Almost every week I find someone I want to recommend a podcast to. Most of my friends are interested in technology, as are my coworkers. So, shouldn't they take an interest in the Macworld podcast if they are Apple fans? You would think. What if the person is interested in the sciences? RadioLab is an obvious choice.
But people that are familiar with listening to the radio, CDs, and their iPods that don’t already make the habit of listenning to podcasts usually balk when they find out a podcast takes time to listen to. In a perfect world, a YouTube video wouldn't take longer to play than it takes to tie one’s shoes. A hit music track wouldn’t take longer than it would take for you to walk from your desk to your car. And a podcast wouldn’t take more than the time it takes you to sneeze.
This is the way it appears based on people’s responses to podcasts. To my face, countless people have avoided my endorsement of a good talk show. But why the aversion? What is it that people dislike about a good listen?
To find the answer I just reflect on my own experience. When I started listening to podcasts I wasn’t excited about the time length on many of the established shows. 5by5, my favorite podcast network, is mostly comprised of shows that run for more than 70 minutes each episode. When you hear about Back to Work from a blog and then you look into giving it a listen during your lunch break and its 2 hours or so in length, its enough to make you avoid the show without giving it any further consideration.
Yeah, you’re thinking, who in their right mind will dedicate that much time to one talk show? No show is worth more than thirty minutes of my time. I beg to differ. Have you listened to a show with that time length before? Are you familiar with the hosts Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann of Back to Work? Do you know that they talk about a wide variety of topics during each episode, which makes it more like a buffet of several mini discussions? Is it possible that these guys are really entertaining to listen to with your undivided attention? You may never know if you don’t give them a try.
People are too quick to judge podcasts they haven’t heard. If you think podcasts are practically the same as radio shows, think again. Radio is drab, full of artifice and bologna. There’s sooo many ads that are engineered to drive you insane. None of this is so with podcasts. If you are going to understand what distinguishes podcasts you’re just going to have to listen to a few to comprehend the significant differences for yourself. The difference between radio and podcast is as significant as the difference between chocolate and vanilla.
It takes someone who listens to podcasts to know a good or bad podcast. Who made you a professional critic? You’re hardly a legitimate one. You can’t say that a show is too long if you haven't given it a listen.
For the record, many podcasters are well-rounded podcast listeners. They understand the medium because they are behind the microphone and find themselves in a meaty discussion that lasts for more than 60 minutes on a regular basis. These podcasters realize that if their words are worth your time, then other people’s words are worth their listening ears. Podcasters are creative people that want to strengthen your imagination, wit, and knowledge. They register that ideas sharpen human minds, so they share as many as they can and digest as many as they can.
Let’s face it: modern man finds little time to read a book, let alone a blog article. The primary way many "read the news" is simply skimming through headlines on their phones. Where people can really learn about what’s happening in the world is through the voices of a good podcast.
Real podcast listeners discover that they don’t need to sit and do nothing while their stereos bellow out a talk show. They listen during their commutes. They put earbuds on and listen while they fold laundry and scrub their toilets. They listen while they cook supper or brew coffee. They fit it in where they don't have time to read, tweet, or watch the news.
Radio personalities... who knows what they listen to. Do you really think that radio talk show hosts listen to radio? I doubt it. They respect radio and its influence, and what it meant to the world in a bygone era. But much like you, they honestly don’t find the noise coming out of their car stereos that smart, creative, or attractive. Radio is a place where people that wish they were talented and are full of themselves go to yammer at people that listen to the radio waves for a lack of aptitude. Yuppies listen to radio. Everyday geniuses looking for quality over quantity fish for good podcasts.
And these days we have more and more drive time during our commutes, so what are you doing with your mind during that time? Think about it. You probably spend an average of more time on the road now than you did ten years ago. Commutes are a severe waste of your modern lifestyle if you aren’t:
- Making conversation with a significant other
- Listening to your favorite music to unwind after a long day’s work
- Listening to a podcast discussion about one of your favorite subjects
Or, you could just drive. What are you going to think about for the next thirty minutes on the way to work/church/school/market? Oh, don’t you dare think about turning on the FM dial. All there is to listen to are whiny pop singers and mindless reports of threats in the Middle East and Washington.
The thing is, there is an abundance of people that have already figured out all of this. I’m not the oddball—you are! For not listening to podcasts already. Do you have an iPhone, Android, iPod, or some other smartphone-like machine? It’s most likely capable of aggregating podcasts a dozen different easy ways.
You afraid of something? Like… learning? Being entertained? Getting a refresher? What do you have to lose for just a few minutes of your time collecting hours of free media? The point of entry for listening to great podcasts is already insanely accessible. You’re just a horrible person if you’re not willing to give it a try.
Remember that podcasts are readily available through the free Podcasts app for iPhones. You can find podcasts on your Mac in the iTunes store. Most podcasters make them playable through their websites with show titles, descriptions, and show notes (what they call relevant links related to individual episodes). I have it on good authority that platforms besides Apple’s iTunes serve up podcasts incredibly well too. And I’m not even going to address the plethora of other premium podcatchers (i.e. apps) that make the experience rich and abundant… but you can check out this one and this one if you like.
If you’re still not convinced to give podcasts a try, remember that you can always mark a podcast to be deleted or "listened to" and it will go away from your iOS device the moment you lose interest. Happen to find a podcast that is an actual dud? Ditch it and move on. I’m not saying that podcasts are inherently great. I’m saying that there is a surprisingly good possibility that they are worth someone’s time and ears. That someone is quite possibly you.
So look up podcasts that discuss your favorite hobbie and topics. Got only ten minutes on your next commute but the latest episode of a podcast is 30 minutes long? You can always pause it while you’re not in the car, you know. Continue listening when you feel like it. Podcasts don’t make life difficult, like radio often does. Podcasts are conversations at your beck and call. They will be there for you when you are ready for them.
Before I end, keep in mind that I’m not a lazybrain. I care about my time and attention too. I don’t want to squander it on lousy media. I think that if you have read this far that you are probably like me in this: You want the most out of your time spent consuming media.
So, if what you listen to doesn’t suit you, whether it is the six o'clock news, NPR’s bulletin at the top of the hour, reruns of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, or the latest podcast, then you should turn off the program.
On the other hand, if a show is worth thirty minutes of your time, and if you have little reason to doubt the rest of its quality, then the 90 minutes of the program will probably be significantly more beneficial to you than the five YouTube videos you’ll watch on your lunch break.