Video killed the radio

star, but the podcast is having its revenge

By REBECCA TOOK | April 18, 2019

I do it in the morning while in the shower. Sometimes, I do it while cycling to the library. My friend does it while walking the dog, and another does it during their long commute on the sweaty London Underground. Of course, I’m talking about listening to podcasts.

While the stereotype of a podcast being ‘two white men talking’ is not entirely untrue, it doesn’t reflect the overflowing variety of shows that use the podcast as their form of choice. From funny women (yes, they do exist) admitting to being ‘bad feminists’ to economics professors giving money advice, the podcast is a platform that testifies to the full range of human experience and opinion.

In 1943, George Orwell wrote that “we live in a time when political passions run high, channels of free expression are dwindling, and organized lying exists on a scale never before known.” He was writing about the political pamphlet – a short-form publication, cheap to produce, which aimed to distribute ideas far and wide without the constraints of conventional publishing – as a solution to the issues he noticed in society. What the pamphlet was to Orwell, the podcast is to the millennial.

There are podcast subjects ranging from comedy to true crime, long-form interviews to political discussions. Meanwhile, print media continues to struggle with staying financially viable, with many digital publications disappearing behind paywalls. Yet most podcasts are free, democratizing knowledge and poorly-formed opinions for everyone (or at least everyone with a smart phone and wifi).

The podcast is a relatively recent media form, but it is rapidly developing, despite the fact that we’re consuming more TV than ever before.

The average Brit spends nearly 10 years of their life staring at pictures moving on screens. As of January 2019, Netflix has 139 million subscribers globally, while Amazon Prime and Hulu have 101 million and 25 million subscribers in the US respectively.

Video might have killed the radio star (according to The Buggles), but the podcast is having its revenge. The first few ‘online radio’ shows were established around 2004; yet by 2017, nearly 68 million Americans (approximately 1 in 4) listened to a podcast monthly. As of last month, there were nearly 660,000 podcasts in circulation, with 28 million episodes to boot – and that figure’s only ever increasing.

Podcasts are more shareable and portable than TV or print media. I can listen to a lecture delivered by a Yale professor while cycling down Haarlemmerstraat. I can hear Michelle Obama chatting with Ellen DeGeneres while sitting on Singel. As well, they’re even more time-efficient: you can listen while cooking, cleaning, cycling, exercising, or (surreptitiously) during a particularly boring lecture.

Listening to a podcast can be a more direct way of getting information, and more digestible – we speak in a way that is generally more accessible than writing, making episodes easier to understand than articles. The retention rate (how well you remember information) is two times higher with auditory learning than reading – and four times higher than attending a lecture.

Although many universities (including the University of Amsterdam) now publish their own podcast series, which can be mined for useful information relating to your own studies, science basically shows that you’re better off staying in bed, skipping uni, and catching up with the latest Spotify or SoundCloud has to offer. And for those with vision impairments, difficulties with reading, or those just short for time, podcasts are more accessible.

Netflix might be colonising our time while print media breathes its last breaths, but maybe the podcast offers a healthier middle ground. Life is short, the planet is dying, and we want to learn and consume while also getting on with things. My answer: turn off your screen and listen.

Rebecca Took is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

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