The long tail of audio

I spent this past weekend at the Third Coast public radio conference in Chicago. In many of the sessions, and hallway conversations, and up-way-too-late-at-a-public-radio-conference-mostly-drunk rants, you could feel a sense of renewed excitement around podcasting, and the wave of independence and entrepreneurship we’re seeing in this space.

Then, this morning in my inbox, via Seth’s blog, a prediction about terrestrial radio:

Just as newspapers fell off a cliff, radio is about to follow. It’s going to happen faster than anyone expects. And of course, it will be replaced by a new thing, a long tail of audio that’s similar (but completely different) from what we were looking for from radio all along.

Podcast networks like Radiotopia, Infinite Guest, Maximum Fun, Earwolf, etc. seem well-positioned for what’s next. Their lineups are full of subject and personality-driven shows. Individually, these shows might not draw broadcast numbers, but in the aggregate, they’re significant. These podcast networks feature shows that would never find a home over-the-air. Shows that are too niche, or too weird, or don’t fit a broadcast clock.

Some traditional broadcasters, like WNYC with its growing slate of nichier, podcast-only programs, give me hope that a few dinosaurs might give birth to mammals.

So then, what’s CBC Radio’s podcasting strategy? I can’t pretend to know, but judging from the current lineup of podcasts, it’s all about mirroring the existing over-the-air broadcast lineup.

The best podcasts out there embrace the unique properties of the medium. They’re intimate, and personal. They’re portable. They’re not constrained to broadcast lengths. They take advantage of the fact that listeners start from the beginning, every time.

Simply duplicating broadcast programming in podcast form isn’t going to cut it in Seth’s “long tail of audio.”

Way back in 2008, Mark Ramsey talked about “starts” — small public radio experiments that are all about trying new ideas.

Podcasts are perfect for starts.

Let’s start something.

Filed under: CBC, Radio


  1. peter stock says:

    Couple of things.
    In my mind there’s a Big “P” Podcast (a standalone non-traditional broadcast radio show) and small “p” podcast (typically archives of scheduled broadcast shows that I can listen to after their original air date)and we might need some new terminology to avoid confusion. I almost never listen to traditional radio when aired – inconvenient and too many local traffic and weather reports.

    But by the time I get through the week catching up on (“I’ll listen to it on the podcast”) a week’s worth of time delayed, streamed ATC, ME, WESAT, WESUN, On the Media, Radio Lab, Freakonomics, TAL… (that’s about… 28h of listening right there.) there’s no time left for checking out hundreds and thousands of quirky Podcasts.

    But Yes, if the NPR/PRI offerings were not so strong I would be chasing Podcasts. (I’ll take this moment to kick the poor old CBC Radio which I know is down. I listen to zero CBC podcasts and only listen to it live if I have no other option – Spark aside of course. You do the best you can with what I expect must be a very tight budget.)

    But funding is always going to be the Achilles Heel of good radio — both for CBC and Podcasts. Jesse Brown on Canadaland has, it seems, done a remarkable job of bootstrapping a Podcast that also pays the rent, but I doubt that talent and $$ always meet up so neatly.

  2. Jon says:

    Interesting thoughts, and I agree – there is still a surprising (and sometimes frustrating) dominance of broadcast-led podcasts, and not enough weird stuff. I have lately been wondering whether we might be about to enter a moment (you know, circa the popular explosion of Serial) where the ‘big’ podcasts enter some version of the ‘mainstream’ (like, erm, Arcade Fire winning a Grammy or something) … and maybe (some) people will develop a new hunger for quirk? I don’t know, it doesn’t feel that tangible.

    The other thing that’s interesting, since you mention the capital ‘P’ radio show podcasts vs ‘podcasts’, is how podcast producers sometimes have their work aired on traditional radio. As someone who produces podcasts that are pretty much equally weighted between sound/music and story/dialogue, the closer you get to the distinction between ‘radio feature’ and ‘music’, the stranger the gulf between these models feels. I mean, musicians are represented by umbrella royalty-collection organisations, and generally just want their shit to be played as much as possible – with a fee doled out via the royalty collectors per play (on radio stations that submit logs and pay license fees). Podcasters operate on the per-broadcast model of radio freelancers, with the trickier reality that often, their work will end up on the radio programme’s podcast/website for download (either for a fixed period, like 12 months, or forever).

    Swapping podcasts/music into each other’s contexts brings up a whole raft of fascinating questions, and I can’t help feeling these questions will only become more pressing as terrestrial radio negotiates its place alongside online stream/on-demand services, and radio features continue to find their place in popular culture.

  3. john says:

    Just to let you know this worked good for telus on a Iphone 5s but I have an Iphone 6 and telus fines you 50$ and this cuts the tablet service off as I have a 50$ limit Damm as I don’t need a phone either

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