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Podcast: Not the Same Old Radio Show

podcast-iconAudio blogging, or podcasting, began in the 1980s. It wasn’t until the advent of broadband, mobile applications, and wide use of the Internet, though, that audiobloggers found a niche. Today there are 250,000 podcasts with one billion subscribers on iTunes. In 2004 the word podcast was invented – the word is a blend of the words iPod and broadcast. Podcast is both a noun and a verb. Defined, it is a digital audio file uploaded to the Internet.

I became a podcaster in 2006 after taking a class and uploading my first podcast to Podbean, a free podcast hosting site. My first podcast was a simply a one-episode thing and it was merely an assignment for a workshop I took through our regional library system. A few years later, I began reading and uploading audio versions of our library columns to another hosting service, SoundCloud. It became far too time-consuming and I abandoned the practice, leaving the digital files somewhere in the digital heavens.

So what’s this column about podcasts have to do with the library? While podcasts are free just like public libraries, you don’t need a library card to listen to them. You also don’t listen to them through any library apps. Podcasts aren’t available through our library catalog or digital subscriptions such as Hoopla and Flipster, and you don’t download them through OverDrive.

As a librarian, and as an enthusiastic podcast subscriber, I simply want you to know (if you don’t already) that a podcast is a beautiful thing. It’s free (mostly). Anyone can create one and upload one with very little equipment (depending on quality). And anyone can listen as long as they have a computer or device that is capable of listening to an audio file.

Podcasts are very much like the radio that some of us grew up with… or some of us didn’t. Beginning in the 1920s and through the 1930s and 1940s, my mother and father and grandparents gathered around the radio to listen to the news, plays, quiz shows and serial episodes. It was the heyday of the radio show. Commercially-sponsored shows, like the Voice of Firestone and Bell Telephone Hour, were weekly addictions. The C.E. Hooper Company measured the ratings of radio during this Golden Age and found that 82 out of 100 Americans listened to radio shows on a regular basis.

During my childhood, we only listened to the radio for the top 100, buying 78s and 45s to play on our record players. Our parents listened to Paul Harvey’s Rest of the Story and Golden Oldies before television took over in popularity through the 50s and 60s. In the 80s and 90s, however, many of us turned to public radio and were hooked on Prairie Home Companion (first aired in 1974 and now called Live from Here without association with Garrison Keillor), Car Talk (first aired in 1977),  and This American Life (first aired in 1995). Most radio shows today can be subscribed to as podcasts – downloaded episodes to listen to at our leisure – or listened to in weekly radio broadcasts.

The main difference between a podcast and a radio show is that mainly radio is aired live, unlike podcasts which are recorded and are editable. Just like popular radio shows, successful podcasters have corporate sponsors or are part of the public radio family like National Public Media or local outlets. Some podcasters ask for donations on a website. One of my favorite podcasts asks for memberships, where members only can email questions or get first dibs on listening before the podcast is released.

I was subscribed to a few podcasts in 2014, and listened sporadically, but when the first season of Serial was released in October of that year, I became hooked. Serial was an offshoot of This American Life, a story that morphed into a 12-episode series and totally captured a host of fascinated listeners. The last episode aired in January 2015 when Serial had become a cultural phenomenon and now has been downloaded over one hundred and fifty million times.

Several years after Serial Season One ended, another amazing podcast, S-Town was released. There was no waiting for those of us who binge-listen because it hit the Internet in seven chapters, all at once on March 28, 2017 and within four days it was downloaded 10 million times. It was shocking, sad, poignant and addictive, and it ended far too soon.

As a regular podcast listener and subscriber, I listen to podcasts for education, entertainment and even relaxation. When having difficulty sleeping at night a few years ago, I often listened to Sleep with Me, a boring, monotonous hour-long podcast guaranteed to at least GET you to sleep. Host Scooter (Drew) Ackerman used late-night comedy radio to get to sleep every night. In 2013, he started podcasting “bedtime stories to help grown-ups fall asleep in the deep, dark night.” I can attest to the efficacy of Sleep with Me. However I find his voice maddening sometimes and have given up the habit of sleeping with Scooter Ackerman.

One of my favorite podcasts is Modern Love, produced in collaboration by NPR’s WBUR Boston and the New York Times and released every Thursday. (Host and journalist Meghna Chakrabarti is now also the host of NPR’s On Point, replacing host Tom Ashbrook.)  Modern Love essays (from the column in the New York Times and written by professionals and amateurs) are read aloud by amazing actors like Jason Alexander or Sarah Oh. Everyone – writer, actor, Chakrabarti and Daniel Jones, NY Times editor, briefly discuss the essay’s impact and the podcasts typically last 15-20 minutes.

My latest podcast crush is Oligies (first taped in 2017) with actress Alie Ward. In her weekly podcast, Alie Ward discusses another “ology” with an expert in the field. Ferroequinology (study of trains), thanology (death and dying), selachimorphology (sharks) or malacology (snails and slugs are a few of her fascinating subjects. I am constantly amazed at how much I learn about things I never thought I had any interest in.

If you need help figuring out how to listen or subscribe to podcasts on your computers or devices using iTunes, Stitcher or other podcast aggregators, please call the library and make an appointment with one of the librarians who can help you.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the September 6, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

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