Talk to any college student and there’s a decent chance they either listen to podcasts, host a podcast or know someone who does.
Just ask first-year Nathan Madvig. Madvig, who studies film and digital media, said the diversity of topics covered by podcasts appeals to him.
“There’s a podcast for everything,” he said. He joked that he could likely find a podcast about dairy farming if he looked for one.
A portmanteau of the words “iPod” and “broadcast,” Merriam-Webster defines a podcast as “a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet.”
Canadian actor Matt Schichter is widely credited with creating the first podcast in late 2003, a weekly talk show where interviews with guests were recorded live and uploaded online for free.
Since that first show debuted, more than 700,000 podcasts have become available across streaming platforms. Edison Research and Triton Digital released their annual “Podcast Consumer” report in April that estimated 51 percent of Americans have listened to at least one podcast in their lifetime, and 22 percent have in the last week. The study also indicates that since 2014 the average American doesn’t just listen to more podcasts, they listen to podcasts more than other types of audio, such as music streaming or AM/FM radio.
While it might seem to some like the trendiness of podcasts came out of the blue, Florence Chee Ph.D., an assistant professor in Loyola’s School of Communication specializing in digital communication, explained that their rise in popularity has been a long time coming.
“Given that there is an increase in the number of people with the ability to make them … and also [a] number of people able to access and listen to them, they are a good way to consume media with eyes and hands free,” Chee said in an email to the Phoenix.
For students like Olivia Simon, the hands-free aspect of podcasts is a major benefit. Simon, a Loyola sophomore majoring in political science, said podcasts provide her with something to listen to while accomplishing other tasks, such as biking, crocheting or cooking.
For Simon, podcasts such as “Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness,” a weekly talk show hosted by the “Queer Eye” cast member, are a “very accessible” medium. She said they allow listeners to feel connected to the person hosting the show in a way that television shows don’t.
“It’s just you and the person,” she said. “It’s a much more personal thing.”
Some podcasts make an effort to directly involve listeners, such as “My Brother, My Brother and Me,” where hosts Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy read and answer questions that listeners have submitted.
Madvig cited the weekly comedy advice podcast as one of his favorites. He said he often listens to podcasts while riding public transit as a way to beat boredom.
“It’s nice to have an easy access to that type of entertainment,” he said.
The multitude of available podcasts contributes to their popularity, according to Chee. There’s both a demand for podcasts and a high volume of shows across several platforms, she explained, adding that there is a low barrier to starting a podcast if a creator has the ability to record digitally.
Shelby Kluver, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism, knows firsthand what’s involved in starting a podcast. Kluver hosts a podcast produced through the online women’s magazine Her Campus with her friend Diana Raspanti. Kluver said she and Raspanti, who are co-presidents of the Loyola chapter of Her Campus, “really wanted to branch out more into other mediums of communication.”
Their podcast, called “Getting There,” is a weekly series about navigating the uncertainty college students feel nearing graduation, as well as the fun and joyous aspects of the transition. Each episode covers a different topic and is around half an hour long, which Kluver said is an ideal length for students commuting between Loyola campuses.
As someone who both listens to podcasts and hosts one herself, Kluver has a unique insight into what makes podcasts so appealing.
“It’s like having a conversation where you don’t have to put in the work,” Kluver said.
She said her favorite podcasts, such as “The Memory Palace” with Nate DiMeo and “Criminal” with Phoebe Judge, leave her feeling contemplative.
It’s clear podcasts are having a moment in pop-culture right now. Celebrities including David Tennant, Snoop Dogg and Gwyneth Paltrow all have their own podcasts. Jon Lovett, Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer, the hosts of popular political and current events podcast “Pod Save America,” have been guests on Stephen Colbert’s show multiple times.
“Saturday Night Live” even debuted a sketch on Oct. 12 called “Father-Son Podcasting Microphone,” a parody commercial poking fun at common tropes of podcasts such as sponsorships from SquareSpace.
The bridge between mainstream media and the podcast world appears to be growing stronger as time passes, and with 700,000 podcasts and counting it doesn’t seem like the form of media will lose steam any time soon.