What Makes Radio Go Viral?

Viral Radio - Serial Podcast & Michael D.Higgins - Photo Credit: Author
Viral Radio - Serial Podcast & Michael D.Higgins - Photo Credit: Author
Viral Radio - Serial Podcast &  Michael D.Higgins - Photo Credit: Author
Viral Radio – Serial Podcast & Michael D.Higgins – Photo Credit: Eleanor Mannion

What types of audio do people share on social media platforms? According to an interesting study by NPR Digital, during which the team experimented with making audio more sharable, you’re more likely to listen and share interesting sound if it’s packaged with a good headline and an image. The type of audio matters too and according to NPR Digital’s experiment the following four types of audio are the most likely to be shared on social media platforms and perhaps ‘go viral’.

  • One – Explainer Journalism


Explainer journalism is the practice of taking a news story and making sense of it for people. The idea being they teach you something through a simple, quick and interesting audio clip.

  • Two – Storyteller

Radio, as a platform, interviews a lot of people around the world and the subjects of those stories often have amazing stories to tell. Some people engaged an audience further by telling their story in a captivating way. Storytellers make you stay in your parked car outside your house or the shop until they’re done talking.

  • Three – Whoa Sounds


A Whoa Sound, NPR Digital explains, should make you react that way – whoa! This category captures the fascinating sound of a place, a person, wildlife or something else. It creates a unique listening experience that wouldn’t work visually.

  • Four – Snappy Reviews


This category is simple: Tell the listener what something’s all about – a movie, a book, a local attraction. For example this week we have been hearing loads about the Fifty Shades of Grey film. NPR Digital recommend you do it in a concise audio clip. This could follow the template of a traditional “review,” but you can of course take more creative approaches.

Irish Examples of Viral Radio

Michael D Higgin v Michael Graham (Newstalk 106-108fm, 2010)

One example of Irish radio that went worldwide and viral is our current President Higgins’ heated debate with American talk radio host, writer, and conservative political commentator Michael Graham about US Tea Party politics . It was part of a Newstalk radio show and in case you need a refresher here it is:

This piece of audio (when this article was written) has over two millions views on Youtube which is incredible if you consider how many would have actually heard it live on Newstalk.

Upworthy originally spread this audio of President Higgins. Upworthy’s mission is to draw massive amounts of attention to things that they feel matter. Everyday their curators scour the web to find compelling, meaningful media — stories, information, videos, graphics and ideas.

Derek Thompson of Upworthy’s editorial team revealed that this piece of audio was actually the site’s first blockbuster (one-million-plus) post was in August 2012. The fact it wasn’t a dog talking like a person or a baby that looks like Winston Churchill, but featured a two-year-old audio clip of an Irish politician is all the more impressive.

Leo Varadkar TD comes out publicly on RTÉ Radio One Sunday with Miriam

Another example of a story that was a talking point in Irish conversation was Leo Varadkar’s inspiring interview with RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan.

The show’s production team quickly  and cleverly tweeted a link to the audio making it easily accessible and easily shared on social media platforms.

Soon the story wasn’t just a talking point in Irish conversation but appeared across all international media and even managed to make it on to SNL‘s Weekend Update – not an easy feat for a non-american story, not to mind one that originated on Irish radio.

Pat Carey speaks to RTÉ’s Radio One Seán O’Rourke Show

A follow up to the Leo story and one that has again spread to the international news  platform is former Fianna Fáil minister Pat Carey coming out on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke.

Again the show’s team quickly put the interview up on Soundcloud and tweeted a link to the segment.

What’s next for Radio?

Radio is an adaptable medium. Playback listening continues to grow and the success of The Serial podcasts has reinvigorated industry interest in the phenomenon of binge-listening. NPR Digital notes that their viral audio experiment meant that the participating stations produced packages far different from traditional radio. Also noteworthy, is that a lot of the audio was created for digital first, and then ended up on air, a complete reverse of the typical workflow.

Radio is changing and its producers are becoming more multimedia savvy but ultimately distinctive and compelling content is what makes and will continue to make radio a popular medium.

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