Podcasting is a medium in training pants. There is something exciting about being there at the beginning of a new medium. Podcasts have always fascinated me and I’m not sure why. I was never drawn to radio in any way, other than to have something to listen to in the car. I was never interested in getting involved with any of the radio stations at any of the universities I attended. But podcasts have been a big part of my life for almost 5 years now and perhaps now is the time to take a look at this medium that I’ve been calling home.
I first started listening to podcasts when I worked in the vineyards at a winery in Naramata. I found that the time went by more quickly when my old RCA Rio MP3 player was loaded with podcasts rather than a bunch of tunes. Half a dozen podcasts (or less, if they were long) was all it took to get me through the day. I listened to podcasts from the CBC and anything I could find about arts, music, and of course – wine.
The biggest one for me was Grape Radio from California. They had been doing it a while by 2008, won some big awards, and were able to get some big names in the wine world to sit down for a chat with them. I always enjoyed how the podcasts were conversations rather than presentations. It was a style of communication that was very different from what I was used to hearing on the radio. It wasn’t rushed or hurried in any way. None of the hosts sounded like trained radio people. The sound quality was amazing and the conversations were always interesting. To this day, I still enjoy listening to some of the podcasts I heard in 2008: interviews with Terry Thiese, Russell Bevan, and George Taber among others.
I recently picked up a book about communicating effectively with the idea that it would help me develop a more focused communication style for my podcasts and videos, but also for presentations and any public speaking. This book was geared mostly for radio professionals but some of it can cross over to podcasting. This book’s big focus is on how to create “powerful” radio. How to communicate and “not be boring”. “Boring” isn’t “powerful” and of course, it’s all about “power” these days.
Radio is undeniably a powerful medium. There is something about it that has allowed it to survive the advent of television, cable, satellite, and now the internet. It has mutated slightly with a general shift from AM to FM but it is still remarkably unscathed from its original form. In Canada, CBC radio seems to have grown in popularity in recent years with the success of cultural shows like Q and comedy shows like The Debaters. Radio stations keep us connected through news and information shows, and offer more than just background noise, which seems like the only thing that people really use it for sometimes.
But podcasting isn’t a radio-lite, which seems to be how radio people perceive it. It isn’t radio’s little sibling. It will never challenge radio enough to alter its course as an industry the same way that ProTools and MP3s affected the music industry. Anyone with a computer and basic understanding of recording can now make music that is of comparable quality to the big studios of the past, many of which are all closing down now. The proliferation of podcasting will not erode the listenership or threaten the existence of radio stations in the the future. Podcasting is a new medium, one with precursors in radio, but with a different direction in mind.
On the surface it seems to be just like a radio show that you can download or stream to your computer or mobile device. Both mediums have nothing to look at – there’s only audio so sometimes you’ve got use your imagination. But there are some big differences that are worth noting.
The biggest single difference is the element of time. Radio is generally firmly routed in time in many ways.
Firstly, radio is focused on what is happening *right now*. Nobody listens to recorded traffic reports from last week or cares about news or hockey scores from last year because all that information is old and useless. Podcasting doesn’t share this need to be current. In fact, the best podcasts that I enjoy listening to are ones that do not have any real significant attachment to a specific time at all.
Secondly, radio programs are usually restricted in length, in increments of 29 or 59 minutes, or less to allow for news breaks, station ID, and public service announcements. They must also repeat information (called resetting) frequently to inform new listeners who may have just tuned in and missed the introduction about what they are listening to. Podcasts have no time restrictions and don’t have to be interrupted to reset the guest or ID the station. You can just look at your MP3 player’s display.
Thirdly, the biggest (and I think, most important) difference involving time is that I can listen to a podcast whenever I choose. I don’t have to tune in to the show at a particular time of day. I can schedule my own listening time. I do the same thing with my TV. I don’t have cable or satellite and everything I watch is either from Netflix, iTunes, or Youtube. I’m a member of that Gen X demographic that marketers used to be so paranoid to loose until they realized that there are a zillion Millenials out there who don’t filter their media the same way and have way more money than we do.
So other than time, what do podcasts have that radio doesn’t?
In short, control, creativity, personalized content. Self–expression. The power to choose what you want to listen to. The power for others to hear what you have to say. The ability to create an audio document
This kind of thing is a tough sell sometimes. Some of the co-presenters on my own podcast have difficulty finding time to listen to a podcast and I’m pretty sure some of them have never heard a full episode, but not for lack of interest. Listening to a podcast takes the right equipment (an iPod, phone or MP3 player) and the time to listen. It’s the second one that is harder to accomplish it seems. With all these ‘time saving’ devices, we now hardly have any time for anything even though the purchases of said devices were all predicated on the idea that would have more time if we bought them.
For me personally, I make time to listen. Mostly before bed, but also on longer car trips, or while I’m working in the garage or going for a walk. It’s part of my life at this point and the fact that I can still listen to podcasts that I downloaded almost 5 years ago surprises me. I’ve been producing podcasts now for 3 and a half years and I have such a great time doing it.
The real bonus is that I get to talk about something else I love – wine. I hope you enjoy my podcasts, whenever you want.
Here’s a short list of some of my favorite podcasts to get you started
Grape Radio – Legendary wine podcast from California
Wine Without Worry – New podcast from Seattle’s Jameson Fink
Here’s the Thing – Alec Baldwin’s podcast (also radio show) from NPR station WNYC
The Nerdist – Says it all…