How to Make a Fun (and Profitable) Podcast for You and 10 Million of Your Closest Friends

An array of A-list commenters such as David McCullough and Bob Woodward, episode art featuring adorable president toy figurines and Cunningham’s signature “what would it be like to go on a blind date with President ____” query lead to 10 million hits and an Academy of Podcasters nomination for “Best News and Politics Podcast”. “So I decided to make one myself.” Here's what Cunningham has to say about Presidential and her follow-up podcast Constitutional, which premieres this week. Presidential was all about power. Constitutional won’t always be about people in any positions of power. He said the show helped him readjust to civilian life after coming back. And the president you’d least want to have a blind date with? I figured you would’ve said James Buchanan -- he really wouldn’t have had any interest. I interviewed Robert Dallek for the JFK episode and my recorder died. And he had made his own presidents that followed Dwight! Any words of wisdom for people who want to try podcasting?

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How to Make a Fun (and Profitable) Podcast for You and 10 Million of Your Closest Friends
Image credit: Marvin Joseph | The Washington Post

In January of 2016, Washington Post leadership editor Lillian Cunningham premiered the matter-of-factly titled podcast Presidential. The premise was simple and the expectations were humble: Every Sunday, up until Election Day, the hostess would post a profile of each of our nation’s 45 commander-in-chiefs in the order they were nominated.

It was a hit. An array of A-list commenters such as David McCullough and Bob Woodward, episode art featuring adorable president toy figurines and Cunningham’s signature “what would it be like to go on a blind date with President ____” query lead to 10 million hits and an Academy of Podcasters nomination for “Best News and Politics Podcast”.

How did this small idea score such massive success? Like most things, it started with a problem.

“In preparing for the upcoming election I tried to find a podcast on the U.S. presidents and found that there really wasn’t much out there,” said the 33-year-old writer. “So I decided to make one myself.”

Here’s what Cunningham has to say about Presidential and her follow-up podcast Constitutional, which premieres this week.

Tell us what we can expect from Constitutional.

The idea came from a really powerful voicemail I got from a fan who really wanted a follow up to Presidential and really thought it should be about the Constitution. We decided we’re really going to focus on the people who have shaped it: delegates at the first Constitutional convention, suffragettes and abolitionists.

Presidential was all about power. Constitutional won’t always be about people in any positions of power. Our second episode focuses on native Americans. Specifically, Standing Bear, who, in the 19th century, was the first native American to argue his rights in a U.S. court room.

How did the higher-ups react to your success?

I don’t think anyone expected it to have the reach that it had. And so much of it was based on word of mouth. I’d get emails saying how they taught their moms how to subscribe to a podcast and I’d get letters from senior citizens thanking me for giving them a weekly thing to discuss on the phone with their kids and grandkids. A young military vet sent me a box of Presidential coasters that he’d needle-pointed. You could tell he spent a ton of time on them. He said the show helped him readjust to civilian life after coming back. And someone sent me a Teddy Roosevelt Bobble Head Doll.

Is that because you mentioned, in an interview, that out of all the commanders-in-chief, Teddy would be your number one blind date choice?

Ha, yeah. I can’t…

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