The term ‘podcast’ was coined by Ben Hammersly in 2004 in an article he wrote for The Guardian newspaper as a portmanteau of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’ . Although the medium first appeared in the 1980s (known as “audioblogs” at the time), it began to become more popular in the early 2000s with the rise of the internet broadband and portable audio devices. Nowadays, the podcast has since grown to become a powerful medium. A 2021 survey has found that there are approximately 14 million in 2020 in the United States alone and future projections only foresee this number increasing for good reason.
After all, whether you’re looking for a dulcet female british tone discussing the latest in current affairs, a soothing african american male voice reading an audiobook or the winding musicality of a texas accent giving a lecture on regional linguistics, the podcasting industry is a wide and varied marketplace with hundreds of thousands of shows covering everything from politics to movie reviews to health and wellness just ripe for the picking (and listening).
One could argue that AM/FM radio fulfills a similar role. However, the ever increasing number of listeners shows that the medium has carved out a special place for itself in spite of its more commercial and polished counterpart. So what is it about the medium which has captured the ears of listeners?
Ease of access
In this digital age, audio streaming platforms are booming. Spotify alone has over 40 million monthly listeners in just the United States and podcasts have been a staple piece of entertainment offered on the platform since 2018 and continue to maintain their relevance.
With the increased usage of portable digital devices capable of streaming audio such as handphones, tablets and smart speakers, such digital platforms have become the go-to destination as they are essentially an all-in-one stop for audio entertainment.
This widespread accessibility has in turn has given podcasting a space to truly flourish. While most people on these platforms still opt to listen to music primarily, podcasts are easily accessed through the search engine or the recommendations page. As such, the rise of popularity of such platforms also means a rise in exposure (and consequently listeners) of podcasts.
Intimacy of the experience
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the radio revolutionised the way we consume and enjoyed entertainment. It provided a relatively cheap way for communities to bond over shared entertainment and often featured beloved personalities such as comedians. More importantly, the appeal was that it felt like an intimate experience as the radio host was speaking “directly” to the listener.
Podcasts take the intimacy that radio listeners experienced and dial it up a notch. Especially since we often listen to them on personal devices and using our earpieces, this creates a uniquely personal touch to the listening experience.
In this modern age where everything is capable of being edited with the click of a button, concepts such as “genuineness” and “relatability” are highly valued. Since podcasts are usually independent productions, podcasters do not have to face the same scrutiny or conduct themselves in such a politically correct or formal manner as their radio counterparts do.
Therefore podcasters are able to to express their views in a much more relaxed and personal manner. This unfiltered manner of delivery has allowed the medium to become popular with today’s youths.
Wide range of topics
If you have an interest and you want to listen to someone talk about it, there’s probably a podcast channel out there with someone talking about it. If not, there’s little to stop you from starting your own podcast about said topic.
Podcasting is relatively simple to start. All one needs to start is an audio recording device, basic editing skills, a platform to upload the episode onto and a topic they want to talk about. The accessibility of the medium has opened the doors of spoken word entertainment to just about everyone from established online personalities (such as Youtuber Stephanie Soo) to the everyday layperson with the gift of gab.
Therefore, topics that usually would be considered taboo or frivolous or just too niche to garner coverage from a dedicated radio station find a home in podcasts instead. This allows for more diversity in discussions and consequently attracts a wider range of creators and listeners to explore the medium.
Podcasts have become an increasingly popular mode of spoken word entertainment. In the ever changing landscape of media consumption, the podcast has managed to secure a place for itself by combining the intimacy of a radio broadcast with the freedom of expression that internet mediums so often afford. Only time will tell, but this unique medium will likely continue to appeal to listeners across a wide range of backgrounds and demographics for years to come.