by Kirk Douglas
For anyone consuming audio over the last two decades or so, it may seem an obvious call-out to say that since the early 2000’s Podcasts have been a thing. To this day, people often think of the word ‘podcast’ as a word synonymous with iTunes, who’s 2005 release certainly helped propel the medium, but didn’t actually start it. Regardless, you’ve likely at least heard the word and know what a podcast is.
A Podcast, defined as ‘a digital program of music or talk’, existed beforehand, at the height of new web-based media in the early millennium and was narrowly adopted first by niche crowds of tech enthusiast and gamers, fitness-minded folk and food gurus, among others. A small collection of topics quickly grew to encompass many interests from tech to comedy and back around to politics, breeding many genres and sub-genres within the format. Podcasts often presented topics and information harder to come by in traditional or public mediums like radio and television, making their viewpoints and content desirable listening. For all of the early intrigue provoked by podcasts, the often unclear distribution and a lack of a formal system for getting podcast ‘episodes’ out to the public, made the medium limited. When the iTunes Store launched in 2005 including a couple of hundred podcasts, the inclusion of such material had an effect that propelled the format forward and put it front and center with millions of users.
My first personal introduction to podcasts as an adult was late in 2006 upon purchasing my first iPod, the iPod Video. At the time, buying music digitally was something most people were not entirely comfortable with and as a result the overall experience was one of minimal scope. I distinctly remember buying only a couple of albums and music videos and then being ever-cautious about buying more with the future of this new purchase process uncertain. On the iTunes Store however, podcasts, unlike albums of music, were free and iTunes put podcasts in an attractive light that helped supplement content for individuals with limited spending habits like myself.
Podcasts opened me up to a world of free listening that I found relatable, entertaining an often educational. There was seemingly something for everyone and this evoked excitement around being able to kick back and listen to like-minded individuals, often smarter than myself with different (or better) insight on the topic at hand.
On a personal level, Podcasts have always felt a bit more intimate than radio to me. Maybe it is the relatable topics, the small details that are often discussed in critical depth, or the banter that sometime takes place between hosts, making the audience feel like they are their in the room. Regardless, it is a format I have grown to love and appreciate in a personal way. I often look forward to certain shows or certain hosts as I eagerly await their thoughts and insight on stories big and small.
Podcasts are a personal favorite with me, but does that hold true with others? According to PEW Research, as of April 2015, 1 out of every 3 American adults have listened to a podcast. In addition, awareness of Podcasts and familiarity with the medium has risen more than double since 2006.
With all of my enthusiasm for this unique form of entertainment, and clearly a trend toward others discovering (or re-discovering) podcasts, what might I recommend to prospective listeners? Since my tastes are pretty wide, I’ve hand-picked a few notable entries and personal favorites that I think are worth sharing. Here are my picks for your podcast starter-kit!
Gimlet Media presents an interesting look at what it’s like to start a podcast company. THE actual podcast company on which this series is hosted, Gimlet Media. Season 1 explores starting that company, trials and tribulations the therein, making tough business decisions around strategy and making aggressive goals by which to keep the listenership and sponsorship momentum going. Season 2, which recently started, moves the focus from Gimlet media to a new company called Dating Ring, where the focal point are the two women starting their dating company, as the site puts it ‘in the male-dominated world of startups.’ Startup is an insightful and interesting take on the types of things one may encounter starting a company or trying to launch the next great product.
Re/Code: Decode – Hosted by Kara Swisher, Executive Editor of recode.net who does a now bi-weekly show in which she invites important tech figures, company front-men and behind the scenes legends of America’s biggest tech companies to sit down for a chat. Discussing everything from the sate of their business, their missed opportunities, biggest bets, wins and advancements all the way out to future goals, stock valuations and much, much more, little is off the table. An almost always interesting and highly insightful listen.
Tomorrow – Joshua Topolsky, co-founder of Vox Media and former editor and chief at The Verge, explores passionately discussing the current tech state of affairs, critically speaking on sci-fi, music and entertainment while injecting his unique and interesting personality in often comical dialogue between he and his guests. Josh and his podcast are a favorite of mine as I have followed his work in writing and podcasting throughout the years. His most recent podcast endeavors at Tomorrow are less formulaic and more off-the-cuff, making conversation interesting for those like me who like getting more intimate insight.
The Talk Show – Long-time Apple blogger and enthusiast John Gruber puts out a weekly show that often corresponds with the commentary on his long-running site and takes a deeper look at mostly Apple-centric stories from the week. John is among the most highly qualified in the world of Apple bloggers as he has a long history of software development on the Mac and has worked alongside many industry insiders both a the company and closely tied to it. The strongest moments of his show are the moments John vehemently proclaims his like or disdain for software and product decisions and backs up his feelings with valuable insight only someone of his long-running familiarity might fully comprehend.
CTRL WALT DELETE– Nilay Patel co-hosts a two man show with long-time tech industry writer, Walt Mossberg who takes center stage to discuss his personal thoughts for the week on whatever big story or topic he wishes; Usually something he has recently written about and has a strong opinion on. This podcast stands alone as a sole piece of weekly entertainment that I personally enjoy a great deal. I have long enjoyed Walt’s views on many topics. His level-headed approach as a tech insider is a perfect balance to his expressed opinions on what it’s like to be an everyday user and Walt doesn’t mince words when it comes to giving props or deserved criticisms. These two make a favorable pair behind the mic and play off one another well, occasionally disagreeing on topics but mostly finding one another enrich the conversation further.
Lore – Fiction author Aaron Mahnke is the creator, writer and producer of this eerie podcast which explores tales of folklore and superstition from a historical viewpoint. The stories are sometimes non-fiction oddities that may forever remain unexplained. Other times, they can only be described as spooky, sometimes horrific tales of folklore, passed down generations by retellings or dug up from historical writings. Aaron is a fantastic storyteller and this podcast is at its best when the combination of story and sound come together in symphony with Aaron’s unique ambitions as a narrator. Haunting, entertaining and sometimes enough to make your skin crawl.
The Vergecast – The Vergecast brings a revolving cast of writers and editors in a ‘round table’ format straight from their offices at Vox media and drops these creative tech-loving (and sometimes tech-loathing) writers directly into a conversation around the hottest stories each week. The Vergecast is often best enjoyed on a Friday evening with a cocktail in one hand and a light-hearted sense of listener expectation as the conversation frequently goes off the rails and often turns comedic. It’s a great piece of tech listening so long as you don’t take it too seriously. If The Verge as a website is class-in-session, then The Vergecast is a bit more like recess.
Jim Harold’s Campfire – Jim Harold, Author of the best selling paranormal ‘Campfire’ Book series, runs the foremost popular paranormal podcast with Jim Harold’s Campfire. The podcast takes listener stories via phone and offers up re-telling of mostly first-hand paranormal accounts with the occasional folklore sprinkled in.
Savage Lovecast – Dan Savage, “America’s Most Popular Sex Columnist,” famous for his Savage Love column (of Seattle’s weekly newspaper, The Stranger) takes a head-on approach to advising readers and listeners on their sexual inquiries. A sort of ‘Dear Abby’ for adults, nothing is really off-limits to ask. You may not like the response you’re given if you are the person writing the question, but it will most certainly be forthright and from a position of wisdom since Dan has been doing this a while. The best moments of Savage Love are when you know a question has been asked that just doesn’t deserve a pleasant answer. Some questions are downright silly, and Dan has no problem calling them as he sees and making light of some of the odd perceptions and misconceptions some people seem to have when it comes to their sex lives. This one is definitely entertaining and definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK.
Reply All – Another Gimlet Media production, (closely related to and the topic of season 1 of Startup, above) is self-described as ‘a show about the Internet, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman.’ Perhaps the most difficult of all shows mentioned here, it is a must listen as its content nature is hard to nail down. Each episode is just that – A story as described, about the Internet. But they are all different, sometimes wildly, and topics range from stories about the creator of the Internet pop-up ad, to how to find your lost dog online, and discussions about websites designed for people who are way too high. This podcast is strongest in the stories it delivers, they feel unique and refreshing and explore many a situation or service taken for granted with little or no explanation of how it came into existence or why it happened. The hosts are great and they recently did a year-end episode that revisited this year’s stories. I find it fascinating.