Formats Unpacked: Anthems

How a podcast format delivers more in than ten minutes than others do in an hour

Hi All,

Hope you’re all having a great week. Thanks to all of you who’ve been in touch asking if you can unpack your favourite formats. Of course you can. We’re always looking for contributors. Just get in touch.

This week I’m unpacking a Storythings favourite. It’s a format we talk a lot about in our format development workshops and it always captures people’s imaginations.


What’s it called?

Anthems (podcast)

What’s the format?

Anthems is a short format podcast featuring a collection of original manifestos, speeches, stories, poems, and rallying cries based around a word of the day. 

Episodes last between 5-10 minutes and are written by exceptional people, who in their own unique voice contemplate what it means to be human. 

Episodes are collected within themes, including Anthems Home, Anthems Pride, Anthems Black and Anthems Women. Each themed season is delivered over a month, followed by a short break of a few months to give the brilliant team at Broccoli time to make more. 

What’s the magic that makes it special? 

There’s a law in podcasting that you can be forgiven for not knowing, as I only made it up five minutes ago. It’s called The Reverse Gates Law of Podcasting. It’s like The Gates Law but the other way around. It goes: “Most people underestimate what impact they can have in ten minutes of well-written audio and overestimate what impact they can have in an hour and a half of unedited waffle.”

With no editors telling them to keep it tight, and no schedule dictating the gap their content needs to fill, podcasting is a dream medium for the long-winded. You don’t have to spend too long scrolling through podcast directories to find dudes talking to dudes at great length about dude things. Joe Rogan’s podcast regularly lasts over 2 hours but has been known to go over 5 hours. Yale has made a podcast that is 8 hours long. And there’s a podcast that is 36 hours long. I know what you’re all thinking. Have you ever woken up and thought “Today the world really needs to hear 36 hours of continuous me,” or found yourself 35 hours into a conversation and think “Oh, I just need to say one more thing - it’ll only take another hour.” 

No? Me neither.

Anthems is the antithesis of this. It’s short and punchy and each episode is so well written that not a single second is wasted. Every voice has something to say, and says it in a clear, concise, and entertaining way. They use words that matter, sharing their lived experiences of contemporary issues that we all urgently need to understand. I come away from every episode amazed at how much I didn’t know about a subject, or how much more I had to learn about a subject I thought I knew well. All in under 10 minutes. 

The time restriction is a brilliant format point. It gives episodes focus, power and clarity. When you’re given a time limit to discuss a huge subject that has played a big part in your life, you become very deliberate about the words you use and the story you choose to tell. Anthem’s stories feel a million miles away from the trite corporate Pride/Black History Months/International Women's Day efforts that have become as comfortable and predictable as wallpaper.

For example, Roshni Goyate tackles Unlearning through her experience of writing an essay at school. Her original autobiographical essay was about a 12-year-old South Asian girl's first experience of hair removal. The essay was funny, nuanced and culturally specific. It was her truth. Her teacher told her that it wouldn’t work so she rewrote it with a white, male, blue-eyed protagonist and re-submitted it. It got the highest score of the year. It taught her at a young age the stories of women of colour are not relevant. As she says, to unlearn is to take up space when we’ve been told to shrink ourselves and to unlearn is to make space for imagination. 

For me, the magic of Anthems is the time factor, but that shouldn't detract from what a brilliant job the team behind the podcast do of curating guests. You’ll struggle to find a more varied and interesting collection of voices sharing their stories. Across the seasons you can hear writer Bernardine Evaristo talking about Community, chef Andi Oliver talking about Space, Comedian Munya Chawawa talking about Threat, and performance artist Scottee talking about Shame. 10 minutes with any of them is 10 minutes well spent.

Favourite Episode

Renay Richardson’s take on the word Grateful is an outstanding listen. It’s a brilliant reminder, or wake-up call, to anyone who thinks they need to be eternally grateful to the people who help them in life. Renay reminds us that giving is a two-way street, in which both people come away richer. Demanding gratitude is not about equal exchange, but a way of keeping you in a box. 

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The team behind Anthems has just released a new podcast called We Were Always Here. 2021 marks 40 years since the first cased of HIV were identified. The podcast brings “unheard voices and the untold perspectives of the UK HIV epidemic to the fore through a rich tapestry of human experience, speaking to those who have been noticeably absent from the mainstream narrative.” It’s getting rave reviews and I’m looking forward to diving in.

Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed it please share it. Send me your thoughts on this or any other format that’s caught your attention. I’m always interested in discovering new formats.

See you all next week.

Hugh