Podcasting: An Emerging Industry? (Part 2)

The (brief) history of how podcasting came to somewhat surprised me as I was researching this article. The medium has existed through all of my adult and adult-ish life. I had always assumed that it was some corporate project (maybe of Apple?) that others jumped in on it. It turns out, this is not the case at all. In fact, almost the exact opposite occurred.
The idea of serialized audio predates the advent of mainstream digital personal audio devices. NPR’s Planet Money ran an episode about a guy who claimed to have patented the concept. He ran a company called Personal Audio that delivered magazine articles read aloud to subscribers via cassette tape. His company was born, and eventually closed up, in the 1990’s. Later, at the very beginning of the 21st century, serialized audio was offered in a form more closely resembling podcasts by MP3 player manufacturer, i2Go. The company offered a subscription service to proprietarily produced news, sports, entertainment, weather, and music audio programs. Like Personal Audio, i2Go soon went out of business. 
It wasn’t until around 2005 that podcasting appeared in its current form. A novel technical backend was put together: sound files embedded within an R.S.S. feed.  This system allowed for listeners to conveniently and automatically receive downloads of new episodes. An entrepreneuring ex-MTV host wrote a program to collect and play episodes for the end user. These innovations emerged without a clear plan for monetization or a corporate structure behind them. Likewise, the community of early podcast producers was an eclectic bunch. In late 2004, the New York Times ran an article surveying the nascent podcast space. They interviewed the personalities behind one of the most popular podcasts at that time: the “Dawn and Drew Show.” According to The Times, the program “is recorded in the living room of Ms. Misceli, an artist, and Mr. Domkus, who provides technical support for an office building in nearby Milwaukee…”. Co-star Dawn Miscelli reveals, 
I’m like that homeless person on the corner that just rants no matter who’s listening. I forget that Drew’s recording this online. Sometimes people will write us, and I sit back and say, ‘How do they know that?’ And then I go, ‘Oh, it’s on the Internet.’
Although some established radio stations soon began to release their regular programming via podcast, podcasts emerged largely as a rough-and-tumble, DIY space. This dynamic, the idea of podcasting as “citizens’ media,” is also apparent in an interview with media critic Jeff Jarvis that NPR ran in early in 2005  He proclaims, 
What excites me is not big media companies finding another way to create more media. What excites me about this movement is that it is the people talking, and that’s what’s great about it is you can hear all kinds of strange and wonderful things and new voices from the people…
Jarvins goes on to describe two of his favorite podcasts: one from “a podcasting priest in Europe” and the other from “a friend of mine named Fred Wilson… who created a podcast with this three kids and wife.” Clearly, the early days of podcasting were very grassroots in nature.
It was only after the medium began to catch on that corporate giants jumped into the fray. Later in 2005, Apple introduced podcasting functionality into its digital audio software, iTunes. It wasn’t until even later in 2005 that NPR, a huge player in today’s podcast market, first entered the scene. Why did attempts to launch the podcasting industry as a centralized business venture fail? Why did podcasting emerge as a grassroots industry? What does the history of podcasting tell us about the industry? We’ll look at those questions next week. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *