Program Recap: NYWIFT Masterclass: Nonfiction Audio Development

By Desiree Rucker

NYWIFT Advisory Board President Jamie Zelermyer used the podcast I Was Never There, which she created based on her experience exploring the mysterious disappearance of her friend Marsha Ferber in 1988, as the case study in the first installment of the three-part NYWIFT Masterclass: Nonfiction Audio Development in November 2023.

The masterclass was a must-attend as Jamie outlined the steps she took to create and launch the successful eight-episode series. Here are some of her top tips!



1) Know the genre of the podcast you want to create. And study the ones that are successful to learn what works – and what doesn’t.


2) Have a big idea.

  • Most series that are being bought today are six episodes.
  • The podcast market is oversaturated, so you need to stand out.
  • Is your idea unique? Do you have a hook?
  • Don’t be repetitive. People tune in again and again to hear something new each time.
  • Most episodes are of a flexible length; however, 20-35 minutes is the average, with a cold open and a teaser at the end.
  • For most series, the ending should tie into the next episode.


3) Who is speaking?

  • If there is more than one host, make sure they each have different personalities or viewpoints.
  • Use of celebrity hosts – guest hosts -ED NOTE: PLEASE FINISH THIS SENTENCE – what was the point?


4) Know your audience!

  • Who is the potential audience for this content? That includes knowing listeners and potential sponsors.
  • You must always be thinking about not only how to keep the current audience, but also know that to grow you’ll need to diversify to bring in new listeners.
  • Use guests and music to create freshness in each episode.


5) Know what you don’t know. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you bring to the project? Are you a writer, but not an audio editor? Writing is key to a successful podcast, as they are very scripted, but most podcasts have a team that include the host(s), an executive producer, and an audio producer. (The latter is a crucial role as they edit the content that airs – pay for this!) These roles might be filled with support from corporate or institutions, if they provide sponsorship.
  • What are your assets? Jamie had hundreds of hours of content from previous interviews and news reports on VHS tapes. They were valuable assets as they added authenticity and are considered archival material. The audio tracks can  be separated from the video tracks on VHS and remastered. 
  • Quality control: The main narration should be of the best quality – either recorded in a studio or the quietest room in your home.


6) Start-up Costs

How are you going to pay for this? Jamie spent $650 at B&H. She purchased:

  • 2 Zoom(Audio) Handy Recorders
  • 2 microphones
  • 2 Mic Stands
  • 2 Cables


7) Pitch It

Your podcast pitch should include:

  • One line of description of the series
  • One paragraph for each character’s description
  • Look book
  • Trailer link


Stay tuned for more installments of the NYWIFT Masterclass Series, coming in Winter 2024! Learn more at www.nywift.org/events.


Desiree Rucker

Desiree Rucker Desirée Rucker tells stories using film and words. She earned a MFA in Creative Writing (LIU Brooklyn) in 2015. Her first short film, The Theater, screened at Anthology Archives (2004) as part of the 48 Hour Film Festival. Desirée has filmed and produced hundreds of hours of content for her cable access television program, Culture Matters TV on BRIC Free Speech TV. In 2017, she received the B Free George Stoney Award for Social Impact for her program on Young Black Male Empowerment. Her writing has been staged in a live bicoastal reading produced by Frank Silvera and the Billie Holiday Theater (2019) and a play was produced as part of Brownstone Steps Short Play Festival (2022). She is a long-time member of NYWIFT and co-leads the New Works Lab, where she is working on a script for a series set in Jamaica, Queens, and Jamaica, W.I.

View all posts by Desiree Rucker

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