Are Podcasts the Future of Radio?
The way people consume media today is vastly different than it was just 20 years ago. Portable computers, smart phones, and the internet have literally brought the world to our finger tips and with it a new form of internet radio. Podcasts are digital audio files that are made available to download over the internet by computers and portable media players (smart phones and tablets). Podcasts are easier and far cheaper to produce than traditional broadcast radio; requiring just a microphone, computer, and online cloud storage to host your content. The name “podcast” actually came from Apples original mp3 player the iPod, which no one besides young phoneless children use anymore. The name podcast seems to have stuck to the new form of media regardless of its origins. Some say podcasting is the “future” of broadcasting.
Podcasting dates back as far as the year 2000 when software developer Dave Winer created RSS 0.92 a newer version of RSS (Rich site Summary or Really Simple Syndication). RSS is important because it’s the main way that podcasters upload audio files to the internet so that it can be shared with the world. The year 2005 will go down in history as “the year of the podcast”. In 2005 Apple released ITunes 4.9 which made podcasts readily available to the public. Before iTunes 4.9 if you wanted to listen to a podcast you would’ve had to download it from individual websites and then transfer them to an mp3 player. When iTunes 4.9 was released Apple made uploading and downloading podcasts much easier by creating a separate section dedicated to hosting podcasts. The ease in which listeners had access to content forever changed the landscape of the broadcast radio industry.
Over the past decade podcasts have been gaining more and more attention from the mainstream media with the help of shows like Serial and This American Life. Today in America the most popular types of television programs are reality dancing and singing shows mixed with various forms of murder mysteries. The producer of Serial Sarah Koenig realized this and took full advantage of America’s infatuation with crime dramas. Sarah Koenig was able to mold Serial into a podcast version of 48 hours hard evidence a real life true crime murder mystery and given the popularity of the genre on network television it’s no mystery as to why Serial has been such a hit. This American life on the other hand is a weekly public radio show about life in American where each episode follows a central theme but through the eyes of many different Americans. This American Life is broadcast to more than 500 stations before it’s made available for download in podcast form and is consistently the most downloaded podcast on iTunes. The medium of podcast owes a great deal of its success to the creation of the smartphone.
In June of 2007 Apple released the first iPhone and forever changed the world as we know it. Podcasts have been steadily growing in popularity and legitimacy since the release of the first iPhone. The access to podcasts was a common issue listeners had before the iPhone was released in June of 2007. Before the iPhone if a listener wanted to hear their favorite show they’d have to download it on a PC and transfer it to a cd of mp3 player. The old process of downloading content via a PC was a bit tiresome for casual would be podcast listeners, this is why smartphones have played such a huge role in the evolution of the podcast. The Pew Research Center reported that the number of podcast downloads requested from mobile devices (smartphone and tablet) increased from 43% in 2012 to 64% in 2014 illustrating the impact smartphones are having on the popularity of podcasts.
Podcasts have become a new school version of broadcast radio “on-demand”. Unlike traditional radio broadcasting that requires listeners to tune in at a specific time to hear their favorite show, podcasts offer a more user friendly listen any time any place approach. Another reason podcasts have become so popular in recent years is they aren’t restricted by the FCC the same way broadcast radio stations are. The host of a podcast can say absolutely anything they want without repercussions. Podcasters only want to make their audience and advertisers happy, radio stations want to make advertisers and the FCC happy in turn putting them at a disadvantage in the ever-changing world of radio.
Journalists, corporations, and even Universities have begun to adopt podcasts as alternative ways to reach potential consumers. Journalists were early adopters of podcasting; by bringing their news stories to life through an audio book style format the journalists have been able to reach audiences that don’t typically read. In a noble attempt to bring knowledge to the masses many Universities have begun producing podcast lecture series’ given by some of the most knowledgeable scholars in the field. Corporations have found podcasts to be a useful tool that allows them to inform the public about current and future products that they just can’t live without.
The current landscape of podcasting is vast and steadily changing but one thing is certain TALK is king. With 99.9% of podcasts being either talk, interview, or story telling shows that leaves little room for the traditional radio DJ to play the Billboard Top 40 which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Take Serial for example, it was produced by Sarah Koenig who came up with the premise for the show while she was listening to an audio book on a long car ride. Serial has been praised by some as the greatest podcast ever made and was even downloaded 500,000 per day a year after it was released. Producer Sarah Koenig told an event at Penn State University “I never meant to create a fever” meaning she had no idea that the show was going to be so popular. I believe the reason shows like Serial and This American Life are so popular is because people with active lifestyle’s can be entertained while driving, working, or even relaxing. My generation has grown up on television and doesn’t remember the good ole days of when the entire family would gather around the radio to listen to the great story tellers of the golden age of radio. Shows like Serial are similar to reading a book in that the listener is invited to use their imagination and I believe that’s what makes the show so popular.
The challenge for podcasts is producing the same listener engagement that traditional broadcast radio has had over the years. One way podcasts have been able to engage their listeners is through internet websites. Websites where listeners have access to news, forums, and even show voicemail’s where listeners are encouraged to leave messages for the hosts. Some shows like Bolt Talk actually host a live chatroom while the show is airing and have listeners call in with questions just like a broadcast radio show. Traditional broadcast radio has been around for nearly 100 years I think as time goes on podcasts will catch up.
Producing podcasts is all well and good but how do they keep the lights on? The advertising landscape for podcasts has been increasing and is only going to get better. Podcasts are attractive to advertisers because they offer a desirable, highly engaged audience. Advertising on podcasts is a type of direct response marketing which allow companies to gauge the effectiveness of their advertisement. Many podcast listeners describe a connection to the host of their favorite show that they don’t get when watching CSI Miami. With this new found intimacy that podcast hosts garner their listeners actually trust the host to not advertise garbage that they don’t personally use or believe in. Listeners trust podcasts hosts so much that 63% of Midroll listener’s reported to have bought a product or used a service that was advertised on the show. With the trust of listeners the sky’s the limit for podcast sponsorship.
Over the last twenty years the networks and the FCC have been making broadcast radio unlistenable with their over played top 40 hits that everyone’s sick of hearing and their corny uncle sounding DJ’s. The radio broadcast business is stuck in the Stone Age. By overplaying subpar music and not allowing their DJ’s to fully express themselves the stations have been the most responsible for the growth of podcasting. Podcasting had to happen, it’s a direct result of the steady deterioration of the once mighty American Broadcast industry. Podcast’s are everything radio once was and ever dreamt of being. Podcasts are exempt for the regulations of the FCC because they aren’t transmitted through the air but rather downloaded from internet servers. Because they aren’t regulated by the FCC podcast hosts can say whatever they want making for a more authentic show and is why many listeners report a strong sense of intimacy between host and listener. It is relatively inexpensive to produce a podcast; all one needs to produce their own show is a microphone and a laptop making a podcast way more cost effective than owning an entire radio frequency. For the most part podcasts have a small fraction of the commercials as the big network stations do making them much more listener friendly. Podcasts have been around for more than fifteen years and have been steadily gaining in popularity since that time. I seriously doubt that podcasts are going anywhere, I believe their here to return radio to the glory of the golden age of radio when everyone just wanted to know “What evil lurks in the hearts of men”.
 Sharron Knoll. The Rising Popularity of Podcast (Editor & Publisher. Jan2016, Vol. 149 Issue 1, p36-41. 6p. , Database: MasterFILE Premier)
 Andrew J. Bottomley. Podcasting: A Decade in the Life of a “New” Audio Medium (Journal of Radio & Audio Media. Nov2015, Vol. 22 Issue 2, p164-169. 6p. DOI: 10.1080/19376529.2015.1082880)
 Kris M Markman. Everything Old is New Again: Podcasting as Radio’s Revival (Journal of Radio & Audio Media. Nov2015, Vol. 22 Issue 2, p240-243. 4p. DOI: 10.1080/19376529.2015.1083376)
 Richard Berry. A Golden Age of Podcasting? Evaluating Serial in the Context of Podcast Histories (Journal of Radio & Audio Media. Nov2015, Vol. 22 Issue 2, p170-178. 9p. DOI: 10.1080/19376529.2015.1083363)
Sharron Knoll. “The Rising Popularity of Podcast.” Editor & Publisher, January 2016, Vol. 149
Issue 1, p36-41
Andrew J Bottomley. "Podcasting: A Decade in the Life of a “New” Audio Medium."
Journal of Radio & Audio Media,Nov2015, Vol. 22 Issue 2, p164-169
Kris M Markman. "Everything Old is New Again: Podcasting as Radio’s Revival."
Journal of Radio & Audio Media, Nov2015, Vol. 22 Issue 2, p240-243
Richard Berry. "A Golden Age of Podcasting? Evaluating Serial in the Context of Podcast Histories." Journal of Radio & Audio Media, Nov2015, Vol. 22 Issue 2, p170-78