My first love when it came to media was radio. It was the music, the personalities, the sounds, the voices, the unexpected, even the commercials. All of it. This was before formulaic formats and research-driven audio.
Soon, I found myself working in any number of studios at all hours of the day, and in the field, talking to listeners, talking to sources, working control boards, writing, planning, editing, producing, using microphones to capture voice and sound.
While it wasn’t long before my career path took me away from those studios, my love for radio never died. But those formats became more and more restrictive, more programmed over the years. It became so that even in my work in public relations, there were fewer and fewer opportunities to tap the power of the media with which I felt closest.
Long ago, early radio dramas were described as “theater of the mind,” but that faded away as the theater aspect gave way to mostly music formats with just enough human interaction to break up sets of playlists.
All of this changed in October 2001 when Apple introduced its iPod music player. It wouldn’t be long before people realized the iPod could do more than store and play music. In 2004, a new term emerged that combined “iPod” with “broadcast” to become “podcast.”
Since then a steady number of podcasts have come and gone, but so many have stayed and grown. And more launch every day. The topics and approach have varied with producers and hosts, and I found myself listening to the best and the worst with the same fascination.
Media of the Mind
iTunes put podcasts on the map, making non-music content available to millions of iTunes subscribers, and as new podcasts caught on, so did this re-birth of the theater or the mind, but it actually became much more than that. It became media of the mind.
Perhaps the most disruptive development in this evolution was the emergence of the iPhone and then other smart phones. People no longer had to be at a computer to listen to a podcast. They could listen wherever they were to whatever they wanted. The listener now has absolute control over the process.
The podcast infrastructure has aimed to please.
With the price of entry being relatively inexpensive, podcasters could develop, create and introduce their audio visions to the masses, and if they were good, the masses would respond.
Today’s podcast genres are as varied as anything you can think up, from information and education, to entertainment, or just how-to. If you can think of it, there is probably a podcast about it. And it’s right there in your pocket, on your smart phone, waiting for you to listen.
What’s the appeal?
Outside of the accessibility of podcasts and the variety of choices, there is something about audio media that may give it more compelling appeal than all other media, and this is what attracted me to radio in the first place.
Audio media is as intimate as any media. It comes as close to connecting with us cerebrally like nothing else. Thanks to ear plugs and headphones, it is as physically close to the mind as it gets. There is nothing but sound and your thoughts and almost nothing in between. You don’t need to work to be informed or entertained. All you need to do is close your eyes and listen. No reading, no watching, no stopping what your doing to give the medium your undivided attention.
It’s the best media that you can use while involved in something else like working out, doing work around the house or driving. Because podcast genres are so much more varied than radio formats, you can close your eyes and escape in an instant to take a mental tour of the Florida Keys, or hear someone talk about what it was like to win the Nobel Prize and never actually leave where you are. Your imagination is the scenery.
Not coincidentally, theater of the mind has made a comeback. Those old radio dramas that audiences loved so much in back in the day have made a comeback in current form as people have discovered for the first time just how colorful and entertaining a fresh audio drama can be.
And it’s not just drama. True crime, history, business, science, medicine, politics, Americana, communication, music, society and culture, and so much more.
Earlier this year, I launched a podcast of my own that resides at the intersection of history, communication and society. It is an interview format where we talk to one guest who is close to the subject. It’s called Shaping Opinion, which is about people, events and things that have shaped the way we think. It’s gained a steadily increasing following from people who like interesting stories – stories that oftentimes reveal something new or a perspective haven’t heard before. That is the beauty of podcasts.