Friday, December 26, 2008

Media: Podcasts Make Us Program Directors

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - TransMedia Radio Networks, the one-time distributor of Jim French's Imagination Theater radio dramas, used to run an advertisement during these shows telling people that they could "be their own program directors." Instead of having to listen to radio shows when their local radio station decided to run them, TransMedia suggested purchasing a subscription to weekly CD's of Imagination Theater to listen to whenever was convenient.

TransMedia was on to something, but mailed CD's weren't the way to make it happen, and not just because of the expense. Podcasting of broadcast radio shows would be the enabling technology to turn listeners into their own program directors. Thanks to Really Simple Syndication and software like iTunes that make managing audio files and transferring them to portable devices a near trivial task, it takes only a few moves and clicks of a mouse to make a radio program appear on one's MP3 player, ready to be listened to, usually just once, at any time. That's a lot easier than looking for a CD.

The podcasting phenomena really took off in 2005, just in time for a period in which I was wandering the country while searching for work. By the time I moved to Toronto in 2006, podcasting allowed me to implement something close to my ideal radio schedule in my daily schedule. Sure, I could have resorted to rather complicated measures to hear many of the shows, as WNED-AM out of Buffalo carried Marketplace, for example, but it was much easier to just download the podcast and listen to it off my computer later in the evening. Other shows, like Free Speech Radio News and KUOW-Seattle's The Conversation would not have been available at all without some kind of Internet feed, though conceivably that could have been a more complicated one than the podcast.

In many ways, it's great to be able to listen to one's favorite shows no matter where one is located. What I listen to on the radio here in the Seattle area isn't all that different than what I would be listening to in Toronto. However, there is a downside to all this accessibility. Where it used to be that if a program was missed, it was missed, now there's no excuse to miss anything. While traveling on an airplane, not listening to one's normal programming, it's piling up under one's podcast directory.

Historically, the holidays were a time for me when between repeat programs that didn't need to be heard and programs were just plain missed while engaging in holiday activities. Instead, the podcasts are stacking up. As I write this (listening to a podcast of an On Point show I missed earlier today), I have 1.5 days worth of old podcasts to catch up on. Even assuming that I don't fall farther behind, it will take a month to catch up.

All this completely changes dynamics about programming. Whereas I used to look forward to traveling and checking out different programming in the places I visit, now I feel compelled to catch up on podcasts all the time. In fact, I want to find reasons to decide that a show isn't up to standards anymore so I can drop its podcast and not listen anymore. Where I used to complain about the lack of quality programming, now I almost wish there were less of it so that I wouldn't feel that I was missing so much.

Technology moves things forward on a regular basis, but sometimes it would seem to be better to just slow down. There were things that were a lot simpler when we couldn't be our own program directors.

No comments: