There have been some interesting developments in the podcasting world in recent months. In November late night TV host Conan O’Brien began his own series of podcast interviews, and in January national treasure David Tennant did the same. Then in February, the news broke that Spotify would be acquiring up-and-coming podcast company Gimlet Media for a staggering $230 million. Podcasts have gradually been growing in popularity since Apple first added them to iTunes in 2005, but this sudden interest from more mainstream players could be the beginning of podcasting’s rise to a place alongside streaming television as a creative medium for the digital age.
In many ways, podcasts embody everything exciting about broadcasting today. Like Netflix, there is never a question of fitting a programme into a half hour or hour time slot. Podcasts can range from a 15-minute update on politics to a discussion on the latest Star Wars instalment that ends up longer than the film itself. Podcasts are the perfect illustration of how media is fragmenting – instead of a handful of radio and TV stations that must please everyone, we can all now watch or listen to exactly what we want when we want.
The podcast is also perhaps the purest example of the democratic nature of digital media. All you need to start a podcast is a microphone. In the past YouTube has been looked to as the place for the aspiring creator to make their mark, but this era has come to an end. The past year has seen growing criticisms about YouTube’s apparent disregard for smaller YouTube channels and sole interest in advertising revenue. The problem stems from YouTube having a monopoly on online filmmaking, but no such monopoly exists in podcasts. There is competition in both the companies where creators can host their podcasts, and the apps with which consumers access them. Advertisers work directly with podcasters, not through an immense corporate middleman.
The low budget nature of the podcast could even be argued as the reason for its growing popularity. Listening to a small group of interesting people sit around a microphone creates an intimacy that gives listeners a deep connection to the hosts. Some podcasts have racked up hundreds of episodes over the years, and the secret to their success isn’t necessarily the content but the hosts who have worked diligently to build a loyal community of fans. These fans will even pay to come and see their favourite podcasts live. BBC’s QI spinoff podcast No Such Thing as a Fish is currently on a UK tour including a night at the Hammersmith Apollo, and the London Podcast Festival is now an annual event.
But all this aside, the real reason I believe podcasts are the future is simply the audio format. Young people lead busy lives and have short attention spans, they don’t have time to sit still and watch something. Podcasts can be listened to on the way to class, at the gym, whilst cooking, before you go to sleep. Since coming to university I’ve consumed more podcasts than any other medium; probably even more than all those books I apparently need to read for my degree.
So, since this might be the last chance to get into podcasts before it was cool, the Arts & Culture team have provided a selection of their top picks:
The Guilty Feminist
Reviewed by: Olivia Jackson
For me, podcasts are something I’ve recently delved into. It’s such a fun and easy way to feel connected to both a national and international dialogue. One I’ve been binge-listening to on Spotify is “The Guilty Feminist”. Hosted by Deborah Frances-White, it is ultimately an exploration of what it means to be a 21st-century feminist. Frances-White argues that we have the power to uphold our goals as feminists but also undermine them through ingrained hypocrisies. This sounds hard-going but in reality it is intensely witty and relatable. Featuring a variety of comic guests, it catalogues a collection of shared experiences through comedy.
In highlighting the difficulties of creating a more representative and fair society, they show that more needs to change on a personal and societal level. In the latest episode, Bisha K. Ali emphasises that when we feel disempowered by a lack of momentum for change, we must remember that we all have the power to enact change in our own communities. Striving for inclusivity across the spheres, it also reveals the operation of intersectionality. It considers the creative arts and the power of women’s voices within the industry but also more widely the pursuit of social and political equality. Recent topics discussed include women in charge in film, the idea of domesticity, dealing with criticism, and celebrating feminist wins.
Reviewed by: Sophie Goodwin
Jessie Ware has released three albums in her career but more recently she has proven that her talents lie beyond the music studio. In 2017 Ware created Tables Manners with her mother, Lennie. In each episode, a different celebrity guest is invited round for dinner that has been cooked by Jessie and Lennie.
Although the podcast is food-focused, with questions such as “what would be your death row meal?” and “what are your worst table manners?”, the podcast is much more than a discussion of food. The guests on the podcast are so varied that each episode invites a different conversation that is often as humorous as it is interesting. Jessie’s guests have included the likes of Sadiq Khan, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Nigella Lawson and Alan Carr who have all provided memorable moments: Ed Sheeran set a record of eating four servings of sausages, no other guest had gone for anything more than thirds.
Surprisingly, the guests aren’t the best thing about this podcast. As I listened to each episode from series to series, it was clear that Jessie and Lennie are the stars. The podcast could quite easily exist without the inclusion of guests as their bickering and discussion provide listeners with both hilarious and intriguing moments. It feels as if you have walked into the Ware’s family home as you can feel the chemistry and the strong bond of the mother and daughter pairing. If you think of yourself as a bit of a foodie or just enjoy some good old conversation, then this is the podcast for you.
The Wooden Spoon
Reviewed by Ellie Bunce
In today’s society, the need to succeed – to go to a good university and to get a good job – are becoming ever more pressing concerns. While education has always been valued, it is now measured by exams that increasingly decide the life you will lead and the opportunities that will be available to you. As prices for university courses have risen and entry requirements have grown more stringent, students increasingly feel under pressure. This is why I wanted to mention The Wooden Spoon, a podcast recently created by four students with YouTube channels.
The first podcast that they have released discusses rejection. Through a discussion of their own experiences with rejection they explore how the definition of failure is subjective and consider the benefits and necessity of rejection for personal growth. In their latest podcast, entitled “The Perfectionist Generation”, they discuss the impact of social media on feelings of inadequacy and the negative impact that self-criticism can have. Ultimately, they stress the crucial need to find acceptance with imperfection. At universities like St Andrews, where the pressure to succeed generates stress and self-doubt, The Wooden Spoon is especially relevant. Most people will face rejection and feelings of inadequacy at some point, so it is important to accept and improve from our failures and understand that whilst not everything is perfect that is what makes life interesting.
The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast
Reviewed by Euan Notley
For those of you already into podcasts who are looking for something a little different, you can’t get more different than this. Complete with its fake sponsor at the start of every episode, The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast is an ingeniously absurd parody of the podcast genre. Billed as “the number one podcast for those involved or just interested in the production of beef animals and dairy herds”, comedian Benjamin Partridge investigates a different aspect of the insanely niche and totally made-up world of British cattle farming.
A typical episode will have Partridge joined by another comedian, in character, for a semi-improvised interview. The two then compete to take the interview in the most ridiculous direction possible while playing it completely straight. The show’s rising popularity has enabled Partridge to experiment with the format, allowing for live shows, a growing cast of characters and best of all a three-part spoof of the Serial-style documentary which investigates the rise and fall of a deranged Welsh slaughterhouse owner. Feeling like a Monty Python sketch taken to its illogical conclusion, The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast is a must for any fan of innovative comedy.
Serial Season 1
Reviewed by: Olivia Hendren
Serial was actually the first podcast that I listened to, and I attribute it to my fascination for true crime documentaries and interest in the study of law. First released in 2014, Serial is an investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig. The story is told over 12 episodes and details an investigation in to the 1999 murder of an 18 year old Baltimore high school student names Hae Min Lee. Soon after, Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Masud Syed was charged with first degree murder and has been serving time in prison ever since. Koenig, a previous reporter for the New York Times and ABC News revisits this case nearly 15 years later after stumbling upon the story and realizing that it may be more than meets the eye. This gripping podcast draws the listener in through Keonig’s analysis as well as her recorded phone interviews with Syed in prison as well as with those who were close to the case in 1999. Since the release of Serial season 1 and due to Keonig’s investigation, Adnan Syed is now in the process of being granted a retrial. In addition, HBO has picked up the story and will be releasing a documentary about Lee’s murder and Syed’s original trial on 10 March. I would recommend this podcast for anyone going on a log road trip. The setting of a road trip seemed to be the perfect environment to ‘binge-listen’ to Serial because each episode leaves you with new clues and theories.