The Pod-Stars: What it Means to be a Podcaster

Chances are that, even if you’re new to podcasting, you nonetheless already have some idea about what podcasting actually is, and the effect it’s having on society and culture today.

However, on the outside chance that the concept of podcasting is completely alien to you, let’s summarize it here very briefly:

A Podcast is a digital audio file uploaded to the Internet. Once published online, this file can be downloaded to a playback device like a computer, smartphone, or other portable media player. Podcasts are generally presented in a series that are issued periodically, which are delivered to subscribers using an RSS feed, often through services like iTunes. 

So what is so special about this? Back in the old days, the ability to produce a show usually required having backing from an entity such as a terrestrial radio station. This is why it was commonplace decades ago for country artists and other performers to seek airtime on local radio stations, where they could perform their music to listeners in the region, often with ads interspersed as “live reads” promoting the brands or companies that sponsored the airtime.

The advent of talk radio came in the 1940s, with guys like George Roy Clough and Barry Gray who at the time, rather primitively, began incorporating live calls into their shows by literally holding a phone close enough to their microphone that listeners at home could hear conversations they were having (today, rather than trying this, I would recommend a phone hybrid, or more simply, using Skype, which is increasingly looking like the telephone of the future). Even with the talk radio format, finding ways to pay for airtime usually meant getting sponsorships from advertisers. Until fairly recently, systems like these were the primary way that talk-format shows were able to get off the ground, and reach the ears of the masses.

Podcasting has changed all of that, since a number of services available online (many of them provided for little or no cost) now make it easy for anyone to create a talk-format show, and reach thousands of people with it. Rather than relying on terrestrial stations and program directors, and banking on their judgement as to whether the shows you produce are air-worthy, virtually anyone with a microphone and a computer can become a podcaster and produce shows which, if created with quality and promoted properly, can generate enough interest to get on people’s radars.

The Pod-Stars: A New Era of Entertainment

The podcasting medium is still growing, but by now it’s well beyond being established enough that some podcasters are finding fame with the shows they produce. As far back as 2010, Sydney Morning Herald was reporting on the phenomenon of podcasting “stars”, and more recently, in December of 2014 it was estimated that comedian Joe Rogan’s three-hour podcast was topping 11 million monthly downloads.

With the popularity of the medium rising so steadily, we have also seen in recent months the advent of podcasts like NPR’s Serial, and even skits on Saturday Night Live that are cashing in on the popularity of the medium. The News Hub reported in January that, with Podcasts now going “mainstream”, people’s attitudes about what a podcast is, and the legitimacy attributed to them, is quickly changing… especially among a younger demographic:

Podcasts have evolved from their early years stereotype of a lonely guy in his parent’s basement ranting about everything that’s wrong with the world today. Podcasts have gone mainstream and this is shown in the fact that radio station podcasts (such as Serial) dominate the iTunes top 10. This week in the UK iTunes top 10 only The Bugle (John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman’s satirical take on the week’s news) stands out as a podcast not related to a radio station or show.

What does all of this mean? It shows us that podcasts aren’t just catching up to the previous staples of talk-format programming like television and radio; with time, podcasting may very well become the preferred medium for programming themed around discussions people are having about everything from news and culture, to hobbies, businesses, and other interests.

The era of the “Pod Star” is certainly upon us, and with it, a new era of possibilities. This is precisely why I choose to address unconventional approaches to how a podcast can be made in my book, which includes having mobile equipment that you can use to create podcasts while traveling. If you think that sounds less than optimal, consider the fact that hikers podcasting from the trail is now becoming a thing. The sky is the limit as far as what you can be doing, how you do it, and even where you do it when you are a podcaster.

I like to think of podcasting, rather than a title one assumes as a result of producing podcasts, as an extension (and an increasingly necessary one) that helps one build on virtually anything else they may be doing. You don’t have to be just a podcaster to produce your own show; in fact, one thing I strongly recommend to entrepreneurs is that they get involved with podcasting as a medium to help them reach more clients and like-minded individuals.

Being a podcaster doesn’t have to mean you’re aiming to be one of these big-time “Pod Stars” we’re starting to see. It does, however, mean that you’ve caught onto something that’s really having an impact on the way so many of us get our news, and exchange ideas. It’s preferable, in a lot of ways, since it’s more organic and independent, and less contrived and commercial than mainstream media often is.

It’s free, and it’s free-thinking… and that, to me, is what it means to be a podcaster.

Image courtesy of Johannes Jansson, norden.org

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