Don’t get me wrong, I love radio.
Some of my earliest and fondest memories are radio-based: listening to late-night Mets and Knicks games (and some of their most epic well past bedtime), growing up listening to the talk radio that played in the house continuously (I can still do passable imitations of Bob Grant, Barry Farber and Malachi McCord), and in my high school years listening deep into the night to the surrealistic dreamscapes of the great radio monologist Joe Frank. Years ago I wrote a pilot for a radio series called Dick Mann Undercovers (wherein the eponymous Marlowe/Bond-like hero battles an assortment of arch-villains, including the Game Show Host, Abstract Expressionist and the French Chef — the latter threatens to turn the Hudson into bouillabaisse). I also co-hosted several nationally syndicated sports radio shows.
So yeah, I love radio and if given the chance could probably explain what I love about it. Still, I was perplexed by the unexpected rise in the popularity of podcasts over the past couple of years (in 2018, 48 million people listen to Podcasts weekly, up six million from 2017 — from Edison Research). To state the obvious, it’s old technology — it’s fireside chats, imaginary Martians, fast-talking gossip columnists and lugubrious daytime soaps sponsored by long-forgotten brands. Hell, it’s older than newsreels! And given the popularity of video content, you’d think most would view audio only as limited and un-involving. So what gives?
I was then reminded of my initial reaction to texting: why text when you can email or make a quick call, which in many ways is quicker and allows you to convey more detail, leaving less room for error or misinterpretation. Until I started texting and realized why it’s often the superior option. I’m not saying that podcasting — or audio — is a superior option to video; I am saying that it’s a good option for the type of content it lends itself to, in promoting a more intimate connection with an audience, and a practical option because it can be accessed so easily in so many ways.