Tuning in to Soundwriting

The Bandwidth of Podcasting

by Eric Detweiler

1. The Giant Pool of Podcasts

The Giant Pool of Podcasts: Transcript

[narrator, in the style of Ira Glass] So, back in 2001, this journalist got fired from WBUR, a public radio station in Boston, Massachusetts. He had been hosting a show called The Connection, and basically no one could agree on who should get credit for creating that show. Was it this journalist and his longtime producer, or was it the station itself? That led to a contract dispute, which led to his firing. But that wasn't it for this guy.

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While hosting the show, he'd also been running a blog called Radio Open Source. After he and the station went their separate ways, he got a fellowship at Harvard, started conducting interviews about politics, and decided to make audio recordings of those interviews available for download on his blog.

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Meanwhile another guy at Harvard, Dave Winer, had been working on this new technology called an RSS feed, which gave internet users an easy way to find out when their favorite websites posted new content. In 2003, Winer set up a feed for Radio Open Source, and there you go: That journalist, Christopher Lydon, had what most people now agree was the first podcast (Hammersley, 2004; Walsh, 2011).

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Now fast-forward a couple of decades: Podcasts have become a major part of the global news and entertainment landscape. True crime, conspiracy theories, niche television shows, fictional towns in the American Southwest. If you can imagine it, there's probably a podcast about it. And people are tuning in. In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that 40% of Americans have listened to a podcast, and almost a quarter have listened to one in just the past month (Shearer, 2017). Those numbers are still lower than traditional AM and FM radio, but they're on the rise. The number of regular podcast listeners has almost tripled—tripled—in the past decade alone.

But it's not just about who's listening to podcasts. It's also about who's making them. In addition to journalists, lots of other people have gotten in the game: gutter punks, comedians, prison inmates, academics. That includes rhetoric and writing teachers, who have started both making podcasts and asking their students to make them. What these teachers mean by "podcasts," though, isn't always the same. Up next, we take a spin through the ins and outs of podcasting—and when a podcast is or isn't a podcast. Coming up in this chapter [slight dramatic pause] of Tuning in to Soundwriting.

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