What the heck is a podcast anyway?

Over the past few years, podcasting has become an increasingly popular medium. Shows like Serial, Dirty John, Lore, and so many more have gained attention over the last few years and there are all kinds of podcasts. There are investigative journalism shows, fictional audio dramas, and interview podcasts! But podcasts are still relatively new and have grown with changes in technology and the internet. While there are many people who love creating or listening to podcasts, there are still many others who aren’t sure what a podcast is.

Simply put, podcasts are like on-demand talk radio shows that are available online or on a smartphone. If you miss listening to WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life live on NPR each Sunday, for example, you can eventually download the show on various smartphone apps to listen to at your own convenience. Like many NPR shows, This American Life also exists in podcast form. And there are other shows that just exist as podcasts, meaning you can only listen to them on smartphone apps or sites like Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and many more.

Podcasting was initially developed by former MTV video jockey Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer in 2004. Curry is said to have written a program that allowed for his iPod to automatically download Internet radio broadcasts and is sometimes called the ‘Podfather’ because of his role! There are many others who have contributed to the medium both in software programming and content since the early 2000s, making it into what it is today. Other important folks and shows in podcasting history include Christopher Lydon, This Week in Tech (hosted by Leo Laporte), and Sarah Koenig (host of Serial).

As far as the actual word, the term ‘podcast’ is a portmanteau (a linguistic blend of words or two words that have been combined into a new word). Podcast comes from ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’ and one of the first written records of the term is from a 2004 Guardian article from Ben Hammersley about the audible revolution. While the term is named after a specific type of audio player (the iPod), you don’t have to have an Apple product to listen to podcasts.

Podcasts are more than just radio shows you can listen to later, although there are many radio shows available you can download and listen to. There are original shows that are created specifically for podcasting, including audio dramas, interview shows, and educational shows. This medium is fairly accessible, both for creators and fans, as they’re not exclusive to large companies or Big Name Media. The barriers to entry, for both creating and listening, are relatively low.

Still confused about podcasts or want to learn more? Let me know in the comments or check out the rest of the site as it grows! More content will be coming soon.

Author: Andrea Merrill

My name is Andrea Merrill and I created Animals of the Pacific Northwest and '...Wherever You Get Your Podcasts', where I write about animals, both domesticated and wild, and podcasts respectively.

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