Reality 2.0 Newsletter - October 20, 2020: Podcasts Killed the Radio Star

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A Quick Plug

Our latest podcast episode explores the current state of podcasting and how we got here. We talk a bit about the medium itself, and how we put ours together, as well as its roots and evolution, especially as they relate to radio. We hope you’ll listen!

Episode 44: Podcasts Killed the Radio Star

A Little History

As many of our listeners already know, podcasting originated with an idea to add enclosures to an RSS feed. After much lobbying from former MTV personality Adam Curry, Dave Winer, creator of the RSS format, famously updated RSS version 0.92 in 2001 with the addition of an <enclosure> tag, and while it took a few years to catch on with widespread adoption thanks largely to the Apple iPod, the rest, as they say, is history.

Ars Technica published a retrospective on podcasting in 2014, and it’s well worth a look now.

“He had to beat me over the head to get me to listen to the idea,” Winer told Ars in a recent interview. “The whole idea of video on the Internet didn’t interest me due to the latency problem. At the time I thought video and audio whatever, the pipes were small. The whole idea of waiting for the thing to download would not be worth the wait. I had written off the idea at first—it took me a few times to listen. If those barriers are there for me [as a software developer], you can only imagine how they were for everybody else.”

Early into podcasting’s history, our own Doc Searls noted in September 2004, that the word “podcast” only returned 24 results on Google, and noted again in November of 2005, that the number of search results had grown to over a hundred million. That initial popularity explosion established podcasting as a format, but the response from some tech and media giants has been slower. A prime example of this (pun intended) is Amazon. Amazon dove head first into the video streaming wars years ago, but only added podcasts to Amazon music this year.

So, it seems that podcasting could be in the early stages of a renaissance. According to a recent Financial Times article:

But it is the fact that podcasting is an underdeveloped market that makes it appealing. The music business that is Spotify’s bread and butter has long been dominated by a handful of companies that own the copyright to all the world’s music. These music rights holders take about 70 cents of every dollar Spotify makes.  Podcasting, on the other hand, is a highly fragmented sector that is mostly owned by independent creators and dozens of small start-ups. This leaves Spotify with ample opportunity to enter a growing market that does not require pricey payments to someone else. There are exceptions, but most of the time Spotify does not pay podcast creators directly for their content. Podcasters instead make money from selling ads in their own shows. 

And while a new media giant like Spotify is right to spot the massive potential in podcasting, the nature of the established podcast creator and distributor model may be more inherently sovereign than they are prepared for. Doc’s words from his April 2017 Harvard blog post seem especially prescient today:

Nobody is going to own podcasting. By that I mean nobody is going to trap it in a silo. Apple tried, first with its podcasting feature in iTunes, and again with its Podcasts app. Others have tried as well. None of them have succeeded, or will ever succeed, for the same reason nobody has ever owned the human voice, or ever will. (Other, of course, than their own.)

Because podcasting is about the human voice. It’s humans talking to humans: voices to ears and voices to voices—because listeners can talk too. They can speak back. And forward. Lots of ways.

Podcasting is one way for markets to have conversations; but the podcast market itself can’t be bought or controlled, because it’s not a market. Or an “industry.” Instead, like the Web, email and other graces of open protocols on the open Internet, podcasting is all-the-way deep.

While podcasting has been in our vernacular for over fifteen years, it’s still very early. The longest-running shows are teenagers, perhaps still figuring it all out while still blazing their trails, and the next generation is carving its own path. Where we collectively go from here remains to be seen, but we’re excited to be a part of the evolving podcasting universe.

Podcast Time Machine

For a peek into the early world of podcasting featuring some early pioneers, listen to Dave Winer’s August 6, 2006 episode of his Morning Coffee Notes podcast:

A Morning Coffee Notes podcast with Doc Searls, Mike Kowalchik, Jason Calacanis, Steve Gillmor. It contains breaking news about a new career move by Doc Searls. And an ad for Digg by Jason Calacanis. Steve is a tinny voice on the Blackberry and he takes a few cheap shots at Scoble. "At this point I smell a lawsuit," says Calacanis.

A Fun Bit of Radio History

In the latest podcast episode, we briefly mentioned Voice of Peace Radio, a radio station that broadcast from the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel from 1973-1993. The station was operated by its founder, Abie Nathan, an Israeli peace activist. The following short video gives a little more background on this period of radio history.

I’ve translated the Hebrew parts, spoken by Abie Nathan below:

Opening: This is the Voice of Peace. At sunset The Voice of Peace station will stop broadcasting for 30 seconds in memory of the victims of violence in our region and around the world.

[1:00] Our crew today is much better than what we used to have before.

We feel like a family and it's hard, inviting people from all over the world, putting them on the ship in the middle of the sea and each time replacing them. 

[2:14] So we have listeners in Egypt, Jordan, Damascus, Lebanon, Cyprus, and in Israel. In this past year I felt some despair. We thought that after ten years we could do some more serious work on shore. We had hopes and each time in today’s situation with a ship that is not new, we had to sit in the middle of the sea in danger. So we worried more about how our ship will hold together rather than what we would do. Every two years we dock, and every time there is the fear, “How much will it cost?” We are succeeding today on income from advertising to maintain the ship and to donate to a variety of institutions, either in the form of money or other favors from the ship. 

[4:19] I believe in the broadcast station, that it has tremendous power of persuasion. You can warm people up to wars or you can calm them down, and you can talk to them about peace. 

Our Workflow

If you’re curious, these are the primary tools we use to create, edit, and publish our podcast:

Zoom - video conferencing that works for us

Audacity - open source audio editor - podcast hosting

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