The Rise of Podcast and the Decline of Radio
Podcast consumption has skyrocketed since the inception of the media form. About 40% of Americans 12 and older listen to podcasts monthly (Edison Research, 2017). Podcasts are undeniable in their breadth throughout cyber culture, their uses in mediums outside of entertainment, and their impact towards their most similar alternative audio media format– radio.
In Pierre Levy’s novel, Cyberculture, one of his arguments is the access to information granted to mass audiences through new forms of technology has amplified normal forms of engagement and cognition. These forms engage and amplify human functions such as memory, imagination, perception, and reasoning (Levy, 137). The podcast embodies these traits and presents itself as one of the main new forms of technology engaging in cyber culture. Podcasts have especially succeeded in allowing the user to engage in their own imaginative authority of the information being relayed to them, especially since there is no visual aspect to it.
Podcast consumption continues to grow in the United States. The term took hold with the release of the IPod which allowed for audio listenership to break into the portable sphere. Initially, podcasting didn’t retain its foothold as well as it does now, however, with proven techniques it has developed itself as its own form of media. Most podcasters maintain a consistency within quality and with establishing a regimen of publishing their shows. Additionally, most podcasts offer a structure that can be similar to television with season long story arcs or new narratives with each new podcast. Podcasting has now grown to become a very common platform for already established comedians, journalists, celebrities to establish a new foothold in the social media sphere. About 40% of Americans 12 and older listen to podcasts monthly (Edison Research, 2017).
Libsyn, one of the largest podcast hosting domains has noted incredible growth in podcast hosting over the last few years. In 2013 they hosted 16,000 shows which grew to 28,000 thousand by 2015 – almost doubling within 2 years (Vogt, 2016). These measures match the steady growth of listenership which has only grown since its foothold in 2004, in a study done by Edison Research, about 15% of Americans listen to podcasts weekly. However, many statistics only relay the amount of downloads occurring to the specific podcast. This acts as a brake on the reality of the growth of podcasts, most podcasts are streamed on hosts sites and are easily accessible through these platforms. These platforms such as the Iphone podcast app, Spotify and Soundcloud receive a number of more streams than downloads in podcast consumption. Additionally, podcasts are found to be listened to by users aged 18-54 and the statistics show they lean slightly male. (Vogt, 2016)
What’s more remarkable is that the increase in podcast consumption is growing steadily not with fast unsustainable growth. This 40% aligns with the increase in popularity of IPhone/smartphone use as well as the broad range of podcasts available to listeners (Edison Research, 2017). In fact, statistics have shown that mobile devices have proven to be the most popular format for users to listen to podcasts. In 2016, it was noted that 64% of Americans over the age of 12 reported that they were most often listening on a mobile device which was a 9% increase from 2015 (Edison Research, 2017).
Podcast consumption has grown past purely entertainment purposes and has delved into the educational realm. In a review by Khe Foon Hew, it was found that podcasting has now become a tool for learning as well. Hew’s method including collecting a sample of 153 articles discussing studies on the use and effect of podcasting (Hew, 2009). They sectioned articles into categories and then used a comparative method to accurately measure the articles value against each other. Through analyzing these articles related to podcast listening as a tool for K-12 education and higher learning, they were able to determine that it had many beneficial learning outcomes. It was a useful tool to improve learning English for students who were learning English as a second language.
Another study analyzed in the review determined that podcasts allowed students to better understand their lecture but did not decrease attendance to class. Hew also analyzed the reaction of students to incorporating this extraneous learning tool to their education. It was found that students with traditional and distance courses reacted positively to this incorporation of this media format. The ultimate conclusion was that podcasts could be used as a beneficial tool to improve learning in and outside of the classroom. For elementary school students, a study was conducted showing that the intimacy afforded through listening to podcasts engaged students in a way that allowed them to retain information and pay attention to the content of the podcast.
In a separate study, the use of podcast creation by students was analyzed to determine its educational benefits in understanding and interpreting literary elements of novels and other literature. The article reviewed how creating a podcast about a literary work allowed students the collaborative space to create a piece of polished work that required creativity and “purposeful writing” (Rozema, 2009). Using podcast creation as a learning tool to analyze literary works also allows students to engage in the material on a deeper level than they might in other more traditional formats.
These articles, while specific to educational use, are a testament to the breadth of which podcast culture has broken into other spheres besides entertainment. This represents the impact of its relevance as a medium for information and an item of consumption by mass audiences. Through the analysis of educational benefits of podcasting, it is seen how it can be used as a tool to span over multiple forms of information transmission but is reaffirmed by its ability to be supported and accessed by audiences. Additionally, the way podcast listening is absorbed and benefits learning through the review by Koon may also indicate why major audiences have appreciated and supported podcasts as a form of entertainment. The way it is able to be interpreted by audiences may be deeper than other forms of media and thus allow audiences to appreciate the audio form more.
Similarly to educational analysis, in Ellen McCracken’s discussion in her novel, The Serial Podcast and Storytelling in the Digital Age, she discusses how one of the main reasons Serial was able to gain such a large audience as quickly as it did was through the narrator’s ability to tell the story in an engaging way. The narrator told the story in a calculated way to tease out information and details and maintain audience’s attention and create an intimacy with the listener. (McCracken, 1) Serial became a leading podcast in a new narrative form and a milestone marker for the popularity a podcast could attain.
Alternatively, Radio has arguably been one of the first conceived forms of media. Guglielmo Marconi created the first physical radio in 1894 (Sciullo & Adrian, 2013). From then on, Frank Conrad developed a similar device to be able to tell time from anywhere in 1912 (Sciullo & Adrian, 2013). The conception of modern radio only progressed from there. AM radio became one of the main sources of media for many Americans. The decline of AM radio is highly correlated to the rise of FM radio and the introduction of other technologies. As television became predominant in the media consumption sphere, radio had to saturate a more niche audience. Thus, FM radio became more popular satiating a niche need for music and political commentary.
Though podcasts and radio differ in many ways, especially within regulations of how they are produced (podcasts are not able to play licensed music with the same freedom that is afforded to radio shows), there is no doubt that podcasts and radio are most similar to each other. There are even arguments to say that podcasts came to be as an extension to radio. That being said, it is not a far reach to say that, as seen with the rise and fall of AM radio, new innovations with audio media has a strong correlation to the downfall of older variations of it. Through the prominence and success of podcasts, it is seen how FM radio has declined and podcasts have taken up the spaces of media is once capitalized. For example, there are podcasts, such as The Daily, that deliver the news and political commentary. Not only that, but the rise and decline of podcasts versus radio mirrors cable television and streaming platforms. Radio is similar to cable networks in terms of being more regulated and podcasts are similar to streaming platforms in how they are more accessible. In both situations, cable and radio are on the decline, while the more widely accessible formats are on the rise.
In conclusion, it’s almost impossible to have not been aware of the media dominance podcasts have made in the last five years. Most comedians, journalists, and actors have hosted podcasts. Podcasts have shown impressive improvement within the classroom and its ability to engage students both on the user side and creator side. The rise of podcasts has also coincided with the decline of FM radio which reflects the ebb and flow of new and old innovation within technology. Personally, I have found that the accessibility of podcast creation has allowed them to prevail against radio. In the technologically entrenched society we live in, it is refreshing to users to know they can engage in these formats and retain a sense of autonomy from their creation in it.
Levy, Pierre, and Robert Bononno. Cyberculture. University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
McCracken, Ellen. The Serial Podcast and Storytelling in the Digital Age. Taylor and Francis, 2017.