I always find it helpful to see what successful podcasters with large followings are doing, because that helps educate me on podcasting myself. From my own business education background, I found that case studies always helped the most when navigating the world of business.
I’m starting a series that looks at case studies of successful podcasts and seeing how the same practices that made them successful can be applied to your own podcast. Seeing what others have done can help you with picking topics, formats, execution, marketing, business model, etc.
The first one I want to look at is the My Favorite Murder podcast with co-hosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff.
With over 35 million downloads per month and $15 million in revenue in 2019, I’d say that’s pretty successful. That’s about as much as I’ll look into the numbers because that’s what others often do, they only look at the results. I want to take a look at what they’ve done to get those results.
So let’s get it started.
Table of Contents
Background of MY FAVORITE MURDER Podcast
As controversial as the podcast name might be, it’s engaging and grabs you right off the bat. The podcast is a true crime comedy show that features true crime stories, as told by the two hosts, Kilgariff and Hardstark.
The two first met at a Halloween party in 2014 where Karen was sharing a violent story about a car accident. She had witnessed this personally, which had made storytelling more authentic and real. Georgia happened to be at the same party and as soon as she heard about this, she darted closer to listen when most would prefer to cower away. Soon, the both discovered their interest in true crime stories and how they unfold.
This was the jumping point that led them to release their first episode in 2016 – My Favorite Murder with Feral Audio. They discussed the cases of JonBenét Ramsey and the Golden State Killer. This is a harrowing story about a serial killer charged for at least 12 murders, 45 rape cases, and 100 burglaries between the 1970s and 1980s. At the time they aired their first episode, the case remained unsolved. And it was only in 2018 that the elusive killer was captured. A police officer that had been terrorizing the city for almost 40 years – Joseph James DeAngelo.
As raw and gruesome a story as that may sound like, Hardstark and Kilgariff managed to carry the conversation in an informative light. Their storytelling ability was a hit with listeners. Their backgrounds helped with the ability to tell stories. Kilgariff was a stand-up comedian and worked on TV comedies before. Hardstark was a co-host on Cooking Channel shows previously.
The beginnings of THE PODCAST
For Georgia and Karen, podcasting became an outlet for topics that not many can handle openly. Their curiosity and interest in the same topic brought them closer as friends. Some may say that they are crazy and are probably bad people themselves for talking casually about these true crimes. However, if you get to listen to them – you will notice the opposite vibe. No matter how heavy, gory, or sickening the topic is, they can find a comedic way to tackle them. And not many people can do this. It takes a lot of emotional quotients to carry such conversations casually.
One of the main reasons why Georgia and Karen are so engaged in the topic is because they want to learn from it and be smarter about it. For them, these are life lessons that they take lightly and serve as a constant reminder of how they can make the best out of life.
As the pair continues to tackle crime stories every week, their audience of Murderinos (what they call their fans) continues to grow. They couldn’t have predicted that their fan base would grow as large as it is now. And in 2016, they ranked the number 1 spot in iTunes podcasts. They also overtook other genres for the number one spot having 450,000 downloads per episode at that time. They broke through and their social media gained traction with hundreds of thousands of followers tuning in to them regularly.
One of the best ways to see what makes podcasters successful is to see what their more popular episodes are and listen to them. See what they did well to make those episodes work well.
What makes these episodes popular is that they feel like a riddle. Mysteries and true crimes create a thrilling atmosphere for fans, especially the unsolved, leaving fans to think about the possibilities of what could have happened. Most of Georgia’s and Karen’s episodes span between 30 minutes to 1 hour. But the episodes don’t feel like they’re long at all as they’re entertaining to listen to and time flies.
Below are 10 of the more popular podcast episodes in my opinion:
Episode 1 – My Firstest Murder, January 2016
This is the first episode that launched the podcast channel My Favorite Murder. The episode tackles each of the two’s favorite murder stories. The first one is about the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, and the second is on Sacramento’s East Area rapist (aka The Golden State Killer).
Episode 79 – Sharpest Needle In The Tack, July 2017
The pair tackles the Collar Bomb Heist and the Shoe Fetish Slayer, Jerry Brudos. Brian Wells is a pizza delivery man who was killed in a complex plot that involves robbery and more. Brudos is a serial killer who murdered four women between 1968-69.
Episode 78 – The Freshest Recording, July 2017
A survival story about a woman named Ellen and a series of murders of Oklahoma Girl Scouts. It tells a haunting story about a friendship formed with David Lee Roth who was a thief and impersonator.
Episode 45 – Funky Diva, December 2016
The story about Lord Lucan and the Summerhill Road Murders. Lord Lucan, also known as John Bingham was married with three children when he lost custody over them. When the marriage collapsed, he developed an obsession with regaining back his children and killed the children’s nanny.
Episode 71 – Put It In A Door, June 2017
A story about the Vampire Rapist, John Crutchley, and the death of Genene Jones. This episode also aired on Netflix with the pair discussing John Crutchley, a convicted rapist and serial killer. And another one is with a serial killer convicted for the murders of 60 infants.
Episode 73 – Chill Satanist, June 2017
The pair discusses the Berkley Hostage Crisis that took place in 1990 and the cult of murderers at Fall River. A hostage crisis in Henry’s Pub inside a hotel. Mehrdad Dashti is a schizophrenic that helped hostages for hours.
Episode 51 – A Bit of Oblivion, July 2018
Karen and Georgia discuss another survival story of Jennifer Holliday and the case that led to a new law called Megan’s Law. The federal law was in response to the murder of Megan Kanka, which requires the release of information to protect the public from sex offenders.
Episode 215 – Three Small Hot Dogs, March 2020
The two co-hosts discuss the mysterious death of a woman named Natalie Wood and the boxcar killer. Natalie Wood is a Russian-American actress in Hollywood who drowned but to unknown causes. The other story is about Robert Silveria Jr., who is known for killing fellow freight-train riders.
Episode 143 – DeSabotage, October 2018
They discuss the truth behind poisoned Halloween candy and the murder of Carol Stuart. Ronald O’Bryan is convicted of killing his 8-year-old son with poisoned candy. And Charles Stuart, who seemed to have murdered his wife for money.
Episode 77 – Live At The Keswick Theatre, July 2017
Here, the pair does a live show discussing the killers, Gary Heidnik and Edward Gingerich. It is a mini-episode that tackles a neighborhood intruder and a cult story.
Why My Favorite Murder Podcast continues to be popular
Listen to the episodes and see if you agree that they’re good? Think about what makes them engaging and why people would like them. What is it about the podcast that made them popular and continue to be popular?
Here are my thoughts on what they’re successful with.
Karen and Georgia talk very casually and naturally in their podcast. It’s as-if they’re just talking to friends, because in a way they are with each other.
You barely hear fixed scripts and at the very least, they would just have bullet points to guide them. Those tend to be enough to be able to elaborate on topics. Their communication works so well that even gasps or what the f*ck comments are welcomed. They do not hesitate to share their genuine reactions to the one who is telling the story.
When they co-host, they respect and give each other the time to explain their thoughts. Even when it takes 10 seconds to search for something over dead silence, they respect this so that the train of thought is not broken.
Their authenticity is valued by listeners. And usually, your audience can spot whether you are just making something up or faking the reaction.
The way these two women tell stories is simply remarkable. And it seems to come from practice, practice and practice. Their backgrounds in the entertainment industry and TV helped give them a great platform to tell stories. That’s translated over to podcasting. I’m sure they went through many trials and tribulations as they came up, but they’ve honed their craft by telling tens of thousands of stories.
Even when it is just the two of them that are speaking, you can feel as if they are talking to you. They deliver a story as if you are there. They pause where it is necessary, they change their pitch to emphasize, and they use words that are easy to understand.
At the end of the day, they remain true to themselves – sharing stories wherever and whenever they want.
When it comes to podcasting, you do not necessarily feel that there is a live audience that you can immediately engage with. Although there are features that support this, it is not always the case.
Usually, podcasters would plan their episode, record them, edit as needed, and then publish for listeners to download or stream. And during those processes, there isn’t a live audience aside from the host and her co-host.
However, you will notice that at times, Georgia and Karen would turn to the audience encouraging them to submit comments, corrections, and any other relevant information. They also encourage their listeners to share a similar experience or a new crazy story that could be tackled in future episodes. So, despite the lack of a live audience, they still manage to engage their listeners into the conversation. This approach goes a long way to bring your listeners in and make them feel like they belong.
Research and Preparation
Although things may seem free-form and casual, there is a whole amount of prep involved to be able to deliver an episode.
Topics that they discuss are well-researched and that’s how they’re able to retell the story with such ease. It may not be 100% accurate with dates and facts, but they manage to tell you the story with enough information to drive their point across effectively.
They have a story climax where they build the plot first and give you a surprising conclusion if there is one. This is done because they took the time to prepare, such that even when they are off-topic – they manage to come back to their story.
Having a co-host is an advantage for them because they’re able to bounce ideas off of each other. They can also divide the labor when it comes to research and knowledge. They’ll exchange responsibilities where each of them would have a specific topic to tell. They exchange thoughts and stories to continue driving the conversation. Next thing you know, one hour has already passed and you are still firmly hooked to them.
Podcast Live Tour
Karen and Georgia’s My Favorite Murders Podcast Tour goes around the United States with their live shows. This generates more interaction as they will not only be heard, but they can also be watched. From 2016 to 2018, they’d done over 80 live shows in several states and will continue to do more. The Murderinos, their Fan Cult, help them continually sell-out their tour shows.
That’s a fan base that many podcasters strive for.
Lessons learned for podcasting
Just by listening to the My Favorite Murder podcast, you can tell why they have become so popular and accepted by fans.
They’re able to take horrible stories, discuss them directly, and still have a laugh. They are not afraid to voice out what others may want to just keep in silent. And for any podcaster, it is important to stay true to yourself, your thoughts, and character. Even when the topics seem awkward and uneasy, if this is what you want to share, then by all means – share them. By staying true to yourself, you can carve a path for your growth as a podcaster.
If you’re looking to start your own podcast, don’t forget to go through the extensive, step-by-step How to Start a Podcast guide.