By Anna Shams Ili
Most of us remember audiobooks from our childhood. Depending on your age, it was either CDs or cassettes back then – but most of us let them go once we passed into adolescence. In a sense, these were rather similar to the podcasts we enjoy now. So too are radio segments such as ‘Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review’. In recent times, however, the podcast has grown as a medium in itself. Published in episode format, it’s a type of entertainment that’s speedily increasing its popularity.
The first episode of the podcast ‘Serial’ was released in October 2014. This true crime podcast – hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig – reported on the murder of Hae Min Lee, and investigated whether the man who had been imprisoned for it in 2000 really was guilty. Podcasts weren’t unheard of then, but suddenly ‘Serial’ was on everyone’s lips. People who had stored their podcast app away in the Useless iPhone Apps folder were listening to it on a steady stream, and it is arguably among the reasons why true crime fascination has surged again. ‘Serial’ didn’t necessarily spark a meteoric rise in podcast popularity, but it did help bring the medium into the mainstream.
Another podcast that gained a lot of popularity back in 2012 is the fictional radio show ‘Welcome to Night Vale’. Centered on a made-up mystical desert town, it is thematically pretty dissimilar to ‘Serial’. The podcast became so popular that it toured live and spawned two novels. Where ‘Serial’ prompted a true crime interest wave, ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ opened up more possibilities for fiction podcasts.
Podcast popularity can certainly be attributed, in part, to young people – after all, the easiest way to access a podcast is through your phone or computer. Podcasts are entertaining, too – they’re changing the way stories are told; they’re switching up the game by playing around with the mediums of radio talk shows and audiobooks. Besides that, podcasts are easy. (Well, not all of them, of course, as concentrating on someone speak for an hour with no visual action can lead your attention astray. Think: lectures.)
Then there’s the Netflix effect. Lengthy papers have been written about why streaming is so popular – and the obvious reason is that we can choose what to watch without restrictions. The same goes for podcasts, and for radio shows being published as podcasts. As well as allowing us to choose when to listen to something, podcasts let us choose what we listen to. A podcast like ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ can be odd and still gain a cult following, precisely because it’s so niche and has the ability to bring listeners together. Subject-wise, there’s a lot out there to choose from: podcast themes can range from classic Hollywood to feminism and zombies (although probably not in combination).
Podcasts have a lot of potential as a new form of entertainment media and there’s a lot of room for experimenting. Since podcasts are free to publish on iTunes and require little more than a computer and some time, everyone has a shot to contribute to this fast-growing medium. This can help facilitate diversity in regards to both storytelling format and subject matter. Every popular podcast can lead to offshoots, each adding something different to the format.
If you are one of those people yet to discover the goldmine of podcasts, there are plenty for casual starters. Do you have an interest in politics/know absolutely nothing about it? ‘What Am Politics’ takes the form of two friends chatting to one another, with every episode dissecting one political subject in layman’s terms. And for the music lover with 20 minutes to spare, every episode of ‘Song Exploder’ hears an artist (recent examples include Lorde and The Killers) discuss the production of one of their songs. These are just a few examples of podcasts, with more being uploaded all the time to add some spice to your daily commute, cleaning, and cooking.