Once upon a time, if one wanted to host a talk show to be heard on the radio, one needed a few notions in mind to conduct this audio service of the air. For starters, one needed a topic or a series of topics to speak about. If the talk show host to-be had a subject in mind, be to sports, politics, or cooking, one also needed to have some kind of knowledge of the subject on hand. Many talk shows would in addition have guests of the program, speaking about their expertise on an idea or issue. If phone calls were being taken on the air, the folks tuning in could call the station to comment on the subject matter spoken about, or would speak about anything that the talk show host can comment upon as well. This method of talk show is usually referred to as “free form” or “open line”, where there wasn’t necessarily a specific subject matter discussed. It was just hosting a show that spoke on a variety of subjects, some continuing on longer that other topics mentioned.
Perhaps the most important item needed to have such a talk show is to have a radio station willing to air the program in question. This sole element was indeed the make-it-or-break-it aspect to have such a show, as the would-be talk show host needed a device where one could hear the program.
Many of these talk show hosts would be hired by the station to conduct this form of program, usually airing in the later evening hours. Unlike television where the evening hours would be considered as “prime time”- the time of day where most people would be tuning in, radio would consider this day (or night) part as a lower point of listeners, as people that would tune in to radio after hours would be folks driving in cars, people working at a job on the second or third shift, folks that didn’t (or couldn’t) watch TV, and so on. And if a station didn’t want to hire the talk show host, that same would-be host can get a spot through what’s called “brokered” time, where the host would pay the station so much of an amount of money for that on-air time shot, but the host can sell ad time on the program to defer the amount paid to the station. Many talk show hosts got their start in this career by have a program on a brokerage deal basis.
With radio stations now owned and operated by media conglomerates, these stations are connected to one another on a vast network where the linked stations play the same program all at once. Granted, these kind of talk programs are not local to any extend where the host can speak about issues that are important to the community, but for the most part, that notion of not being local doesn’t hold as much impact as it could or should.
In today’s post modern and high wired landscape, a would-be talk show host doesn’t need a radio station to conduct this form of service. All one needs is an internet link to become not a talk show host for and on the radio, but to become a “podcaster”, were one hosts a radio-type program that doesn’t air on the radio, but through an internet stream or as a downloadable audio file to play back on a device that can reproduce sounds, such as a phone or one of those dedicated “iPod”-esque gadgets.
This form of do-it-yourself radio programming is what’s called as a “podcast”. The term “pod” comes from the “iPod”, Apple’s first successful non computer gadget that this same computer company first introduced to the public in the early 2000’s. The iPod would be able to reproduce sounds downloaded from various audio files. (MP3 was the most common, but there are many other formats most of witch is compatible with one another.) It was around this time where one was able to create a voice dominated program that had the same format as a traditional talk show, but it would be heard whenever the person wanted to hear it, or when it was made available–whatever came first! Before long, there were many podcasts featuring podcasters that spoke upon dozens of issues and topics, catering to a small yet dedicated audience that had the same interests to the subject discussed on hand.
Unlike those traditional radio talk shows, there were some vast differences to having a talk show on the radio vs. having a talk show as a podcast. For starters, radio talk shows were mostly aired live, meaning one could take phone calls on the air, or talk about subjects what were of a timely nature, such as a show that discussed yesterday’s ball game or what was going on the political world at that moment. Podcasts are pre recorded, where one couldn’t take phone calls and the subjects couldn’t be too timely, but timely enough to last a longer period of time to remaining relevant.
The second good-news-bad-news scenario of podcasts and podcasters in the fact that anyone can become a podcaster. All one needed was a mic that can be plugged in to an internet connected electronic device and a topic to speak about. That’s the good news. The bad news of podcasts and podcasters is that anyone can host a podcast that isn’t necessarily suited enough to become a podcaster! Many of these podcasts are hosted by people that can’t seem to get their act together when it comes to hosting a program that is worth listening to. After all, podcasts like radio talk shows, should be informative and entertaining. If one rambles on about something with minimal sense, then it’s not worth anyone’s time and effort to listen. Ditto for the podcast’s sound quality. Yours truly had heard podcasts that sounded if they were created in a cramped closet or on a busy street corner with too much audio distortion. Bad audio is enough to tune somebody out even if the topic discussed hold merit.
Now the question remains. If there are so many podcasts out in cyberspace land, is anyone actually listening to these shows? According to a report filed by Edison Research, the amount of those in the US who have listened to a podcast in the previous month is at 17%, up five percentage points since 2010. However, awareness of podcasts have remained flat. Nearly half (49 percent) of those polled for this report stated that they are familiar with podcasting, up six points since 2009.
The report also notes why podcasting is in its own funk. The first element is its lack of ease of use. Unlike traditional radio where one can tune in wherever one can get a radio signal, podcasts have to be heard live via an internet connected device, or downloaded for later listening. One can’t just tune in on a moment’s notice. One also has to find the show or has to be aware of it. That leads to the second notion the report finds: branding. How can you become aware of a podcast to be interested in tuning in? Advertising is the be-all-end-all solution, but that would take an effort and a budget to conduct. Most podcasts have little funding to produce. (Most have no funding!) And the third element of its stagnate growth is lack of interest from older (read: those aged fifty plus) people. Millennials, the current coveted age demographic that was weeded on the internet and its descendants in the same vogue as to the Baby Boomer generation that embraced television, are the ones most likely to not only tune in to a podcast, but to create and host one as well. (A separate report conducted by Bridge Ratings states 41% of those aged 18-35 listen to a podcast.) Those much older stick to traditional radio since that is the form of audio they are used to using.
But not all podcasts that are created have a no money budget. There are a few that hold a high quality to its production efforts from its content to how the program presents itself. National Public Radio has a podcast program called Serial that was spun off from its long running “This American Life” series. It holds the same standards as to what would one expect from an NPR series. However, that podcast series is more of an exception rather than the standard rule.
In spite of the limited reach as well as its standards, podcasts are not going away. One can call this method of communication a “YouTube” without the pictures. As noted, the people that conduct these shows and its content quality will vary. However, it’s the same notion that one gets what they pay for. One can hear a great program that should be on the radio, and other programs that seem to exist only for the podcaster’s close friends. As the old saying goes, with friends like these…..
As of this writing, yours truly is out of town on assignment, meaning no reviews for this issue. But stay tuned to this very news service for more reviews next week!
See you then!

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