If you don’t already have your own podcast, stop reading right now and — quick! — go record one. As of press time, people still outnumbered podcasts — Apple Podcasts lists some 800,000 shows — but the ratio can’t hold. In the future, your potential audience will be in their own recording studios.
As things now stand, a person could spend her whole day listening to just, say, poultry-related podcasts. There’s the “Chicken Whisperer,” “Urban Chicken,” “What the Cluck!,” “In the Coop,” the “Fighting Farmer,” “Feedstuffs in Focus,” “Poultry Health Today,” and the “Beak Guys” (this list is only partial, and that last one is made up, but just barely).
But before we dive any deeper into podcast madness, let’s acknowledge one thing: Several years into the golden age of podcasting, many people remain only vaguely aware of them — where to find them, how they differ from radio, whether you watch or listen.
In this America, people are going about their business as usual, bingeing Netflix and Amazon, listening to the radio, watching broadcast TV for goodness sake, and maybe, maybe, taking in the occasional podcast: the “Joe Rogan Experience,” perhaps, or Chelsea Handler’s “Life Will Be the Death of Me.”
They are not walking around with white AirPods jutting from their ears, absorbed in a fascinating discussion of the impact escalators have on everyday life (that’s the “People Movers” podcast for those who are interested). They are not Googling lists ranking the 20 best theme park podcasts.
But in the other America, it’s podcast mania.
Aspiring hosts are going to podcast conventions and podcast garages, listening to podcasts about podcasts. The audience is struggling to keep up with the torrent of content, tossing aside the pleasure of music, as podcasts that were once weekly are adding daily episodes, and daily shows are adding bonus episodes.
Folks who used to humble-complain about being behind on their New Yorker magazines are now humble-complaining about being behind on the New Yorker’s podcast, the “New Yorker Radio Hour.”
In Podmerica, everyone has their own podcast: grandmothers, stationery geeks, two guys obsessed with the “Gilmore Girls” (yes, it’s been off the air for 12-plus years), Trader Joe’s.
“People used to say, ‘You should have your own reality TV show,’ ” said Molly Beck, CEO of Messy.fm, a software company that helps people easily jump into audio.
“Now they say, ‘You should have a podcast.’ ”
That’s what everyone tells Natalie Breen, 27, of Medford, an account manager for a commercial real estate agency. And she finds it validating. “What makes me excited is that strangers would be interested in my life.”
Breen is not sure what the podcast would be about, but she’s got stories. One day, for example, she met someone at Dunkin’ Donuts who, as a girl at summer camp, bunked with Swedish royalty. That could be a show.
In an echo of the days when friends had to read friends’ blogs — or else — today everyone has a podcast that needs to be heard.
“It’s a way to maintain the relationship,” said Morra Aarons-Mele, who hosts the Harvard Business Review podcast “The Anxious Achiever .”
But with so many friends with their own podcasts, she sometimes runs out of listening time, in which case, she said, honesty is best. “You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re pretending you’ve listened.”
To the inexperienced, podcasts can appear nearly effortless. Turn on the recording device and just chat. And there are plenty of podcasts out there like that. If the UPS guy rings the bell in the middle of recording, why bother turning off the machine?
But to create something professional requires a team working behind the host — one or multiple producers, editors, designers, marketers, audience engagement experts, etc.
“I literally had no idea how long it would take,” said Juna Gjata, a recent Harvard graduate and cohost of WBUR’s “Food, We Need to Talk” — a new podcast about one woman’s quest to end her war with food.
Episodes include: “This Is Your Brain on Cheesecake” and “Doomed If You Diet, Doomed If You Don’t.”
The show — 10 episodes — took 16 months to create, Gjata said with wonder. “I think my family was starting to think I made this whole thing up.”
The number of weekly podcast listeners has more than doubled in the past five years, from 28 million in 2015 to 62 million in 2019, according to a 2019 Variety cover story that captured Hollywood’s interest in the new form of entertainment.
At age 69, Cape Cod gardening expert C.L. Fornari, cohost of “Plantrama ,” has contemporaries who have asked, “How do you listen to a podcast?”
“My response is to say, ‘Hand me your phone.’ If it’s an iPhone, the podcast [app] is right there. They never knew what the purple thing was.”
Before Fornari was a host, she was a podcast junkie who used shows to deal with her insomnia. “At 3 a.m. my mind becomes a dangerous neighborhood,” she said.
“I discovered that if I put on my headphones and listened to podcasts, either they would distract my brain enough to fall back to sleep or, if not, I would at least be learning something instead of listening to my mind chatter about how inadequate I am.”
Meanwhile, as lists of “podcasts good for insomnia” proliferate, perhaps nothing says 2020 more than the New Year’s resolution made by Breen, the Medford account manager who likes to tell stories.
“I’m going to start a podcast,” she vowed.