Spend any time with me and a phrase you're likely to hear (other than "How can the dishwasher be full already?") is "I heard [insert fascinating fact] on a podcast".
According to the fittingly named Podcast Addict phone app, I’ve spent 31 days and 22 hours listening to podcasts over the past couple of years, which includes 15 hours and 16 minutes last week alone.
That doesn't mean I spent my leisure time staring at a wall with my ears wide open. It means I spent 15 hours and 16 minutes cooking, tidying, putting on my make-up, driving and, yes, dealing with the dishwasher, while accompanied by the spoken word. It’s just like listening to the radio – any task that would otherwise require me to listen to my own thoughts can be carried out while I listen to other people’s.
What is a podcast?
It’s a form of on-demand audio media. Many people, at least in the UK, seem to think that podcasts are simply radio shows you download from the BBC website. Well, some are, but you’re missing out if that’s the extent of your podcast experience. The majority are made specifically as podcasts, usually as part of a series, and are researched, recorded and produced for listeners to access via their computer, tablet or phone. You can download individual episodes to listen to when you want, or you can stream them if you have a reliable wifi connection.
Episodes can be any length, from 5 minutes to (in rare cases) a couple of hours. Most on my playlist are between 20 and 50 minutes long – again, like a radio show.
Anyone can produce and upload a podcast although, believe me, the quality varies. BBC domination aside, I generally find American podcasts to be much more engaging and professional than British ones - the Radiotopia suite springs to mind. A downside is that most podcasts keep stopping for adverts from their ‘sponsors’, which is a bit tedious if you’re used to the ad-free BBC or Netflix. But apparently UK listeners like me are happy to put up with such ads, as long as the podcasts remain free to access and the ads are relevant to the subjects being discussed. (Some podcast presenters put their own entertaining spin on the ads they’re asked to read, integrating the ads with the show itself – thus reducing the chances of the listener skipping forward to deliberately miss yet another plug for Squarespace or MeUndies or ZipRecruiter.) (Apparently brand recognition works.)
Who listens to podcasts?
Well, who watches TV or plays football? Anyone who wants to. Anyone who can. Recent(ish) statistics suggest that 40% of the American population has listened to a podcast, although in Britain it’s only 24% – perhaps fans of the spoken word in this country are diverted by BBC Radio 4 or Five Live, though in the US, NPR seems offer a parallel service to that of the BBC in the UK.
Some research suggests podcast listeners are ‘loyal, affluent and educated’ – and not necessarily young. I know a man in his mid-70s who likes nothing better than to plug in his headphones for some introvert time with the latest episode of his favourite science show.
Far from being the latest newfangled fad, podcasts are really pretty mainstream. They've been around for quite a while by today’s technology standards, gaining momentum in 2004 to the extent that ‘podcast’ was declared 'word of the year' by the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005. There’s even an International Podcast Day™ on 30 September. No wonder the advertisers are so keen to jump on board.
What can podcasts be about?
Part of that mainstream appeal comes from having more than 250,000 different podcast series to choose from (and those are outdated 2015 figures). Inevitably, content covers almost any subject you can think of. A recent iTunes chart indicates that British listeners are most likely to download podcasts in the genres of sport, news/politics and comedy (all usually produced by the ubiquitous BBC). Sport and politics not being topics on which I wish to spend my leisure time, I subscribe to 13 of the top 100 podcasts listed, which is not many considering I follow nearly 50 overall but quite a lot considering how many thousands of series I could choose to hear.
What (other) podcasts do I like?
These days, I never listen to the radio, or watch ‘live’ TV for that matter. For me, the appeal of on-demand media is the ability to control the content. I generally listen to factual or autobiographical shows. In the mood for on-stage anecdotes? Play The Moth or Mortified. Hungry? Play The Sporkful. Fasting? Play The Obesity Code. Fancy a bit of contemporary socioeconomic theory (and who doesn’t)? Play Freakonomics.
I'm a novel-reading dervish but perhaps I’ve just not discovered a decent fiction podcast yet – most scripted shows are ‘docudrama’ style, often based on the discoveries of a (fictional) investigative reporter, a trope that gets tiresome pretty quickly. The ones that involve real acting are even worse – country house murder mystery Deadly Manners may feature the fabulous (and fabulously different) talents of Kristen Bell, Ru Paul and Denis O’Hare but even that stellar cast couldn’t actually make it any good.
OK but how does this tie in with editing?
It doesn’t, directly. I just love podcasts.
You might have noticed that I’ve not mentioned any shows that are specifically aimed at, or about, editing the written word. That’s partly because I’ve not found one I want to listen to. If that's what you're looking for, my SfEP colleague John Espirian has some suggestions, as has The Bookseller here and here. My favourite shows are not obviously related to my profession but, in my opinion, are just as immersed in narrative, structure and storytelling. I'll describe some of those in more detail in my next post (Episode 2, in podcast parlance, and, yes, it will include That One).
Here are some ways my listening habit influences my work.
Become a podcast addict like me
In my next post (Episode 2), I’ll recommend my top ‘loosely related to language’ podcasts. And then, in the post after that (Episode 3; I did warn you I’m obsessed with podcasts), I’ll recommend other shows that I simply enjoy.
Inspired? You can usually listen online via the source website or, if you’re away from your computer, download an app (there are lots) for your phone or tablet and subscribe to whatever takes your fancy. Simply Google a subject you’re interested in, along with the word ‘podcast’, and off you go.
As an example, I just tried typing ‘ukulele podcast’ and found OokTown, which has more than 60 intriguingly titled episodes...
Excuse me, I’m just off to empty the dishwasher.
My book review blog: Ju's Reviews