Storytelling, in any essence, has been around since the dawn of man and continues to evolve. Stories have been told since the days of cave wall paintings to pass on information. Then humans took on speech and a verbal language. Information was passed via mouth and memory. Writing and an alphabet was then born; allowing written passages that could be passed on and adapted over time. Then the invention of early microphones came into creation and led to recordings such as radio. Technology grew making ways for alternative versions of recording and spreading information like computers. We then came to know Podcasting as an emerging media format for the voice. No longer did you have to be restricted to set content on radio stations. Podcasting allowed users to have immediate access to information in their pocket, on their smartphone, tablet, or computer; available 24/7 as long as there was an internet connection. This format of information design provides seemingly endless genres of recorded; and sometimes live; audio for users to pick and choose what they listen to, when they want to. Podcasting rebrands the way we tell/hear stories and, learn new things. Aside from entertainment and knowledge, podcasting has the ability to influence thought when provided by high profile broadcasters, such as Mark Maron.
Typically available as a series of episodes, a Podcast is a digital audio, and/or video file available on the internet for downloading.(Nesi, 36) Podcasts can be used for numerous reasons but big hitters are for learning, teaching, and storytelling. You could also make an argument that they are also used for finding introspection and learning about yourself. The medium is becoming a way for students to retain knowledge and take notes easier as lectures are being recorded and uploaded. Celebrities are using them to tell their own stories and learn about things that fascinate or, intrigue them. Because of its inexpensive, and restriction free nature, it becomes a valuable means of information design to spread information. Additionally, Kyle Wrather outlines that podcast content is being made more available to younger, tech-savvy listeners, and potentially expanding their influence to reach around the world.(Wrather, 2016) What this means in terms of accessibility is that broadcasting is being made more available to no professional types without the need of high priced equipment or prerequisite experience. And with the access to information available on the internet, it’s also somewhat easy to learn how to record and edit. There were two events that took place in 2014 that had an influential impact on the medium’s skyrocket in popularity: Apple launched its native podcast app which made it exponentially easier to download episodes directly to your smartphone and, the birth of the podcast Serial; a spin-off of American storytelling show This American Life.(McHugh, 65) It cannot be denied that without talk based radio shows; whether public or satellite; podcasting wouldn’t of gotten a footing.
Radio Parallels To Podcasts
At this point, it’s it’s becoming more well known that podcasting is an extension, if not adaptation of the more well known and trusted radio format. In an article by Richard Berry, it is discussed that there are delineations between radio and podcasting. One of which is that podcasting is not an alternative to broadcasting(radio), but a realisation of broadcasting that should exist alongside radio.(Berry, 2016) It is suggested that a radio broadcast could be a podcast and a podcast could be a broadcast. A difference noted between the two is that while radio hosts could easily conduct their own podcasts, non industry individuals can create podcast that are absolutely nothing like radio.(Berry, 2016) The big distinguishable feature about a podcast is the delivery, freedom, and access to it at any time. With radio, a listener is subjected to whatever is being broadcasted at any given time; removing freedom of selecting particular content. Podcasting then, sometimes becomes an outlet for aspiring radio personalities to do their own radio in a more free, less formatted setting.(Berry 2016). There is also a “do it yourself” or, DIY aspect that lends to the attraction of the medium. An individual my find him/herself more apt to take up podcasting because they can create it themselves, in their free time; even if they have a full time job. Elena Solomon coins a term called “Pro-Am;” short for professional amateur. It’s the concept that amateur crafters; or in this case podcasters; can work on skills and trades in their free time and end up producing a just as good, if not better, quality product than a professional, with cheaper tools.(Solomon, 2013) Many podcasters do so in their spare time, outside of their normal, 9-5, day jobs.
As the term radio expands, there are now various forms such as talk based radio and chat based radio. Talk radio is a format that allows callers to contact the radio show to discuss topics while chat based is usually a panel of hosts speaking to one another about topics;like The Talk.(Ames, 2016). The likes of self proclaimed “King Of All Media,” Howard Stern, could be lumped into both categories as guests freely call into his program while him and his co-host(s) inject their own banter. Stern’s format allows far greater freedom than that of shows on public radio as he broadcasts on SiriusXM Radio; a paid subscription, commercial limited service. This format allows Stern the freedoms of a podcast and the distribution of public access radio. You could almost conclude that Stern’s monster ratings mixed with 100% content freedom, opened up doors for podcasting to become more palatable to both record and listen to. Stern started on public radio, being credited for blowing up on WNBC in 1982. His crude content nature was highly criticized; eventually getting him fired from the station after broadcasting a skit called “Bestiality Dial-A-Date.”(Soley, 2008). While his unemployment was short lived, it was experiences like this that eventually led to his shift to satellite based radio, which gavie him the room to express himself without fear of fines from the FCC or station backlash. Aside from the controversial topics he covers, he uses his radio show as a platform to narrate his personal story; often going into very deep detail of his personal life away from the show. He tends to play self therapist and try and figure out details of other people’s stories based off of his own experiences. With public radio, this simply wouldn’t be possible, but because he gets to decide his content, there’s nobody to tell him what he can or can not talk about. This could be a reason why podcasting is so attractive for many. What can be learned from restriction free broadcasting? How can this format be used to educate?
As mentioned before, podcasts can be used for absorbing knowledge. According to an article by Jonah Weiner, podcasts are a means for surprising, revealing, and above all, enabling encounters with people, things, and ideas we didn’t know.(Weiner, 2014). He relates them to a phrase of “feel-good-web.” Knowledge is much easier to absorb when you are enjoying the process of learning. Weiner goes on to iterate that podcasts are engineered to be easy to get through so you stay tuned in. And they differ from reading based learning in the sense that you could find yourself reading and re-reading a single sentence barely be able to focus on it while in podcasting, you can simply just “tune back in,” or rewind if you missed something. (Weiner, 2014)
In the educational space, podcasting would be provided as lectures, tutorials, and other learning material; whether it be audio or visual.(de Villiers & Walsh, 130) This information can go from teacher to student (substitutional podcasting) as a learning aid or from student to teacher (creative podcasting) as a way to show what’s been learned and further instill concepts.(Pegrum, Bartle, & Longecker, 144). Having students create their own podcasts, while not widely used as a method, is seen as turning the students into “knowledge creators” to help develop a range of student competencies.(Pegrum et al, 145). Because podcasts are so accessible, and increasingly widely used among students, they pose to be a solid learning aid/tool. In a 2013 study at an African medical university was conducted to investigate why the availability of lectured podcasts were popular with the students. After interviews were done and responses were coded, the results had shown that podcasts were seen the improve the quality of classroom learning and that they provided opportunities for understanding difficult concepts for students.(de Villiers et al, 133) Not only does being able to rewind and/or pause an episode help with retention and better note taking, but it allows you to pay attention in the classroom setting instead of worrying about taking good notes. In this case, the podcasted lecture could act as notes for a student. In a sense, a recorded lecture is another way of storytelling. Whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, or educational material, information is being provided verbally. One factor that the African university study did not get into was what types of deliveries appealed to the students. Another question that could of been asked to further evaluate the population of student’s interests was what style podcasts do they respond to best? Do they like being lectured? Do they like more of an organic narrative? Or do they like a conversation among multiple people, like a talk based radio broadcast. It also was not discussed if the lecture podcasts were done in any specific format. There is a thought that podcasts can in fact help students learn due to there being a variety of learning styles. Since podcasts are so easy to make and distribute, they could be made to fit every learning style. Students could also learn valuable skills such as planning, reading, writing, listening, and speaking if they make their own podcast.(Buffington, 2010)
As an opposition to a podcast’s use for educational purposes, there was a study documented in the British Journal of Educational Technology outlining that podcasts aren’t always best suited for educational intentions. The study reveals that there is increasing evidence that not all technology practices are applicable to academic tasks and that many students still prefer attending lectures and reading text over tuning into podcasts.(Kazlauskas and Robinson, 2012) This could largely be to podcasting not being widely accepted yet as a means for learning and/or teaching. Its heightened popularity is only less than 3 years old at this point, so it’s easy to assume that podcasting may find a more secure spot in the educational word as time passes and awareness of its potential is more known. The next step is to get more students exposure to the medium, instilling confidence and experience for them.
Additionally, could the use of podcasts to learn instead of sitting through lectures actually have adverse effects? If a student had a photographic memory and could retain every word of a podcast, but wasn’t involved in class discussions, would they lose the theories of the subject matter? Then one could take that argument to, what measures true understanding of knowledge? Would the need to be able to deliver it back soundly be enough, or would they need to show they understand, or both? OR, is listening enough to understand? This all comes back to being able to make podcasts for every single learning style. An idea to test understanding could be to request students submit questions to the podcaster suggesting they’re formulating their own ideas. The students could also be required to record their own podcast as a response to the lectured recording. Maybe a teacher requests a podcast recording back from students to answer the teacher has for them; acting as an assignment, test, or verbal essay.
Storytelling and Narratives
Because information seems to be more easily absorbed auditorily for many, it makes for great podcasts to tell a story. “Most podcasts are structured around the oral traditions of either storytelling or conversation, which underscores the most obvious formal fact of podcasts: they’re driven by voices.”(Weiner, 2016) While there are many podcasts created with intent to teach or inform, there are also ones used to simply talk. They may be talking about topics that interest them or about themselves in general. The creation of the podcast Serial seems to be what jumpstarted storytelling genres. This podcast was a “serialized” true-crime investigation based off of TV show This American Life. The podcast reached 1 million downloads per episode inside a 4 week window.(McHugh,66). In the article, McHugh cites the newspaper,The New Yorker, claiming that podcasting humanises the news. This goes to show that being able to tell a story, by your own rules, allows a delivery and pacing that appeals to listeners. Serial took real life murder investigations and created a story out of them, giving them personalities. This wasn’t just news being read off a teleprompter. The narrators are able to write the script and speak with emotion; giving the stories the humanising effects that McHugh references. Podcasts can use the art of narratives to provide stories to listeners. Being able to telling a story in this medium removes the visual allowing; your mind to get sucked in. Because the voice is the intimate key to the audience’s’ heart, listening to personal stories of other people, listeners feel a greater connection to the story tellers.(Lindgren, 2016) Bill Burr of The Monday Morning Podcast, uses his podcast purely to talk about his life, grievances he has, and to promote his comedy acts and television appearances. He also responds to listener’s questions; often asking him for relationship advice. To backup McHugh, people feel a connection to Burr because he speaks from his heart and shows raw emotion while telling his stories and making people laugh.
Another famous comedian using his microphone to dish his life saga is Marc Maron of the podcast WTF!. In the article The Pursuit Of Authenticity on Marc Maron’s WTF! Podcast, Maron was quoted as saying “I think when my show is good, it has the ability to humanize people who are for the most part publicly one-dimensional; the only way you can take them in is through mainstream media.”(Meserko, 2015) This lends to The New Yorker’s claims of podcasts and their humanising qualities. Aside from his interviews, Maron uses WTF! to narrate his life, especially during its creation, when he was unbookable near bankruptcy, as a way to fill the holes his career was leaving.(Meserko,2015). Maron’s interviews have a conversational quality that is also seen in other podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience with Joe Rogan, and The Fighter and The Kid with Bryan Callen and Brendan Schaub. These podcasts use long format conversations with guests as an outlet for personal narration and storytelling that break up the exposure seen from question & answer interviews from the media. People can get a real sense of what somebody is like when you can hear them organically communicate instead of just replying to questions. Maron, and likely other podcasters with low self image, makes claims that his podcast has contributed to his newfound identic stability. He uses it not only as a way to narrate his life; highs and lows; but also to learn about himself.(Meserko, 2014) If you take a look at potential motives for people to create their own podcast where the agenda is merely their life, they must feel as though they have something worth talking about. They are curious not only about information retrieval, but about themselves in general. Take a character like Maron who was notably at the lowest of lows, and turned it all around after success of his responsive podcast. What exactly was it about the podcast and his personal narrative that turned brought him back up? It can be argued that by learning more about himself, acknowledging and addressing personal issues inside him, he was able to open up enough to allow a connection between listeners and his podcast. He, like others, use his podcast as a vehicle to tell his story, in search of answers about himself.
Something to note about using a podcast to tell your story or narrative is it’s a way for the speaker to focus on interesting topics, ask questions, and reflect. This is so vital to the attraction of these styles of podcasts because they place human experiences as the centerpiece and use the stories to explore thoughts.(Lindgren, 2016). When the podcaster, especially of the celebrity nature, talks about issues personal to them, the listener gets to indulge in the vulnerability. They can then compare their own personal experience to that of the podcaster which creates a bond in their head to that individual or their show. It almost gives the listener a glimpse into the lives of someone they’ve only seen on mainstream media outlets before like talk shows or in news pieces.
Podcasting is the next step in the evolutionary process of how we communicate and learn as humans. Starting from paintings on cave walls to recording your voice as episodes, we are learning and telling stories in ways unthought of before. Podcasting is giving us a new format to teach, learn, tell stories, and seemingly endless possibilities further. By using the delivery of the human voice, we can build connections with listeners; humanizing people and creating a digital narrative of life through storytelling. The medium draws close ties to talk based radio and host paneled tv shows; allowing a crossover in audience exposure. Celebrities draw in more listeners by talking about their lives and giving the podcast medium a stronger footing as a viable form of information design. Additionally, podcasts act as a valuable outlet for learning about yourself and building a deep appreciation of your own thought process. Likewise, teachers can use podcasts to record and provide lectures to students. Students now have another way to absorb knowledge; being able to pull their smartphone out and listen to lectures with the ability to play, pause, and rewind.
Podcasts are simply changing the way we communicate;growing the appreciation in the the lost art of conversation and actually staying tuned in. Where will podcasting take us in the future? Could we see a different delivery method for podcasts? Or are podcasts simply another stepping stone in the evolution of the way we use human speech to teach, learn, and storytell. It will be an interesting ride over the course of humanity to see where this medium will take us.
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