Ah Luuuuv Me Some Podcasts

The first podcast I ever subscribed to turned me initially turned me off of the whole concept. It was an NPR podcast about music. First of all if I want to hear people talking about music, it has to be mind blowing conceptual stuff not covering a re-release of a Beatles anthology or a “where are they now” story about a new album from some mildly clever song writer that probably should have stayed retired. Usually I just let the music speak for itself; either I like it or I don’t. So not only was I not interested in their premise but they would dump another one I didn’t care about in my 4 gig mini every week.

I think the podcast that changed it for me was called “Berkeley Groks.”

:::tangent alert::: “Groks,” caught my eye because it was feature in Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and it represented a Martian state of mind that, lightly translated, meant to understand but this was a very deep understanding and the more literal translation was “to drink.” It was the deep investigation of this fictional construct that inspired several folks in the 60s to try and make a religion out of the book. Heinlein, however, chose not to go the L. Ron Hubbard rout and tried to make it clear to everyone that it was just a story. :::tangent complete:::

So I listened to Berkeley Groks while doing some of the more mindless busy work. Simple premise: two guys at UC Berkeley read some science news, have a science interview, goof around a little and that’s it. What made a bit of a difference was this wasn’t science reporting from the mainstream media, these were two science guys. When one guy was reading the story, the other would understand the implications and ask just the right questions to make the story that much clearer. Then next really exciting feature happened one day when I had a question about something they covered so I emailed, asked and had an answer within the day. Many of these podcasts are have much smaller more targeted audiences so they end up being much more accessible. I saw the potential and used it to justify going from the 4 gig mini to a 30 gig video.

The Content Revolution

Another feature that sets podcasts apart from a radio (I’m mostly concerned with Audio podcasts at this point) they don’t have to answer to any company or sponsors. One reason it was really easy for me to forsake traditional radio, save npr perhaps, was the constant stream of offensive commercials; all the effort bells and whistles encouraging me to strap on my bib and go down to the new TGI Fridays to try their new battered stake melt or worse the patronizing commercials compelling me to vote for the next racists hate filled ballot proposition to take money away from any school program that isn’t an apple pie wonder bread Jesus kids’ baseball team (ok that may just be AM radio). A podcaster can start tomorrow with limited overhead and no experience and learn as they go. If I go back to archived versions of some of my favorite podcasts, they were once pretty bad but over time they learned their craft and eventually rose to higher ranks through the entertainment meritocracy. This is yet another branch of the internet changing entertainment; the means of distribution is now available to virtually anyone. Things that were separate industries: movies, tv, radio, magazines, newspapers and books are all now just variations of content and anyone can self produce and promote at any time. Now as a result of course there is a lot of garbage out there. Every few months or so I have to purge the podcasts that aren’t doing it for me and then go fishing for new ones to fill in the empty slots. Since there’s no more battle for air time, everyone can have a shot and there are always new ones popping up. Also a show can sustain itself with a much smaller audience so some idea that was kicked to the corner of a conventional news show, i.e. the Tech. Corner, can now exist on its own and target their own audience.

The Community

One of the first podcasts to really get me hooked, slice if sci-fi, does something I haven’t seen anywhere else. They created a separate show dedicated to listening to listener feedback on the regular show. The convention on many other shows is to have some time set aside for reading emails and playing voicemails but this is 30 minutes + of every voicemail that they can fit. This voicemail show grew a life of its own. Often it’s comments about the regular show but sometimes people go further to produce micro- sketches in the form of fake “what if” movie trailers or even small songs. I was reminded of the Alex Bennett morning show when I was growing up and some callers became re-occurring characters. This is much like that only many more people get a shot, plus its voicemail so you can pre-record and produce something rather than having to go live. You have option of emailing a sound file. So, the show has a loyal fan base that gets a chance to get into the act. I remember the despair I felt when the Alex Bennett show finally succumbed to the juvenile corporate idiot fest that was Howard Stern. The show was nationwide and it killed any local flavor. Well with the podcasts, they are actually international but as I said before the audience is targeted so instead of impersonal pre-programmed corporate radio, you can choose to become part of a community. Another cool thing with the new media is the conversation never has to stop. In the case of Slice of Sci-fi, they have the show and then the voicemail show but also both shows have a place on their website where you write comments. And for more in-depth discussions there’s another link to the forums where people can share, debate, and rant on any related subjects. The top-down authoritarian model of media is giving way to an egalitarian modular form and I have to say I like the way its going. I don’t need a giant corporation telling me what I want to see/hear/read. The new media has the chance to become a true meritocracy. Of course just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s of any artistic value but now even if something is popular and you don’t like it, something more suited to your tastes will be a few clicks away.

Some of my Favorites:


1 Comment

  1. euclidcreek said,

    February 26, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Good article. You probably would have liked short wave radio back in the day, before the net.

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