In July 2018 I had the pleasure of speaking at the Radio Conference 2018, held at the Monash Study Centre in Tuscany! My paper was a continuation of my thinking on how podcasters are developing their own cultures and practices, which might be resemble radio but is increasingly establishing points of cultural difference.
I’ve posted some slides and my notes below:
This paper is thinking about how we understand podcasting
It’s about classifying content, as something other than radio
I’m using the word Pantone to refer to the ways in which we can map the degrees of change between ‘radio’ and something that has a more distinctive podcast sound. A sound that is developing as podcasters individually and collectively establish and develop practices and cultures.
It’s about degrees of remediation. I did wonder about calling the paper 50 shades of podcasting!
The Aim of this paper is to have a conversation on how podcasts and podcasters are asserting their differences. I’m not offering answers, but questions and thoughts that feed a wider and larger debate.
Perhaps ‘RADIO’ is used as a kind of cultural short-hand – used by listeners, journalists, and even academics looking to describe a new medium through old medium terminologies
In a 2006 article danah boyd discussed the medium-ness of blogs, citing similar sources as the means by which mediums gain their status
One of the bloggers she spoke said ‘It’s a blog, because a blogger made it’ So, maybe podcasts are made by podcasters, not broadcasters ?
Boyd adds that “while metaphors are a valuable linguistic tool for introducing new concepts, heavy reliance on them distorts the concept that is being introduced. Through metaphor, people cognitively attribute the properties of an old concept to the new one”
By calling it radio we apply cultural meaning and industrial convention to the medium and that might not be useful
Rather than being one medium with a single function podcasting sits in a liminal space that cuts across other forms of public and performative work, including journalism, comedy, pedagogy, and independent amateur productions. As Kate Lacey might say, it has no edges or at least edges that blur and intersect with other things.
Whilst radio remains a function of the space, it often does so in a way that subjugates podcasting to the role of delivery system
I use the term pantone here to describe the way in which there are degrees of podcastness. Just as one colour gives way another, the extent to which content demonstrates styles is a multifaceted scale. It can’t be a binary thing.
This is about degrees to which ‘radioness’ is evident, either as institutional status or as a collection of accepted practices and conventions
Some podcasts are effectively remediated versions of radio programmes, sometimes with added framing narrations or content that excluded from broadcast programmes for reasons of taste or timing. . Radio is getting better at this and making more content just for the space
The BBC have recently appointed their first podcast commissioner, and already have podcast editors in place across their networks producing work that is podcast only or as part of a digital first strategy, in topics like Brexit, Sex, Cancer and the Grenfell Tower Inquiry
In their recent commissioning brief BBC Radio 1 highlight how, their podcast strategy is about developing new talent, projecting their brand into digital spaces and converting podcast listeners into radio listeners. Even within the BBC difference approaches are at work, with different audiences in mind and different positions on the role of compliance.
We might also reflect on the extent to which the podcast is independent from traditional media systems. Dave Winer has asserted more than once that podcasting is a space for amateurs, and whilst professionals now inhabit this space the amateur ethos remains to some degree.
We could also consider the ability of podcasts to create more authentic versions of the hosts (this is reflected in Vincent Meserkos work on WTF). Indeed, in a session at a recent industry conference Cariad Lloyd of the Griefcast notes that her podcast emerged from an authentic sense of ‘authorship’, where participants have a say in shaping the final edit.
On a binary scale we might reflect on whether a programme has already been transmitted – or if it exploits the inherent characteristics of a self-selecting, democratic space. But this cannot be about polar opposites. It’s about degrees of change across a number of factors.
I will return to this at the end
Of course, a binary scale of podcastness does not truly reflect the complexities of a space inhabited by newspapers, tv broadcasters, large podcast networks and podcasters with audiences measured in the dozens or the hundreds.
There is content here from the group that Dan Gilmor has called ‘the former audience’, through to major productions – the so-called “PRO CASTERS” – Content created by large digital newsrooms, or the growing number of commercial networks like Gimlet and Panoply.
This is a fluid space where amateurs become professionalised, indeed, much of the discussion in podcaster support groups centres on these very ideas. What equipment do I need? How do I grow my audience? How do I make money? And will you be a guest on my podcast? In a forthcoming chapter Sullivan also outlines how these desires were manifested in the Podcast Movement convention in 2016. Here there is a clear sense that this is a space that is developing its own cultures, rules and practices. As David Gauntlett notes in ‘Making is connecting’ the internet allows makers to connect with ‘people who actually care about the things we care about and are likely to have meaningful’ responses
Whilst intimacy is now a given, a further hallmark of podcasting has become innovation.
In style. In content. In delivery, or in format. Podcasts should be seen as innovative, or at least radical in some way.
Finally, we might also reflect on audio quality or editing. Content that might grate against our radio ears, can work in this space, because it matters much less. These can be factors that we can track and use to highlight aspects of podcastness
So, some examples of how we might further characterise work.
(There are broad categories of narrative, fiction, extended interview, panel and talks which do need coverage but I am going to duck past these for now)
Whilst some broadcaster-based content is remediated radio, there is an increasing wave of what we might call broadcaster badged content. Content made for the space but produced and distributed by the institutions formerly known as radio stations.
As the BBC have noted here, this is often aimed at attracting a younger audiences who are less likely to be engaged in linear broadcasting. This is clear movement away from the earlier notions of podcasting as a tool to distribute programming or serve ‘self-scheduling’ public radio consumers.
Death in ice Valley is a major step on this road. It is as global co-production between the BBC and NRK, in the Serial model. It’s a Cold case. But unlike Serial it has embraced armchair detectives using a managed Facebook group, where fans and producers contribute to the wider meta narrative – as you can see here. Whereas Serial lacked this control, the team here manage it as part of the production. There hope was to ‘crack the case’. I won’t spoil it by saying whether or not they did.
This partnership between 2 broadcasters leverages broadcast skills and resources but uses a distinctively podcast aesthetic that is reminiscent of Serial and the more recent Caliphate. The story was already being reported by the NRK team, but the influence of the BBC was seen as useful in reaching a wider audience or potential informants.
This is the Naked Podcast, produced by local radio journalist Jenny Eells and Kat Harbourne from BBC Radio Sheffield, in the North of England
Initially considered as a side-project the idea was supported by their BBC Manager and is seen as a template that other local radio managers are looking to emulate.
The Podcast builds on those traits innovation and intimacy I’ve already mentioned
The podcast is recorded in domestic spaces and like the title suggests both guest and hosts are naked, allowing the podcast new freedoms to explore normally off-topic questions.
Although both hosts work in radio, their cultural and stylistic cues were other podcasts, such the explicit ‘Guys we’ve fucked’.
For the producers this is recognition of podcasting as a different space that listeners choose to engage in, using this format allows for them speak more freely and gain personal stories that they might not normally get from a traditional radio interview. This is about a lean-in medium, where producers know that listeners are already invested. This is about a different form of audio production, where interviewers have time and space to build trust.
The hallmarks of podcasting are innovation and intimacy and both are present here. In a market where podcasters need listeners to be advocates those listeners need something that has viral qualities.
In this paper I have chosen to look exclusively at British podcasts. Partly because they are under-researched but also because the zeitgeist moment that happen in the USA in 2014 with Serial is happening now in the UK but through the growth in professionally driven independent productions, created by those with experience of radio and those without.
(reflected in Britta’s paper yesterday!)
These podcasts cut across comedy, extended interviews, drama and political debate. They stand apart from broadcast networks, even when those involved are, or have been, on the radio.
This is about NATIVE content made for the space, produced commercially and often supported by experienced marketeers, producers, or brands. This is about a new space, reflected in Tiziano Bonini’s discussion of this 2nd of age of podcasting, where processes are professionalised and then monetised.
In MY DAD WROTE A PORNO the hosts have been able to build a transmedia empire that embraces publishing and live events through a simple but often tasteless format that would never sit well with a radio station editor
However, it’s shareability has garnered a global audience which other British podcasters are hoping to emulate. There is a real sense here of difference. Podcasts that often bear the sonic devices of radio, but present content that is too niche, too extreme, too sensitive, or too politically biased for radio
In the political podcast REMAINIACS listeners are encouraged to ‘OWN THE REMOAN’ and maintain their healthy scepticism of Brexit.
Whilst GRIEFCAST uses interviews with comedians to deal honestly about the subject of death, in a format that on the surface at least would make most people working in regulated radio nervous
What defines this sector here both in the UK and elsewhere is a sense of professional purpose, but one that recognises that without NICHE content and DISRUPTIVE formats then sustainable listener engagement is (I would argue) unlikely.
Whilst these podcasts may deploy professional approaches, they hybrid the amateur and the professional. They record in the hosts attic, or they seek to break with traditional notions of what ‘good’ radio is.
This reflects McLuhan’s thoughts here on the amateur, where professionalism is environmental and by taking the producer out of this environment new work can emerge. The groundrules are challenged and then rejected, as new formats are deployed in a space without gatekeepers, format books, or schedules.
As an agnostic medium with no gatekeeper, podcasting not only facilitates ideas with alternative production models it almost demands it. Perhaps the content in this medium is not what people are saying, but the people who are making it.
So, if this state of professionalism is driven by the environment producers work in, it should be no surprise that innovation often comes from outside the confines of radio… or from people who have never made it .
There is no doubt that Serial opened the door to a slew of True Crime content.
All Killa No Filla is an example of how podcasting is indicative of Convergence culture, where Creators come from other spheres, often with no experience of making audio. This process is not about the construction of deliberate transmedia narratives; but the transferring ideas and experience from one medium into another. This notion of convergences reveals a truth of podcasting, that it opens new opportunities to share ideas, engage audiences, or communicate with publics.
In this podcast 2 British comedians engage in a meandering conversation about Serial Killers. The podcast is recorded using simple equipment and can suffer from poor sound quality, but in a medium where content rules it connects with an audience who won’t object. The conversation deviates, weaving in social observation, and personal stories in a way that a radio producer would want to brutally edit. The point here, is that in podcasts the hosts can be authentic. There are no filters, technically or institutionally. The edit is not needed and neither are the institutional filters.
The podcast has garnered audience through Facebook, with an official group and an unofficial group who call themselves Legends who share stories about true crime and reflect on the podcast – as in the example in the slide.
It’s clear through these social interactions that the podcast has spawned a community who now engage with each other, sharing ideas and meeting each other at the live events the podcast has now generated. Events which, like, My Dad Wrote A Porno now sell out due the high levels of fan engagement. This emphasises the status of podcasting as a medium driven by peer to peer sharing and recommendation.
Also in this space is THEY WALK AMONG US
Another British true crime podcast, with more profile but an equally engaged fandom who recommend and celebrate the podcast across social spaces.
The hosts had no experience of media, don’t listen to radio, and took their cues from other podcasts. The episodes are scripted, with underscoring music and occasional archival clips. It’s dramatic but ultimately popular. As the hosts recognise here, podcasting is a democratic space. They can produce at home, for fun and enjoy the same success as fully-funded projects/ Like the other projects discussed here, this an arena where loyal fans gather around content that serves their needs perfectly.
As Levinson notes, in McLuhan’s Global Village voyeurs can become participants. Participants who earn money from their digital labours
This is work that is in many regards a direct opposite of our experiences of radio, but is indicative of the emerging independent podcast scene talked about elsewhere in this conference
A final word on innovation.
There now seems agreement that content must be made for the space
This means innovating. Either with form or content. We can see this in British podcasting.
The CINEMILE takes the film podcast in a new direction.
By using portable equipment and location recordings there’s a clear sonic difference, between this and the structured studio produced programming before.
This podcast becomes an act of sociability, embedding domestic activities and by recording outdoors create a clear sonic point of difference
Podcasting not only changes who can make work, but the rise in portable equipment changes where we listen and where these podcasts can be made.
Across these forms we can begin to see that podcasts are sounding less like radio and developing their own approaches that are atuned to the ways in which podcasts are found and experienced. Different audio approaches are taken and subjects are tackled more frankly, without the need to be concerned about a ticking studio clock or a commissioning editor. This continues to change the listening landscapes for both audiences and producers
So what we might end up with is a kind is discursive web, which maps these degrees of difference.
From something which sounds very little radio, to something which embraces innovation or intimacy
In this I have begun to map some of the podcasts highlighted here. Where work from broadcasters skews to the top and work located economically with podcasting skews to the bottom or the right.
There is a sense from the work examined here and the exchanges within inline communities that contemporary podcasters are taking their cues from their own community and in doing so construct a collection of cultural, technical and institutional practices that increasingly distinct from radio
Different audio approaches are taken and subjects are tackled more frankly, without the need to be concerned about a ticking studio clock or a commissioning editor. This continues to change the listening landscapes for both audiences and producers
- BBC Media Centre (2018) ‘BBC appoints first Commissioning Editor for podcasts’ [Press Release]
- BBC (2018) BBC Radio 1 Podcast Commissioning Brief [PDF]
- Bonini, Tiziano. (2015). ‘The ‘Second Age’ of Podcasting: reframing Podcasting as a New Digital Mass Medium’. Quaderns del CAC 41, 18 (July), 21-30
- boyd, danah. 2006. ‘A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium.’ Article. Reconstruction 6(4)
- Gauntlett, David (2011) Making Is Connecting (Cambridge, Polity)
- Gilmor, Dan (2006) We The Media (Serbastapol, O’Reilly)
- Levinson, Paul (2001) Digital McLuhan (London, Routledge)
- McLuhan, Marshall & Fiore, Quentin (1967) The medium is the massage (London, Penguin)
- Meserko, Vincent (2015) ‘The pursuit of authenticity in Marc Maron’s WFT podcast’ Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 29(6) 796-810
- Murray, Simone (2009) ‘Servicing ‘self-scheduling consumers’ – public broadcasters and audio producing’ Global Media and Communication Volume 5(2) pp197-219
- Radio Days Europe (2018) ‘Podcasts are for Comedians – Cariad Lloyd talks Griefcast’ [online]
- Sullivan, John (2018) ‘Podcast Movement: Aspirational Labour and the Formalisation of Podcasting as a Cultural Industry’ In Podcasting: New Aural Cultures. Eds; Llinares, Fox & Berry (Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan)
- Wilson, Robbie (2018) ‘Welcome to the World of Wandercast: Podcast as Participatory Performance’ In Podcasting: New Aural Cultures. Eds; Llinares, Fox & Berry (Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan)
- Winer, Dave (2015) ‘A podcast about podcasting’ [Blog Post]
- ————————————————————————- PODCASTS CITED ————————————————————————
- http://www.thecinemile.com/ – http://www.bbc.com/dealthinicevalley – https://www.facebook.com/AllKillaNoFillaPodcast/
- https://www.acast.com/griefcast – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p063wgv5 – http://theywalkamonguspodcast.com/