By Madelyn Jones
Do you love being immersed in stories but do not feel you have the time to commit to novels? Are there subjects that you are interested in learning more about but do not know where to start? In the past couple of years, a form of entertainment that has the capability to whisk listeners into fantastical worlds or teach them more about the one they are in has become increasingly popular. Now when you see someone walking around campus with earphones, don’t always expect it to be music: it could be a podcast.
Podcasts do not require the time and effort required for novels — or even film — to learn something new or experience an intriguing story, since they can be incorporated into the static and routine moments of everyday life. As long as you have a listening device, like a smartphone or iPod, and some earbuds, you can listen on the go, whether that is on the commute to work or while eating dinner.
To most of us, the idea of podcasts isn’t not brand new. The form traces back its beginnings to the 80s, and maybe current Willamette students heard bits and pieces of podcasts like “This American Life” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” from our parents listening to National Public Radio (NPR). However, there has been a rise in popularity over the last few years. However, the number of listeners and diversity of the community has grown more recently.
While many of the most popular podcasts are educational and deal with hard-hitting topics, there are now a variety of comedy and fantasy shows as well. “Pod Saves America” is an example of the former. This podcasts stars four former Obama administration staffers, where they give their take about current political events. On the other hand, there are shows like “Welcome to Nightvale,” where listeners tune into a daily radio show in the ominous and fantastical town of Nightvale, with scenarios based off of H.P. Lovecraft’s unpublished works.
While iTunes and Spotify provide access to many podcasts, there are many other apps you can freely download to manage and keep updated with your shows, like Castro and Overcast. There are millions of hours of podcasts out there for you to listen to all for free.
Another draw of the podcast is how easy and budget-friendly they can be to make. This is not to understate any of the hard work that hosts and producers but into their shows, since many hours and hard-work can go into creating one hour of content. However, in its barest form, podcasts are more easily created than other forms of entertainment. All you technically need to start one is a host with a computer and microphone, meaning it is a platform accessible to a diverse group of people, a place where people’s voices can truly be heard.
A sure sign that a stronger community is forming around podcasts was the introduction of the first ever PodCon. This convention took place in Seattle, WA on Dec. 9-10 and was run by Hank Green, also the creator of VidCon, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, creators of “Welcome to Nightvale” and Travis and Justin McElory, creators of many podcasts, both comedic and educational. PodCon brought creators and fans together for a chance to interact and experience their favorite shows in person.
Podcasts have also caught the eye of companies seeing them as a worthwhile place to put advertisements. “My Brother, My Brother, and Me,” a comedic podcast hosted by brothers Travis, Justin and Griffin McElroy, self-dubbed “an advice show for the modern era,” has a section in the middle of each episode called the Moneyzone, where they highlight the companies that sponsor them, while adding in some goofs on the way. This show is not alone in that format, while ads might be played at different points in the show, many popular podcasts are sponsored by companies that often give their fans deals with a special promo code.
In a time that is riddled with technological advances, improvements in entertainment and a pervasive media, podcasts are a thing to celebrate. With their accessibility to listen to and create, it is a platform for escapism, to learn about that subject you have always been interested in or to get your voice heard.