What Is A Podcast?

You’re not the only person in the world who doesn’t know what a podcast is.

According to the 2019 Infinite Dial Report from Edison Research 30% of Americans over the age of 12 don’t either. Living in the UK I imagine that number is higher over here but we just don’t have the stats right now. Either way, what is a podcast is a question that, over the last 12 months, is being asked more and more.

So to help answer the most common of questions I get asked, I enlisted the help of several of my peers to get to the bottom of this fabulous medium once and for all.

What does ‘podcast’ mean?

The word itself was coined by The Guardian in 2004 by combining the word broadcast with the name of Apple’s mp3 player, the iPod. Podcasting had been around for years but under the guise of audio blogging. In 2005, Apple added the term ‘Podcast’ to it’s music library software, iTunes and cemented the word into our culture.

It has still taken a long time for podcasts to become mainstream though. In 2014 This American Life developed Serial, an investigation into the 1999 murder of an 18 year old student in Baltimore, USA. Including interviews with the convicted murderer, Adnan Syed, Serial’s producer, Sarah Koenig, created an audio masterpiece in investigative journalism that has been downloaded and listened to more than 80 million times.

In 2015, the sitting President of the United States, Barack Obama appeared on a podcast, recorded in a garage, called WTF with Marc Maron. The podcast was created after American comedian, Marc Maron’s radio program, Breakroom Live with Maron & Seder was cancelled. The Barack Obama episode received a lot of media attention due to the President’s use of a racial slur while discussing racism in America.

While podcasting has a low entry barrier (you can record one on your phone!) it has allowed anyone and everyone to create podcasts over a wide range of subjects from sport to politics and drama to current affairs.

In recent years, podcasts have been used by television companies to complement popular series such as Game of Thrones and Love Island.

What is a podcast?

So now you know where the word podcast comes from we can start to determine what is podcast.

A digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new instalments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.
— Dictionary.com

While the dictionary should provide us with the definitive answer, there are issues with this description. Terms such as downloading and subscribers are, in my mind unhelpful as they are words commonly associated with paid services. Yes, podcasts can be downloaded from the internet and podcast apps such as Apple Podcasts give you the option to subscribe but I can’t remember the last time I waited for a download rather than just streaming it directly from the host website.

What is a podcast to podcasters?

With over 700,000 podcasts available on Apple Podcasts there was no shortage of people to ask for their own definition of what a podcast is.

At its simplest a podcast is a combination of words and noises that you put on the internet for other people to listen to. At the other end of the scale we’ve barely scratched the surface of what a podcast can do and achieve in terms of connection, as a platform for stories to be created and shared, and not just entertainment but as a tool for change, education and empowerment.
— Ant McGinley. Producer of On The Left Side, the funny football podcast

Ant McGinley is an award winning podcaster and radio presenter. His opening sentence here is a brilliant one. It is podcasting at its core - words and noises. Ant also addresses the difference between podcasting and radio. Podcasts are available on the internet whilst most of us know radio in the UK as coming through FM, AM or DAB signals.

All round good egg, Victoria Turnball has very similar thoughts.

some audio that anyone can make, that anyone can listen to anytime over the internet
— Victoria Turnball , Founder of MICMedia.co.uk

That word anytime is a popular one when it comes to defining what is a podcast. The Podcast Host himself, Colin Gray, is no different.

Simply put, a podcast is talk radio, but on demand.
— Colin Gray - ThePodcastHost.com

When it comes to podcasting, you can’t get too much bigger than NPR, America’s National Public Radio. Over the years, NPR have brought us podcasts such as This American Life and Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. Even with such a high profile array of shows though, NPR still provide their definition of what is a podcast on their website:

Podcasts are digital media files that can be listened to on portable audio devices and computers. Despite the wide variety of content and storytelling styles represented within the podcast industry, the format is relatively simple: a piece of audio that you can listen to on demand.
— NPR.org

No matter how you dress it up, head to head interview, documentary, news or drama, podcasts are just pieces of audio. How you tell the story is up to you.

A podcast is a way to tell your story to an audience waiting to hear it. Think of Netflix, with all the shows, and individual episodes within each show. Well, this is podcasting, but mostly audio. 90% of listens happen in a solitary situation, so podcasts are speaking to the listener, stimulating their imagination and entertaining.
— Mark Kendrick, Ventoux.Digital

To the host of the Design A Gig Podcast, a podcast isn’t just any form of communication but an emotional one where a connection is made between host and listener.

An experience with a host who you can connect emotionally with. They give the listener chance to do other things at the same time as listening to the Podcast. It’s a chance to be educated and explore more of the world from other people’s point of view! It’s like a book for your ears, a video without a picture and a passion the host(s) want to share with you.
— Rob Smith - Host of the Design A Gig Podcast

So, what is a podcast?

Well you’ve heard it from so many people already but to me a podcast is a piece of audio, available on the internet whenever you want it, that tells a story. That story can be whatever the author wants it to be. All of the podcasts mentioned in this article are available online through a web search or any podcast app on your phone or tablet. They were created to entertain and be informative to their audience. It is knowing your audience that is key to producing a successful podcast but that’s for another article.

Looking to start a podcast but don’t know where to begin? Want someone to make your podcasting idea come to life? Need someone to edit your existing podcast and free up your time? I can help. Drop me an email through my CONTACT page. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.