What’s Up with the Rise of Podcasting?
by Alexandra Wilson @Alexknowswords
No, it’s not just you. There has been a rise in the production of audio dramas over the past few years. Remember when your grandparents talked about how they loved listening to The Shadow from the radio? Well, you’ll be able to tell your grand-kids that you loved tuning into Welcome to Night Vale, The Adventure Zone, and Archive 81 from your good old-fashioned smartphone.
But it stands to reason – where did this golden age of podcasting come from, and how long will it be here for? Radio has been around for decades, but is almost exclusively for music and news. It wasn’t until a few major news companies, like National Public Radio, expanded their storytelling to long-form, non-fiction stories instead of just news updates.
In 2013, non-fiction podcasts were growing in popularity, but still weren’t considered mainstream. Many shows were extensions of already-existing properties, like The Moth, StoryCorps, and the Third Coast Music Festival. Podcasts were never a “must-listen” medium, they didn’t have any immediacy. It was structured as a story that you could tune into when you wanted to listen to something, but weren’t necessarily craving the next episode of.
Two shows changed that mentality.
The first, and most obvious one, was Serial. An investigative journalism podcast that covered a controversial crime and trial, it told one non-fiction story over multiple episodes. Serial also had the benefit of being developed by This American Life, so it has a fanbase before the show even premiered. The show quickly spiked in popularity, even re-opening the case that it covered in Season One.
Serial was one of the first podcasts to tell one long-form story instead of several smaller ones, and the audience reaction proved that it was storytelling form with a promising future. The second important podcast to look at, especially when we’re discussing the Golden Age of podcasting, is Welcome to Night Vale.
The podcast is complete fictionalized, but is styled like a classic radio show that provides community updates to a small, desert town of Night Vale. There is no cohesive narrative story, but there is a plethora of weird and interesting characters. Regardless – it’s attracted a legion of loyal fans and has grown into live shows, books, and various spin-offs.
Both podcasts broke the mold and paved the way for other projects that couldn’t succeed in a different medium. These stories are specific to audio, and though some have spun off into other formats they are strongest in their original form.
Though audio production is difficult, the accessibility of audio equipment and platforms to distribute content on have created a seemingly endless system. Fans, production houses, or media companies can create a project and release it to fans, and there’s no guarantee which will be received better. The focus in podcasting is on the content as opposed to any other factors (like special effects are the focus in films), and this means that there are several opportunities for anyone (literally anyone) to create the next create podcast story.
It could even be you!