Monday, November 24, 2014

Radio Redux via Podcasting

The world is cyclical and no matter what we do, history tends to repeat itself.  For those that can spot the trends, they can work to not repeat horrible historical events or capitalize on them.  In media, those cycles repeat themselves over and over again, just as TV copied radio, cable copied broadcast, and now digital is doing the same to TV.  We learn from the previous institution and reimagine it under new technological advances.

The world of radio was once the place for serialized dramas, comedies, and other theater of the mind broadcasts until the world of TV added pictures to the sound.  Radio morphed into news, talk, especially sports talk, and music.  But with the rise of the podcast, theater of the mind has come to the digital age.  The latest podcast is the much talked about Serial from the producers of This American Life. Per the NY Times, it is the "re-examination of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a Maryland teenager, that resulted in the conviction of Adnan Syed, her former boyfriend." Episodes range from 30 minutes to an hour and draw out slowly new information about this very real case.  And it is capturing a significant audience of listeners, including my own family. 

In an age where most of us seek out the full experience of sight and sound, this series has reminded us of the power that an audio broadcast can offer.  As more and more people hear about Serial, it is likely that it will enable other podcasts to benefit from this new interest in the spoken word.  And perhaps the radio medium itself can choose to revisit what once made them the instrument when millions of households would sit around the radio to listen to the next episode of Dragnet on the radio or Fibber McGee and Molly.  That podcasting has revitalized the audio broadcast once again demonstrates the cycles in our world and that history does indeed repeat itself.