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Asking “what podcast are you listening to you” has become as mainstream of a question as wondering what your friends are binging on Netflix. We’re a streaming society. My roommates and I don’t have cable, but I could easily tell you what happened on the latest Riverdale. I myself began a foray into the world of podcasting for the first time in 2007, when I spent my afternoons listening to Pottercast (yes, I am nerdy – my taste hasn’t changed). It shouldn’t be surprising; 12-24 year olds make up 30% of podcasts’ audiences. 25 to 54 year olds make up just a slightly larger piece of this pie.

The options are endless, and streaming can occur across devices. What more could we want? Now, an individual who listens to podcasts regularly will hear about 7 a week, spending 6 hours doing so on average.

It all started in 2004. Adam Curry and Dave Winer are credited with the creation of podcasts. The term appeared for the first time in The Guardian that same year. Then, in 2005, iTunes picked up the capacity to support the medium through their system, and George W. Bush was the first president to allow his weekly addresses to be disseminated via podcast.

By 2013, Apple announced that there were 1 billion podcast subscribers.

So what’s the big deal?

Podcasts are hugely accessible, but they’re also episodic. Plus, there’s always potential to interact with the producers, creators, and podcasters themselves through social media, call-ins, and sometimes other more unusual approaches, depending on the podcasts. Jesuitical, a podcast sponsored by America magazine, will do consolations and desolations with its listeners (i.e. talking about the highs and lows of one’s week).

Podcasts invite reply – in fact, many thrive on the weird or unorthodox to survive.

It’s a way of delivering information that respects individual fascination with one topic or another, and it keeps us engaged in dialogue. Podcasts invite reply – in fact, many thrive on the weird or unorthodox to survive. In Reply All, the hosts, PJ Voght and Alex Goldman, expose the listeners to stories about humans interacting with technology, ranging from a prison inmate’s blog to responses to spam emails. The famously popular, Serialinvestigates a story over the course of its season, nodding to radio’s old serial stories told each week.

The team behind the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics continued to tell economics-driven “the hidden side of everything” via podcast.

In my personal favorite, Jesuitical, staffers from America magazine talk about the newsie side of Catholicism while also interviewing writers, journalists, and editors about political issues pertaining to being a person of faith in today’s world.

We can sit with others or alone and be a part of a conversation.

The amount of podcasts have become innumerable, and billions subscribe worldwide to listen in about whatever they’d like. They do so in a manner that the listener can control. We can pause, rewind, and marinate on podcasts. We can sit with others or alone and be a part of a conversation.

Let’s talk about it

The other thing about podcasts is that they can start with everyday people who want to tell a story or start a conversation, people who believe in their own uniqueness. So many podcasts – ones like Reply All – center themselves on the unusual stories of people. Others focus on their individual take on the world at large because of the identity of their hosts. When you listen to a podcast, you hear a person’s voice, get a sense of what they sound like. They’re speaking to their experience, and they’re offering another entryway into being able to talk about your own.

They’re speaking to their experience, and they’re offering another entryway into being able to talk about your own.

Individuals have the opportunity to create their own podcasts through a number of different services like iTunes or Soundcloud. Because of this, the medium is both widely accessible like blogs, where you can create your own as an outlet, and widely corporatized through the ability of those paying for ad promotion. To promote, you often have to allow for sponsors or to accept that, to compete, you need to spend money and so therefore bring in profit through airtime.

I still haven’t surrendered my time in the car to podcasts (mostly because I love singing along to whatever music I’m listening to), but it’s easy to see why people do. Podcasts bring FDR’s fireside chats to a customizable level, and I’m excited to see the medium proliferate. We do need to keep talking about what’s happening in the world, and we need to keep talking about the things that make people unique.

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