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.

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