Day 14: Swearing – What Your Podcast Audience will Tollerate

A couple weeks ago I had a fellow podcaster say they did an interview in which the interviewee said “Sh*t”. It was only once and in passing. He asked if he should bleep out the profanity. His podcast was geared toward adults so I didn’t see any reason to bleep it out. Ultimately, the podcaster did bleep out the word.

I come across this on my own show, too. Just recently I went to SXSW to get interviews and had 2 that contained profanity. One was a cuss-fest back and forth so I am most likely to leave as-is with a a warning. The other one was simple to take out the words.

Your Show, Your Rules

Its no surprise that some podcasts excel because of the raw content they produce. If you can sit and watch Kevin Pollack Chat Show for two hours and inundated with profanity, then you are a champ! It’s a great reason why he has a successful podcast. The rules are his to make.

There are other podcasts – mostly in the comedy format – that allow cuss words. The audience doesn’t mind so they continue to do it. They do well by the words so their rules are also to allow swearing.

The Olden Days of Swearing

I Love Lucy

I Love Lucy

Did you know the word “Pregnant” was a banned word? In the popular TV show “I Love Lucy”, they used the word “expecting” instead. They felt pregnant was not appropriate. Then again, they also put husband and wife in separate beds for years.

Words like Condom, Damn, Abortion and more were taboo on broadcast radio and TV for years. Now, we don’t even bat an eyelash at those words.

I even remember the word “Bitchin” (which is slang for cool). If you used the noun, its a swear word. However, this is not and was acceptable long before B*tch.

Rules Outside the US

Funny thing is most countries outside the US don’t think as much with profanity. In the UK the rule is swearing after 9 pm. Of course we saw raw comedies like Benny Hill and Monty Python which even showed partial nudity from time to time.

Swearing and its Emotional Punch

Howard Beale - Network (movie)

Howard Beale – Network (movie)

I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore

– Howard Beale, Network (1976)

Some will limit the bad words to when they are passionate about a subject or really angry over something. The big words in those cases are BullSh*t and A-hole. Maybe an F word comes out, telling someone or something what to do.

I have been known to let audiences know how “Pissed off” I am. I don’t feel this is a bad word but others can get offended by it. Still, it’s my show, my rules.

Swearing is a Cop Out?

I’ve always been told that people swear because they don’t know what else to say. They are flustered and just want to end an argument or monologue.

I feel sometimes a well placed cuss word will accentuate a conversation. I have seen people get frustrated – which will then lead to the words F-You! I have even been in that position to throw out the F bomb.

Sometimes you are so mad you don’t have any other direction to go. You could say something worse but want to just stop talking. That is where the F-bomb comes out.

Does the Bleeping Interfere with the content

If one swear word happens in a line of conversation, it is easy to edit and continue without losing the spirit or path of the conversation. However, if every 3rd word is a profanity then bleeping could easily ruin a statement or even idea. If you get that interview with Howard Stern and he bleeps half the content, you might want to decide if the editing will save the interview.

Is Social Networking Numbing Us from Profanity?

Grumpy Cat says "F-You"

Grumpy Cat says “F-You”

As I am writing this article I stopped for a second to check my Facebook and Google+ pages. Both of them contained a post with a picture of the grumpy cat meme and the words F-You. These social networks are accessible by anyone 13 and older.

Does that make 13 the magic age of profanity? Are we conditioning our lives so the sight of a bad word or a topless female will not put us in schoolgirl giggles? Further, if Facebook and Google+ (Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, too) are open to these items, should we start re-evaluating our vocabulary?

Adding a Rating to Your Podcast

Like I said before – your show, your rules. However, iTunes and other podcatchers want to know where you stand. Therefore, they want you to fill out the appropriate rating on your show. Is it geared for kids or are the topics adult in nature?

Remember – You can always make one show explicit. If you have an interview that you cannot really cut out the words, then why not put a warning at the front? Otherwise, make some creative edits.

Its not a bad thing to have an adult rated podcast. You won’t win fans in the bible-belt, however, its more about attracting the 25% of the US population that really listens to podcasts.

It really depends on your show. If the show is about adult topics with an adult audience, then letting one or two words slip is ok. If its a kids podcast – you might want to do some creative editing.

What the Podcasters Say

Dave DufourJan 26, 2013

We try to keep it clean but it’s not really a problem. Normally the only thing that pops in is the rare s-word. It’s happened maybe twice in three years. I think it’s a crutch for a lot of so-called comedy shows.

Geoffrey Allan PlauchéJan 26, 2013 (edited)

I don’t mind a little bit of it.  I used the word “bada**” myself a few times in the first episode in reference to a fictional character. Beyond a certain point it would probably start turning away too many listeners for me though and would transform the podcast into a very different kind of show than I want to create.

Paul CarrJan 26, 2013

I keep it as clean as possible.  I have no personal problem with profanity, but I see no value in making people uncomfortable, and I welcome younger listeners.

Don GarveyJan 26, 2013

Profanity tends to make me wince as a listener, and I’ve been turned off by a number of podcasts due to vulgarity.  Unless you are very talented in the blue humor department, it’s always a net loss to my ears.  I’m on the side of profanity and vulgarity being a crutch rather than a talent (as+Dave Dufour mentioned).

We keep our show “modern” clean.  As +Geoffrey Allan Plauché mentioned, we’ll say “bad ass” (featured in film trailers these days), “damn” that sort of thing, but draw the line there.

Dion VJan 26, 2013

I would try to keep it clean. Gratuitous cussing doesn’t cut it for me. Sometimes it happens, but trying to keep the language to around a PG level feels right. Plus, there are so many more creative ways to show your displeasure. Grab a dictionary or a thesaurus. 😉

Matthew BennettJan 26, 2013

I don’t mind it at all. Sometimes there’s a difference between languages too. (To an English speaker, normal Spanish would sound much more profane than normal English.)

Scott GentzenJan 26, 2013

I tag my podcast as explicit.  I haven’t used any profanity on my show myself and I don’t expect to make it a part of what I do. But just because of the fact that I’m spending most of my show chatting with others, I’d rather have the explicit tag there and let my guests do what they do than mark it clean and have to bleep things out.  That said, I think it took til the 4th or 5th episode before anyone said anything that would need the explicit tag.

Geoffrey Allan PlauchéJan 26, 2013

I’m new to this, but wouldn’t an explicit tag limit your audience? Either in search results or by self-selection as they decide not to try your podcast because of the tag?

Dave DufourJan 26, 2013

I think the explicit tag is a mistake unless you’re truly using r rated language. Can’t you mark individual episodes explicit if necessary.

Alan PopeJan 26, 2013

Ours is “family friendly”. We just don’t swear at all on the show. We’ve had the odd “crap” and “damn” but nothing more. This is a deliberate choice because we know some of our listeners have children in the room when they listen. We also believe it’s just not needed.

Scott GentzenJan 26, 2013

I’m sure my audience is somewhat reduced by running Explicit. I’m figuring that anyone that is going to have an issue with occasional profanity isn’t going to like a lot of the music I’m going to play.

Dan PowersJan 26, 2013

I would think you’d gear towards your audience. I don’t cuss but I don’t sensor guests. Our audience is males 25-40 years in age. with that being said over the last years we’ve only had a few incidents.

Scott GentzenJan 26, 2013

Exactly +Dan Powers. My audience isn’t “everybody.” My content is only going to appeal to certain people anyway. I could do a per-episode Explicit/Clean tagging but I think that sets expectations that i dont want when some of it shows Clean.

Mike MerazJan 27, 2013

My podcast is specifically for kids so this isn’t much of an issue for me. However, as a podcast listener and podcaster in “general”, I’m always turned off by bad language and it concerns me in terms of the image it can create for our medium.

I have nothing against bad language… knock yourself out. What concerns me is that all it takes is for a few “surprises” in a person’s listening experience (especially parents) and they begin treat the medium with caution. Think about it, in traditional media you probably don’t worry too much about your kids being in the room while you watch daytime tv or watching their own tv shows. There are certain standards we rely on (as parents) to reassure us that our kids can flip on the tv and everything (relatively speaking) will be ok. But does that apply to YouTube? Websites? Video Links? Podcasts? As a parent, we begin to distrust (not dislike) these media sources once we realize it’s basically an honor system.

A great example of this for video podcast content would be Revision 3 vs TWiT. Rev3 has some great shows that appeal to young viewers (video games, movies, tv, tech, etc). But once you watch a few you quickly realize they are geared for a dorm room audience. As an adult, I’m ok with this but won’t play most Rev3 shows with kids around. TWiT on the other hand (with minor exceptions) is fairly safe and I’d have no problem leaving TWiT programming running in the background all day.

My point isn’t that there shouldn’t be bad language. But as a medium, we need to do a better job of making our content more audience friendly so listeners/viewers can trust us and filter us to meet their own needs. These days, with podcasts being marketed everywhere (podcast feeds, social media, YouTube, generic links, Twitter, etc) just having “explicit” in our feed description isn’t enough. Often, it goes unseen.

Hope that wasn’t too off topic. As a parent and as a “kids” podcaster… it’s an important issue for me. The fact that it can become an issue shows me that the medium is maturing.

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Dion VJan 27, 2013

Well-stated,+Mike Meraz !

Stefan HalleyJan 27, 2013

I have no problem with profanity in a podcast. I don’t use it on my current podcasts but in previous podcasts, there was a ton of cussing. It really depends on the audience and tone of the podcast.

Michael SitarzewskiJan 27, 2013

Loved this thread. It’s ultimately up to you to determine if profanity is OK. We didn’t censor, and we didn’t drop an “f bomb” every other word either.

Swearing: What Your Podcast Audience will Tollerate

Swearing: What Your Podcast Audience will Tollerate

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  • Troutdaletim

    I have heard profanity on some of the This Week In Tech podcasts; Mac Break Weekly and This Week In Tech, and have found it not to my liking and wonder why the podcasts in iTunes did not have the explicit tag showing? There wasn’t even a clean tag.

  • Kevin Field

    Ah to swear or not…

    Just to correct you slightly. The rule in the UK is not swearing after 9pm. There is no 9pm watershed in radio broadcasts. TV is a different matter, although the 9pm watershed still doesn’t really exist, it is reasonably safe for programmes to include mild swearing late evening and into early night.

    However, some swear words are considered gratuitous and are refrained from use. In fact UK radio looks at swearing according to the expected audience that listens. A hip hop show will still edit out, blank some swear words even if they know the audience will expect the content. The ‘N’ word is more often than not removed. Some stations allow mild swearing in songs late at night, but only ‘shit’ and especially if it is expected in the genre.
    A few years back a station in London aired the ‘F’ word used several times within a track. The station was fined.

    The Office of Communications or OfCom carried out some in depth research into what words the listener find offensive. The majority of street swear words are included in it’s top ten as well as slang. These included MF, F, and C words. Broadcasters are advised to steer clear of these words.

    I think swear words are more than social idioms of a time period. Unlike ‘pregnant’ and such words which were banned during programmes due sensitivities of the watching audience, and under instruction of advertisers and sponsors, swear words are used for cause and effect. Even in the fifties people didn’t go around using the word pregnant to cause offence, but they did use the word ‘fuck’ to offend or cause shock.

    As a listener I find swearing unnecessary in most podcasts, that’s not that I’m prudish or never swear myself. I just feel that more often than not it is needless and out of place with the sentiment trying to be put forward. A different word could have been used to create a better understanding of the hosts feelings. In other words it doesn’t add anything.

    Podcast listening is one 2 one, so it’s a personal experience – Therefore it is down to personal taste. I do wonder if a podcast with tons of swearing would have more listeners if the host used other words. It does of course depend on the context of the podcast. I’d argue there is no need for swearing in a sports, self help, business or education podcast. Comedy podcasts on the other hand offer an opportunity to swear in a comedic situation.

    An interesting topic. Perhaps use the advice of a seasoned broadcaster who knows how to get an audience listening and for longer – If in doubt leave it out!