A Short History of Podcasts

Mario is a Digital Media Designer at Graphic Mint.

If you ask me, there’s no better way to pass the time while commuting to work, doing exercise or just walking around than listening to a podcast, not even listening to music. Your eyes are free to watch the road and your mind is free to learn things or listen to a joke or two.

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The art of the recorded audio talk show is an old one now. Most of the first half of the 20th Century entire families would sit around their radio in their living room just listening to it, most likely staring at the wall or each other. Classic radio broadcasts like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds became cultural phenomenons.

Decades later, televisions arrived, and so the main entertainment for families in their living rooms gradually switched to  watching this machine instead of listening to their old radio. Many thought the old art of producing audio broadcasts was going to simply disappear, but that wasn’t the case. Radio shows found their niche market in news and music shows. It is not surprising that people tend to listen to music or radio shows while doing some activities that require their sense of sight, like driving a car or cooking a meal.

More decades passed, and technology advanced in gargantuan steps thanks, in part, to the internet. Radio stations are still around and quite popular, but there a new medium appeared that lets you listen and share audio shows without limiting yourself to the physical boundaries of radio waves. Just at the beginning of the 21st Century, Apple introduced to the world the “iPod”, a portable device that lets you listen entire gigabytes of audio files called “MP3” files on the go. The name “MP3”, for your information, comes from the Motion Picture Experts Group, a group dedicated to set standards for video and audio compression techniques.  Obviously, the primary type of material consumed in the “iPods” were songs.  Kids would listen to their “rap” music and old fellas could listen to entire albums of the Boston Pops, to name an example.

Around 2004, the term “podcast” —a neologism made from “iPod” and “broadcast”— started to gain popularity for recorded radio shows transmitted over the internet. You don’t actually need an iPod, or any portable MP3 player to play them, it’s just the most popular medium to listen to them. Since then, thousands of podcasts have become available on the iTunes Store and other multimedia portals, with a very wide range of themes, styles and languages. One of the greatest advantages is that many more people have the option of creating and hosting these shows today, than when radio stations were the only ones with the means of producing and broadcasting them. There’s a lot of very low quality shows out there, of course, but there are also a lot of high quality productions with very interesting themes.

Being a proud member of the “geek” culture movement, obviously my tastes will seem a little bit nerdy to some of you, but nevertheless here’s my top 4 list of weekly podcasts. You can subscribe for free to them on the iTunes Store, this way every new episode will automatically sync to your iPhone or iPod when you plug it to your computer. Enjoy!

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe

Dr. Stephen Novella and his panel of skeptics talk about the latest science news and controversies. In a world full of quacks and misinformation it’s important to know what is scientifically accurate and what’s not.

Good Job, Brain!
The biggest trivia fanatics of the world bring you a weekly dose of trivia, contests, and cool facts about almost everything! Hosted by Karen Chu.

The Geekbox

Everything related to the geek culture: movies, comics, videogames, tv shows, is discussed here in great detail by an expert panel of geekologist led by Ryan Scott.