First, a word from our A-list podcasters

Katie Couric, with her co-host, Brian Goldsmith, and Valerie Jarrett, who often gives personal endorsements of the ads she reads during her podcast.
Katie Couric, with her co-host, Brian Goldsmith, and Valerie Jarrett, who often gives personal endorsements of the ads she reads during her podcast.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Katie Couric gets a great night's sleep on the Casper mattress she and her husband, financier John Molner, share, and sipping Dunkin' Donuts coconut coffee makes her feel as if she is vacationing in the islands.

At holiday time, she is thrilled to receive a package of Omaha Steaks as a gift.

Listeners of her podcast, titled Katie Couric, already know these tidbits. Before diving into interviews with newsmakers and celebrities such as Julia LouisDreyfus, Samantha Bee and journalist David Fahrenthold, Couric and her co-host, Brian Goldsmith, banter about brands sponsoring the show, adding their personal endorsements.

A podcast-hosting gig has become a new status symbol for top journalists, entertainers and talking-head politicos. Hosts can discuss whatever they want, usually for a rapt audience of in-car drivers and on-train commuters.

Most podcasts are available free on iTunes and advertising is often necessary to cover production costs. So A-list talent is now singing for its soup, routinely peddling products such as audiobooks, bedsheets and delivery meal services.

"Selling underwear on a podcast was always my highest aspiration," said Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, who now is a host of Pod Save America, a political programme.

He said he and the podcast's other hosts, including his fellow former Obama staff members Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfieffer, look for topical and comical transitions that will lead them from discussing policy to reading ads.

"We really had some fun when Spicer did his first briefing and his suits weren't fitting," Favreau said, referring to the current White House press secretary Sean Spicer. "We did an Indochino suit segue that worked really well."

When they needed to plug the payment application Square Cash, Pfeiffer quipped: "How else would I get my Soros cash?"

The practice of podcast hosts reciting advertisements is reminiscent of the early days of radio and television. There was The Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope, which promoted toothpaste. Ed McMahon pitched Alpo dog food on the The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, often to hilarious results.

For today's podcast announcers, it is a return to the good old days. "It feels very retro in a kind of nice way," Malcolm Gladwell, author and New Yorker writer, said in an interview.

But the lofty rhetoric of some podcasts makes the sometimes lowbrow nature of the ads feel at odds with the show.

During the first season of Gladwell's podcast, Revisionist History, released last year, he reported on educational philanthropy and a 1960s Pentagon mission to interview North Vietnamese soldiers, among other subjects. On the finale episode, he summarised the central lesson that ties together the different episodes: "Nothing of consequence gets accomplished without courage," he said.

But before anything of consequence gets accomplished on his podcast... first, a word from our sponsor. "First Republic is a bank with no teller lines," he has told his listeners in a reassuring, sing-song voice. "But they didn't replace their tellers with computers or robots. How's that possible? Personal bankers."

The Blink author does not dwell on the copy. "They send me the script and I read it," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'First, a word from our A-list podcasters'. Print Edition | Subscribe