Sam Pearson is Head of Digital Content at A+E Networks UK and producer and director of multiple podcasts including Murdertown, A Stab in the Dark, The Magic Sponge, and most recently Letters of Love in WW2.
Tell us a little about your podcast…?
Letters of Love in WW2 is TV channel HISTORY’s first foray into podcasting in the UK and tells the story of a real-life couple’s war through their letters to each other. Voiced by Downton Abbey’s Amy Nuttall and broadcaster and writer Johny Pitts, Olga and Cyril’s family also provide interviews that book-end each episode and provide context and reflection for us today.
It’s a beautiful series, and one of the most gratifying projects I’ve ever worked on. Keeping history alive in this way, and inspiring our generation to forge connections with their past before it’s too late is a great motivator and is incredibly rewarding.
If you could go back to just before you recorded your first podcast and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
It’s not as easy as it seems! Granted, you don’t have to worry about what things look like with filming video, and no cameras mean one less technical consideration, but that can also lead to all sorts of other issues… For one, you need to be meticulous with your notes and well organised in the edit as it’s so much harder to find the bit you want without a visual cue.
What makes a great podcast guest?
A great podcast guest wants to be there! You can really tell when a guest doesn’t know what they’re doing, doesn’t strike a rapport with the presenter and doesn’t want to be there. A podcast is so personal – you’re listening in to a conversation, usually just you and a pair of headphones, and it needs to feel intimate. The guests on A Stab in the Dark were all crime fiction authors or actors and you always knew there was going to be common ground and an insightful conversation as a result.
What makes a great podcast host?
A great podcast host is genuine, authentic, and able to speak on the same level as their listeners. Enthusiasm is absolutely key. They don’t necessarily need to be high-octane, but passion is infectious, especially in the podcast world when you’re speaking directly to an audience.
What’s been your worst podcast moment?
Booking guests on The Magic Sponge was the worst! Wrangling ex-professional footballers was like herding cats and there were a fair few occasions where we were left with no guest just before a record.
What is it about podcasts that appeals to you?
I have a fairly long commute, and I’m not sure how I’d survive if it wasn’t filled with the endless podcasts I have to listen to. The sheer variety of what’s available – comedy, history, football, wildlife, drama – it doesn’t matter what mood you’re in there’s always something to listen to. If anything, if sometimes feels like there’s too much!
What annoys you about podcasts?
I have to admit that I’m a bit of a stickler for mouth noises – clicks, pops, vocal fry etc. Smoothing it out completely can make for a long edit, but I think it’s well worth it.
Is there anything you found annoying as a podcast listener… but then understood when you started making your own?
Advertising had only just launched when I started making podcasts, but it had already become widespread. It’s pretty infuriating, but a necessary evil for the industry to keep on growing. And when sponsorship is done well it can be just as good as the content of the episode (hats off Adam Buxton!)
Which one podcast episode of your own means the most to you?
The first episode of Letters of Love in WW2 is incredibly meaningful. The production window for this series was very tight and if it wasn’t for our excellent team and the involvement of the family it probably wouldn’t have happened. Alongside a couple of other similar projects it has also encouraged me to find out more about my grandparent’s experiences during the war – something that I didn’t know very much about.
Which one podcast episode not of your own means the most to you?
If it wasn’t for Adam Buxton & Joe Cornish’s various endeavours I don’t think I’d have ever properly discovered podcasts in the first place, so it would have to be something that they’ve done. I’ll pick one of their recent Christmas specials.