Secret Histories of Podcasting

It turns out there are (at least) three ways to tell the secret history of podcasting: it is a story about technology, it is a story about a business model for audio, and it is also a story about the birth of a new art form. What’s really cool is that the whole thing is sort of a Rashomon narrative – in this special edition to mark the radiotopiaforever campaign your host attempts to tell all three versions using the same people. Visit to join the radiotopiaforever campaign. secret podcast

illustration: Celeste Lai

13 comments on Secret Histories of Podcasting

  1. Adam Lipkin says:

    Hey, Aaron —

    Loved the episode, but it felt a little like it was specifically about the history of radio-style podcasting. Just as ToE and 99PX aren’t the amateurish programs Dave was talking about (and all due respect to him, thank god for no three-minute gaps and the like), there are also entire swaths of podcasts that don’t feel like ones that NPR-minded folks were behind.

    And these aren’t just recent ones. Idle Thumbs, a video game podcast, ran a hugely successful six-figure Kickstarter nearly six months before 99PX ( And there are so many successful podcasts that are shorter (Grammar Girl) or longer (Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History) than the standard 30-50 minute show, and don’t seem built around the journalism/storytelling/interview model.

    I love the stuff in that journalism/storytelling/interview range (which is what I expect from Radiotopia, Panoply, Infinite Guest, WNYC, and other networks I find a lot of my ‘casts in), but that really does seem to just be one corner, and I’d love to know more about how, say, the History Podcast community, or the VIdeo Game, or the longform fiction (Night Vale, or more recently The Message) ones have evolved.

    1. Adam Lipkin says:

      Gah. I have no idea why I typed “Aaron,” other than not having had any caffeine. *facepalm*

  2. Frances says:

    Anyone who uses the word ‘motherfucker’ on such very slight provocation, loses me and any possible donation. Shows a poor idea of the value of words.

  3. Kyle Gorjanc says:

    I swear, every time I think the topic won’t be relevant to me I am dead wrong. I really enjoyed hearing about the weird relationship between being a creator and being a businessperson. Having to make money to make stuff kinda sucks. I’m there myself, albeit in a different medium.

    While I think Adam’s feedback is valid and I might like to hear the other side, I was personally engaged *because* you focused on radio-style podcasts. I think that’s simply because that’s the kind of thing I like listening to. RadioLab was my intro to podcast listening (which sent me to 99PI, which sent me to you), and if it weren’t for their production value, I probably wouldn’t have become the avid listener I am today – I just did the math for the first time, and it sounds a little nuts: between public transit and running I probably spend 3-5 hours a day listening to podcasts!

    My point is, I think Night Vale is cool, but I unsubscribed because it couldn’t hold my attention. There’s a story, but it’s so…loose? It’s hard to connect with it. The radio-style shows just do story so much better. And that is what keeps me engaged and coming back.

  4. A. La Vita says:

    Such a rich topic! As an avid public radio and podcast listener, two follow-up questions come to mind — (1) What do you specifically mean when you refer to “radio”? National public radio? Not commercial radio, right? which leads to my second question (2) What do you make of the fact that today, much high-quality public radio programming is made up of podcasts and vice versa? For example, CBC’s Wiretap, NPR’s Snap Judgment, and of course, This American Life…

    When I listen to NPR, no matter in what city, I hear a lot of the “intimate” podcast-style material that one of the NYC panelists thought doesn’t occur on the radio. I don’t just hear it in the personal-essay segments but in some of the news reporting too. So I guess I would challenge the implied idea that there is that much of a divide anymore between “podcasts” and “radio,” at least when it comes to National Public Radio. I think there is now a lot of overlap. But they’re coming from two different places.

  5. Kevin Acosta says:


    I think that mention was also due for Adam Curry and his Daily Source Code Podcast, and for crowd funding his No Agenda Podcast. And his crowd funding was directly through PayPal or people posting checks, before Kickstarter and without their commission.

    Good listening to the show.

  6. Fran Friel says:

    Excellent episode! Fascinating. Enlightening. Inspiring.

    I have to say that my heart sank for the future of Radiotopia, of which I am a supporter, when I heard the new executive producer say that her one concern was that podcasts shouldn’t be more than a half hour. Ugh. Personally, I look for the longer shows like yours. And this feels like the first step to controlling this beautiful coral of talented podcasters to perform more like public radio broadcasters. It was an “Oh, no” moment for me (enough so that I paused the show on iTunes and came to your site to leave this message). I’ve enjoyed Julie Shapiro’s work, but I hope she lets others live their vision, not hers. The individuality and diversity is the magic of podcasting. Homogenization, even in story length, may have a shackling effect on creativity for many of your artists.

    Thanks for all you do and how you do it, Benjamin!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *