By Andrew Hendricks
Podcasts are great for catching up on news, culture, or just killing time on a road trip, run, or daily commute. Yet it always surprises my fellow podcasts junkies and I that this term “podcast” is foreign to so many people. If you ask a person if they’ve ever heard of podcasts, you’re likely to be met with a “what are those again?” or a passionate exchange of your favorite stations, what kind of podcast player you use, and perhaps even your cousin’s indie podcast that you keep telling other people to subscribe to but can’t be bothered to listen to more than an episode yourself. So to satisfy the luddites among us, let’s answer that question: “what the heck is a podcast?”
It’s radio on the Internet (kinda)
You’ve heard of vlogging and people live-streaming their lives and thoughts. Well, podcasts are kind of the same thing, just without the video aspect. It’s essentially radio, but an endless sea of it, with countless people making their own podcasts every day. And like the radio itself, (almost) all podcasts are free to listen to. All you need is the internet, which nearly everyone has now; it’s basically a human right. Podcasts are a cool way to view tiny corners of the world through other people’s perspectives.
NPR tends to be a lot of people’s introduction into podcasts. The famous (partially) federally funded nonprofit radio station has many of its shows as the number one reigning podcast in multiple categories for years. From shows like WNYC’s Radiolab to This American Life, shows that began as FM Radio entertainment now top the charts in podcast downloads. Recently though, NPR has said they will stop advertising the podcast versions of their radio shows because it cuts into the effectiveness of their sponsorships (as anyone who has had the misfortune to tune in during a fundraising drive is familiar with).
This is great news to the other podcast-exclusive empires and shows that may see NPR as their competition.
The real podcast empires
There is a rising class of media giants that have seemed to have turned their entire brand into an umbrella for multiple different shows.
How Stuff Works
Gaining a larger web presence with their published articles, HowStuffWorks was one of the first big names in podcasting with their most popular brain popcorn-style show appropriately named Stuff You Should Know wherein they discuss literally any topic you might wanna know more about, from how traffic works to clockmaking. From samurais to hostage negotiation. Whether you want to learn Stuff You Missed in History or Stuff to Blow Your Mind, HowStuffWorks has been an ear-candy provider for many years now and is a definite empire in podcasting.