By Frank Piscani
WASHINGTON – For American University sophomore Lucas Anderton, podcasting always seemed like a good idea.
Anderton always knew he wanted to start a podcast but couldn’t figure out a topic to use. Early in his first semester at American, however, he was drawn to political conversations with his roommate, Edward Mikkelson.
The two were matched randomly, but the pairing made for a good fit as their shared interest in current events sparked many conversations.
“Somehow, I ended up with one of the few outspoken conservatives on this campus as my roommate,” said Anderton, who identifies as a Democrat. “And so one day I was just like, ‘What if we recorded these conversations?’ … So it was kind of born from there.”
Anderton and Mikkelson uploaded the first episode of their podcast, “Go Wonk Yourself,” in December 2017 and have been recording episodes since. The attraction to podcasting, Anderton said, stems from the ability to share ideas and discussions.
“It’s a medium that is here to stay,” said Anderton, who is part of American’s interdisciplinary major in communication, legal institutions, economics and government.
Anderton’s podcasting journey reflects the greater trend over the past decade, during which podcasting has become increasingly popular in the United States. Apple Podcasts now features over half a million shows, indicative of a full-blown industry. The podcasting boom is due to an accessible outlet for opinions and a variety of niche topics, ensuring that any interest can be covered.
The Infinite Dial, an annual study by Edison Research that details research on technology usage and trends, shows an increase in familiarity and consumption of podcasts since 2006. According to the 2019 data, the percentage of Americans age 12 and older that are familiar with the term “podcasting” increased from 22% in 2006 to 70% in 2019. The study said 51% of Americans age 12 and older — an estimated 144 million people — have listened to a podcast at least once, up from 11% in 2006.
Jason Bryant, the founder of the Mat Talk Online podcast network, said the boost in consumption is because “more people know what a podcast is.”
“Five years ago, that wasn’t so easy,” said Bryant. “ ‘What’s a podcast? Oh well I don’t have an iPad, an iPod, I can’t listen to that.’ The things you would expect your grandma to say.”
Podcast networks like Bryant’s have become increasingly relevant as the industry expands because they bring niche podcasts to one location. Mat Talk Online, for example, produces over 20 podcasts about collegiate and international wrestling. Podcasts that launch within a network benefit from have a preestablished audience.
Several other reasons stand out as making podcasts popular, but a wealth of niche topics, creators’ freedom and the low barriers to entry are among the most prevalent.
“There’s a lot of podcasts out there,” said Gastón Reboredo, a podcast producer at The Brookings Institution. “Whatever interest you have in life, there’s a podcast about it.”
The 540,000 shows on Apple Podcasts serve as a testament to the size and diversity of the medium. The increased consumption of podcasting has led to the growth of a genuine industry, said Bryant.
“It’s gone from nothing to an industry,” said Bryant.
While Bryant said that “hobby-podcasters” produce roughly 90% of podcasts, he pointed out that a small percent of creators can earn six-figure salaries.
Most podcasters make very little money, which comes from ad revenue or Patreon, a crowdfunding platform where fans pay to support creators. Patreon and other crowdfunding services are the most likely way for individual creators to earn money, said Bryant, since advertising deals are not available to most creators.
Because of how easy it is for, say, a college student like Anderton to simply record his voice, anyone can create a podcast that speaks to their individual interests. Anyone could easily begin a podcast to discuss any of their interests.
Once a podcaster records their show, getting it online is just as easy, said Bryant. Apple Podcasts and Spotify are two major platforms for podcasts, and Bryant said they provide easy instructions about uploading RSS feeds, the web format through which all podcasts are streamed.
The uses of podcasting extend beyond entertainment and their diversity, however, and into the classroom, said Jenna Spinelle, the communications specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Pennsylvania State University. At Penn State, Spinelle has seen how podcasts can be beneficial in the classroom.
“Podcasting works well as an alternative to books or articles,” said Spinelle. “For some people, it’s easier to digest the information.”
Patrick Jackson, a professor in American’s School of International Service, has made use of podcasts as that alternative. He first introduced podcasts in his classes over a decade ago, and, while not all students were receptive, many were.
“One of the first groups that really liked it were students for whom English was their second language, because they could relisten, because they could slow things down,” said Jackson. “The thing I most want to do is use the classroom as kind of a flexible space for discussions, and, sometimes, the podcast helps with that.”
Due to the opportunities to create and listen in abundance, podcasting has marked itself as the platform of the people.
“At the end of the day, we get a lot more control over what we say and how we want to say it,” said Cameron Boozarjomehri, who hosts the “Sweating the Small Stuff” podcast.
Based in Arlington, Virginia, Boozarjomehri’s show aims to explore and discuss the small details of topics he and his listeners find interesting, such as why the Marvel superhero Ant-Man should be blind. Despite covering broad topics, Boozarjomehri said he believes he is still hitting a niche by audience targeting small details in popular culture and beyond.
Online on-demand media platforms have been replacing traditional forms of media, with streaming services like Netflix and Spotify beginning to overtake television and radio, and podcasting looks like the next step in that process. “Who actually turns on the radio in a car anymore?” asked Anderton.