free on Wondery+. I signed up for the free trial of Noiser+ to see if there was a similar reminder, but didn’t find one. I’m guessing this is because, in Apple Podcasts at least, Apple Podcasts hosts and servers the subscription-based audio. There’s likely no way to use DAI with those audio files.
The ending bumper, which is only in the ad-supported version, mentioned Amazon Music, as well as the Wondery+ and Noiser+ options.
You may have noticed that there are several companies involved in the production and distribution of History Daily. Amazon Music owns art19 and Wondery, who distributes the show. Airship, Lindsay Graham’s production company, and Noiser, an independent podcast network that focuses heavily on history and historical dramas, co-produce the show.
All of this means that while the ad-supported feed can be accessed anywhere (except YouTube, at least for now), there are also several options to access the ad-free members-only feed, and full catalog:
- If you’re a Prime Member, you can access it through Amazon Music.
- You can sign up for Wondery+ for $35/year (this is what I’m doing, so I can listen in PocketCasts, and it’s entirely worth it).
- You can sign up for Noiser+ through Apple Podcasts, or through supportingcast.fm on the Noiser website.
Graham recently announced in a Saturday Matinée episode that he’s launching Into History, a podcast network with a diverse group of voices to tell history stories.
It will be interesting to see if that changes how the membership options work for both Noiser+ and Wondery+. I’m guessing they will be different enough that Into History becomes a 4th premium distribution channel for History Daily, instead of doing what Warner Bros. did to Friends and make it exclusive.
This is a strong reminder to anyone considering a premium podcast: make it as easy as possible for people to give you money.
I’m definitely leaving money on the table by not offering the PRO version of How I Built It through Apple Podcasts, and doing this deep dive has made me seriously reconsider that decision.
Your Takeaway: Consider other distribution channels for your free and paid content. Make it as easy as possible for people to give you money.
I also want to point out a great ad read. It’s for Mint Mobile, and what makes it so great is that Ryan Reynolds narrated the April Fool’s episode of the show. The ad accomplishes two things:
- It made me listen to the entire ad because Graham told a story of how he got Reynolds to do the episode.
- It made me go back and listen to the April Fool’s episode, which I had missed.
In fact, one of the main features of History Daily is getting the audience to listen to other shows.
This is done through their “Saturday Matinée,” where they promote another history-related podcast.
Promoting Other Shows Through Episode Drops
Finding lookalike audiences can help you grow your podcast quickly, as well as surface interesting content for your listeners, making your show even more valuable.
That’s precisely what Hsitory Daily does with the Saturday Matinée. Here’s the format:
- Lindsay Graham comes on with a 2ish minute intro about the show and how to find it.
- There’s an ad-break on the ad-supported feed.
- You get a full episode (presumably picked by Graham or the team) right in the History Daily feed.
- At the end, there’s a post-roll mention of ad-free episodes in the ad-supported feed.
The shows mentioned do the same thing for History Daily. The swaps appear to happen within a month of each other.
It’s important to note that there’s still a level of effort here. Graham includes a story (naturally) that accompanies the podcast, with sound effects and the whole nine.
For example, during the Anthology of Heroes swap, he talks about The Hero’s Journey, and relates it to the podcast he’s about to promote.
He likely takes the talking points from the show and builds a narrative. And putting that spin makes the episode feel more like a native episode.
The value here is not just bringing potential new listeners to Hsitory Daily. It’s surfacing interesting content for their listeners, too. Curation can be a powerful asset in its own right.
The other thing worth mentioning is some (though not all) Saturday Matinées are from other Noiser or Wondery shows. During the Creator Science breakdown, I talked about how you can create your own network effect without being part of an honest-to-goodness network.
This is another example of how powerful that can be.
Using History Daily to Improve Your Podcast Workflow
History Daily is a well produced podcast that’s hosted by a veteran in the space (Graham has been called the David McCullough of the current generation). They have a team of research, editors and sound engineers, and one of the bigger podcast networks distributing the show.
But that doesn’t mean what they do is unreachable or prohibitively expensive. Here are the main lessons we can learn from History Daily.
Lean into Storytelling
People love stories. We want to feel emotionally invested in what we’re hearing. It’s why the Hero’s Journey popularized by Joseph Campbell is so applicable to everything, from movies, to podcasts, to business landing pages.
History Daily knows this and weaves a story into an already interesting historical event. It’s what makes the event more relatable, and what makes the listener emotionally invested.
Whether you podcast about woodworking or programming, you can weave stories into your episodes. Effective interview shows do this by chopping up the interview into 3 acts, much like Graham does with historical events.
You want to start with a premise, introduce some conflict, make that conflict come to a head (the climax), and then have a satisfying end.
My recommendation is to test this theory with one episode. What’s one topic you’re going to cover on your show that you can turn into a story?
Reuse is Your Friend
If you put all of this effort into creating well produced stories, don’t be afraid to reuse and re-air them.
History Daily is uniquely positioned for reuse because in their ad-supported feed, the episodes they reuse aren’t available for public consumption. But that doesn’t mean you’re disadvantaged.
If there’s an interview you like, or a particularly good solo episode that you want to resurface to new listeners, do it!
You could add a new intro with your perspective since the episode came out, if and how anything changed, and more.
Especially if you’ve been podcasting for more than a year, take a look at your back catalog of episodes and see which ones are worth resurfacing. Write a new cold open for one, and put it on the schedule. See how it goes!
Make it as Easy as Possible for People to Give You Money
In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Graham mentions that his mission is to, “improve the world, and my bank account.” The article notes he said this slightly tongue-in-cheek, but he’s proved with History Daily that he’s achieving that mission.
In-fact, it’s probably one of the most accessible ad-free versions of a show I’ve seen.
Plus, the benefits are so simple, it’s a no-brainer for the biggest fans of the show. No ads? Check.
Access to other shows on the same network? Check.
Bonus content? Check. Graham has a wealth of experience doing history-based shows, and likely knows that most people want an interesting fact…so he makes an entire year’s worth of “this day in history” episodes available.
But the real history buffs/nerds may want to go back and explore older episodes. I know I do — I have lots queued up for an upcoming family road trip. Teresa will be very excited.
The distributor, Wondery, also knows that there’s a strong benefit to being part of the Apple Podcasts Subscription model. People can pay for their membership the same way they pay for apps, music, and movies.
More than anything, this deep dive has shown me I’m leaving money on the table. According to my stats on Transistor, the overwhelming majority of my audience uses Apple Podcasts.
Why wouldn’t I make it super easy for those people to join How I Built It Pro?
Not only that, but Graham is launching his own membership, with premium podcasts including History Daily. I’m going to assume here that he worked this deal out during the contract phase, and he’s given himself another revenue stream…one where he can take more than the cuts he’s getting from Wondery and Noiser.
As you consider avenues for generating income with your podcast — sponsorship, membership, or otherwise — do your best to lower the barrier for entry.
Give people platform, payment, and tier options. It will increase the chances they end up converting.
- This is absolutely true. ↩
- Not that Lindsey Graham. ↩
- Sound effects and other environmental sounds that are added after the recording. ↩
- The most recent one I’ve heard so far was about Brexit, June 2016. ↩
- There are lots of benefits to DAI that I won’t get into here, but check out Sounds Profitable’s in-depth article. ↩
- Ehhh…ehhhh? ↩