Sunday, July 25, 2021


It is well known that “podcasting” was a term coined by Ben Hammersley, in an article [link] for “The Guardian” in February 2004. What is less commented on is that said article was precisely about what to call the “new boom in amateur radio” spurred by both the rise of MP3 players and services like Audible, and the fall in the cost of the tools used in audio production. 

The other terms offered by Hammersley, “audioblogging” and “GuerillaMedia,” are not precise enough, but the portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcasting” nails both the delivery system that made the new media possible, and the closeness of its discipline to traditional media like radio and television. Hammersley is now primarily known as a futurist and “strategic foresight consultant,” obviously having foreseen the need for that kind of role.


It has taken me an extraordinarily long time to start listening to podcasts with any amount of regularity. Just like I continue to think of YouTube as an extension of traditional television, podcasting is the same for radio. It does not help that most podcasts are most often speech-based and 30-60 minutes in length, exactly the sort of show already broadcast on radio stations like BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service – indeed, BBC-produced podcasts like “Death in Ice Valley” and “You, Me and the Big C” have been repeated on traditional radio with no material change. 


I think my problem has been that “podcast” has felt like another word for “radio,” just as “quadrilogy,” describing something in four parts, has apparently taken place of the word “tetralogy,” which means exactly the same thing. If I felt that my listening needs were already met by radio, I was less likely to need podcasts. 


What finally turned me on to podcasts was finding extreme examples of where the content offered was different from regular radio shows. My two regular podcast listens are “CheapShow,” the economy comedy podcast I have talked about previously [link], and now “My Brother, My Brother and Me,” the advice podcast where advice is only given by accident. In their own separate ways, they are structured as traditional radio magazine shows, but their content is completely unencumbered by broadcasting regulations on swearing or subject matter, and conversations can take their natural course because episodes do not need to fit within a radio station’s schedule. 


It sounds like it took me too long to discover the blindingly obvious, but my defence is that while a podcast can potentially fit into spaces on British radio, particularly on the BBC, podcasts are more distinctive in their birthplace, the United States, because radio there is more constricted in content – mixed-genre stations died out with the move of mass audiences to television in the 1950s, leaving live DJ-driven music radio, and phone-in talk shows, as the dominant formats through their being easier and cheaper to produce. Outside of National Public Radio, the need to create a form in which more different types of shows could be produced was greater in the United States, and its similarity to radio made it easier to adopt.


Having said all of this, I am not planning to launch a podcast despite the low barrier to entry. All I have is a title, “Let’s Find Yes,” and nothing further than that.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


he British car company Vauxhall has announced that their Ellesmere Port factory, currently building the Astra hatchback, will switch to producing electric vans, securing jobs in the north of England. Its parent company also announced that all new Vauxhall vehicles will be electric-only from 2028, ahead of other brands in the group.

I then remembered the name of the group is “Stellantis”. When I first saw this name, it may as well have said the Tyrrell Corporation, Cyberdyne or Stark Industries, for a name like “Stellantis” sounds like a fictional mega-corporation that has its fingers in everything, one of which just happens to be cars. Basing its headquarters in the Netherlands, where it has no factories, doesn’t help matters.

Stellantis was created in January 2021 when the shareholders of two enormous car companies voted to merge. FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) was originally to have merged with Renault Group, but this stalled due to the potential impact on Nissan, which is partly owned by Renault. FCA then approached Groupe PSA, renamed from PSA Peugeot Citroën in 2017. PSA had bought Vauxhall and Opel in 2016 from General Motors (GM), which had owned them since the 1920s – this happened following the financial crisis in 2008-10, where the bailing out of both GM and Chrysler by the United States government eventually led to both the downsizing of GM, and Fiat’s buyout of Chrysler.

Perhaps it is easier to choose a neutral name. The Latin verb “stello,” meaning to cover with stars or points of light, is meant to evoke the French and Italian roots of the company, its multitude of brands acting like the film studio’s MGM boast of “more stars than there are in heaven” – I guess “antis” is meant to be the transatlantic connection through Chrysler. 

However, this multitude of names begs the question of why so many names are being maintained. GM represents only four brands these days, each pitched to certain buyers – Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC – which share a few platforms to rationalise production among its different models. Brands that either overlapped with each other or had become unfashionable, like Plymouth, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn and Hummer, have all been discarded.

Stellantis is ultimately planning to have only four electric car platforms on which to build multiple ranges of potentially completing vehicles. Before the mergers that created, Vauxhall was in competition with Peugeot as much as with Fiat, just as Citroën may complete with Lancia, let alone Vauxhall cars having been rebadged Opel models for decades. Add into these the extra performance of luxury spin-off brands built up over time, like Chrysler’s Ram and Citroën’s DS, and you start to wonder which of these could become the next Oldsmobile.

As the automotive industry adapts to survive the forced death of petrol and diesel engines, the need for established names to reinvent themselves has accelerated with the rise of new brands more closely associated with electric cars from the start, like Tesla and Polestar. The creation of Stellantis may not be the last consolidation in the industry as a result, but it may remain the one with the most sinister-sounding name.