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Up, Up and Away

matthew et

Television killed the radio star, or so they say. The aphorism has largely held true: radio has fallen far behind television and internet in usage amongst teens and young adults. People now spend an average of an hour and a half tuned in per day—barely half as much as they did a decade ago. AM radio in particular, with its focus on news and talk shows, has suffered a slow and painful death. With an audience comprised mainly of adults entering their twilight years, it would seem that the classic medium is headed toward complete extinction. And yet, all hope is not lost. Radio may be going off the air, but is only heading up into the Cloud.

In the same way that the Internet has coalesced with television, birthing such advancements as cross-platform streaming, so has it integrated radio, breathing into it newfound life and freedom in the form of the podcast.

At its most basic, the podcast is a radio show without constraints in time and format. Whereas talk show hosts of old shaped their content around fixed schedules and timeslots, podcasters operate on liste-ner donations and mini-mal product sponsorship in exchange for the autonomy to record as long as they’d like, as often as they’d like. The creator can then disseminate their final product through iTunes, blogging sites, and a slew of other channels through which their material is made forever available for streaming and downloading.

Dan Carlin, a former AM talk show host who began podcasting after the turn of the century, indulges in his flexibility by delivering long winded monologues on current affairs and world history. His two podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History, range from the standard sixty-minute talk about racial profiling to a long five-hour dissertation on how the Cold War was really just an extension of the same sociopolitical tensions that led to the outbreak of World War I. With such content density, one might think Carlin’s work to be mired in obscurity. In fact, however, his podcasts rank among the most popular in the world, averaging more than a million downloads per episode.

Because of the increasing accessibility of the internet, more and more podcasters are able to find an audience for more specialized interests, and they aren’t pressured to cater to the mainstream and  maintain ratings. This digi-tal diaspora has enabled the success of thousands of unique podcasters, from failed standup comics like Marc Maron to esteemed astrophysicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Altogether, it would not be farfetched to say that podcasts have revolutionized radio. No longer does one need a golden voice and a studio contract to succeed in the industry. Anyone with a good idea and a computer can find a crowd willing to listen. With a growing audience of over 40 million monthly-listeners online, radio is not dying; it is merely reinventing itself, and will likely continue as a mainstay of society for decades to come.

-Matthew Kang



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