Podcasting as a Medium
I’m probably not the first person you’ve heard extol the virtues of podcasting as a medium for culture, and I probably won’t be the last. But I’ll do my best here to present simply and straightforwardly why I believe in podcasting as a serious way in which to convey culture, and what advantages I believe it has over other mediums.
Podcasting is the art and the craft of telling stories and conveying information through the medium of audio-only. Now, obviously, podcasts weren’t the first form that audio-only storytelling and culture took--that would be the radio show, which was once as popular as television is today, but has now all but died out, with NPR as one of the few remaining vestiges. So podcasts owe a lot to the art of the radio show. But they’re fundamentally different in their mode of decentralized, almost democratic distribution. There aren’t really any television-style executives in podcasting deciding the fate of one show or another, constantly pushing the bar downward toward the lowest common denominator of mass appeal (something we’ve seen with things like the phenomenon of reality television). Instead, anyone can make a podcast, and that podcast can become widely distributed and shared, with little-to-no investment required, nor with the aim to seek approval from high-powered executives. Podcasting is a level playing field in the sense that your podcast succeeds or fails based on its own merits, rather than something as arbitrary as the whims of an executive, or a bad timeslot, or an overly-specialized niche. No one has to sit down at 8:00PM EST on a Tuesday night to listen to your podcast. You can do so anytime, and so can your friends when you’ve recommended it to them.
Because podcasting is decentralized and divorced from any overarching decision-making body (like NBC or even the FCC, for example), it is a vehicle for voices that otherwise might not have a platform from which to be heard. Now, although mainstream culture and media may still have the loudest, strongest voices (even in podcasting--after all, a majority is still a majority), the rest of us don’t have to toe the line with no outlet for our own cultural voices. There’s not just the Big Four channels, or even 500 cable channels, but literally unlimited platforms for anyone, any story, and any view to be heard. All you need is an internet connection, a microphone, free recording software, and a good idea. Because each podcast is in full control of its producer, so long as the means of distribution remains fair, no one need fear their message being drowned out, unvoiced, or co-opted. Right now, like the Internet, podcasting is analogous to something like the Wild West. There’re few rules, and few enforcers of what rules there are. But unlike the Internet, because the barrier to entry is set just a little bit higher (it’s harder to make a podcast than it is to leave a toxic comment), podcasting has a consistently higher quality, and is considerably less poisoned to boot.
The other advantage of podcasting, like those mentioned already, also stems from the idea of podcasting as medium. Podcasting is, of course, audio-only, and that means it can be consumed differently and in different settings than mediums like film, television, and literature can be. With podcasts, you don’t need to sit down and do nothing else but binge-watch 8 hours of Breaking Bad. You don’t need to find a comfy chair in a quiet room and read a Harry Potter book front-to-back over the course of an entire day. Like music, podcasts can be listened to in the midst of other activities. Like music, podcasts can change the nature of those activities. Cleaning the house without music is a somber activity, but throw on some Rolling Stones or The Beatles and suddenly you’re not having such a bad time. Similarly, throwing on a podcast has the capability of turning a dull affair like driving for three hours into an educational, thought-provoking experience. Have you ever cried while chopping vegetables (not onions) for dinner? I have, while doing just that and listening to an episode of This American Life. I’ve also learned about new developments in gene editing technology while cleaning and the story behind making hospitals more efficient using the Toyota method while exercising. That’s what podcasting can do for you as a medium. It can change the mundane moments of life into life-changing thought processes and experiences.
So that’s why I believe in podcasting, and that’s why I created this website. I want to separate the wheat from the chaff and bring great podcasts to as many people as I can. It’s something I was already doing in real life, and it’s something I hope to be able to do at a far greater scale here.