What's the story with podcasts?

13th May 2019

What's the story with podcasts?

We’re all anxious and stressed. Nothing feels safe and stable anymore. Thanks to social media we should be more connected than ever but that’s not the reality for most of us. We’re desperately looking for something, but we don’t know exactly what that is.

In my opinion, that’s why the popularity of podcasts is exploding. The personal, honest and substantial nature of podcasts is filling some big gaps in our lives. But there’s more to it than that. Before I continue my rant, let’s look at just how popular podcasts have become.

Stats around podcasts are very fluid but some research shows some consistent numbers like these:

There are currently more than 700, 000 podcasts out there.

There are more than 29 million individual episodes.

50% of us have listened to a podcast.

80% of us listen to all or most of each episode (we’re loyal).

Australia is equal fourth with the US when it comes to listenership.

South Korea, Spain and Sweden are the first three.

I’m a big fan of podcasts, doing most of my listening in the wee, sleepless hours. I thought this was a new thing, then I remembered how I used to listen to the radio late at night when I was a little fella. In the olden days, the later at night you listened, the more stations you could pick up meaning you could tune into late night announcers in Longreach, Armidale, and sometimes even Broken Hill! There was something comforting about that trusted voice late at night.

I went on to work in radio for more than 10 years and learned a lot about the power of the human voice and ‘theatre of the mind’. Because humans think in stories, rather than facts or numbers, all we need is a narrator to provide a plot and our mind creates the perfect characters and surroundings for the story to play out in. That’s why the movie versions of our favourite books are always inferior (in my opinion). This is another reason podcasts have become so popular. They’re like your favourite radio station on steroids. You can choose almost any niche subject and listen to it being discussed in depth by an expert. Or you can follow a compelling real crime story, or any of the other 700, 000 podcasts available to you. And you can do it when it suits you.

In a sometimes shallow, disposable world, someone is dedicating time to a special interest of yours or sharing an incredible story with you. That’s why we’re seeking out and investing our valuable time in our favourite podcasts and discovering new ones all the time. Finally, something we can rely on and a voice or voices we can trust again. They give us an anchor.

Let’s rewind for a sec. The general consensus is that podcasting was invented in 2004 by Dave Wirner and Adam Curry. Wirner was the tech brain while Curry, dubbed The Podfather, popularised them.

So, while that’s where podcasting started, some argue (me being one of them) that podcasting really began to matter on 22 June 2015 – that’s when Barack Obama, while he was president, was the guest on episode 613 of WTF (What the Fuck) a great podcast hosted by comedian Marc Maron. Maron interviews a range of guests, generally cool pop culture figures, in the garage of his home in Los Angeles. Marc (we’re on a first name basis) swears a lot (you probably guessed that by the name of his podcast) and is very gritty and down to earth. One of those straight-shooting, call-it-as-he-sees-it voices we’re craving for.

Obama has always had a good read on the zeitgeist. His groundbreaking use of social media to get elected in the first place is evidence of that. By not just recognising the rising power of podcasts but choosing a very ‘real’ one to pop into, he showed he understood the mood of the people. Talk about theatre of the mind – the President of the US in a grungy garage in LA, shooting the breeze with a sweary, recovering addict comedian while Secret Service agents stalk the perimeters and choppers hover above. You’re picturing that scenario right now aren’t you?

So, we’ve come a full circle. We’re in an era of Trump, Brexit and global warming. Crumbling institutions like the church, banks and the government. A frantic world of Facebook, Twitter and fake news. It’s no wonder we’re desperate for trusted voices with some substance and trustworthiness. Just like we used to sit around a campfire to listen to stories, we’re doing it again. Except now, podcasts have become the campfire.

We’re voting with our ears to listen to people who have stories we want to hear and take whatever time they need to tell them. The stats prove that we’ll invest the time. 700, 000 storytellers. More than 29 million individual stories and counting. That’s the story with podcasts and I’ll be listening to one in the wee hours tonight.

– Jeff Smith,
Senior Copywriter at Nick Did This