Wednesday, July 27, 2005


"Radio is so constipated and so corporate and homgenized that it has been limiting and the appearance of new voices , and podcasting will allow for this." Randy Komisar, "venture capitalist," discussing iTunes 4.9 and its addition of podcast listings. (Quote from Newsweek, July 11, 2005.)

I first heard about something called "podcasting" in the late fall of 2004. Because of the word, I, like I think a lot of people do/did at first, thought it had something to do with an iPod in particular. We didn't have one around then and, as I was deep into school at that time, and could only worry about one new technology at a time. My new toy at that time was the WizzRSS news reader for Firefox. RSS stands for "Real Simple Syndication" and I think it is one of the most amazing things about the Internet of late. Click on the "What is RSS?" button just to the left of this paragraph for more information about RSS and why it can actually save you time when checking out your favorite sites.

Anyway, in May of this year, I read a message in a television group I belong to mentioning in passing that the people that had been on-air on the old "The Screen Savers" show had started a podcast discussing computers and technology. Wanting to avoid actual studying for exams, I went over to the site not expecting to actually listen to anything since I didn't have an iPod. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could listen right on my computer, no iPod required.

Of course, that set me on a search to find out what else was out there, using my old stand-by search term "comic books." The first thing I noticed was that there were a bunch of sites that collected the various podcasts available such as; Podcast Alley (which appeared to be the most important because it allowed listeners to vote for their favorite podcasts); Podfeeder; and None of these sites appeared to have much proprietary content, though appears to be the only place Adam Curry's podcast may be found. (After listening to some podcasts, I get the feeling that Adam Curry is the father of podcasting; Curry himself presents a history of podcasting here.

WizzRSS allowed me to subscribe to podcasts, so I subscribed to as many as I thought would be interesting. The Screen Savers podcast was soon renamed "This Week in Tech" or "TWiT" at the "request" of Comcast, the corporation that bought TechTV. Others I listen to regularly are "Comic Geek Speak," which features a bunch of comic fans in Philadelphia, I believe, having the same discussions comic book fans have had since 1939; "Collected Comics Library," where the host discusses and describes paperback and hardcover comic book collections; Ron Moore's commentary, which he records at home with all the coughing and door closings intact, for each episode of the new Battlestar Galactica"; "Comicolgy," the first comics related podcast, I believe, and one that focuses a lot on the independents; I Read Comics," the only female voice podcasting about comics that I know about; "Look at His Butt" (which isn't the gay porn it sounds like, but two female Star Trek fans who, among other things, extol the virtures of Shatner)." Two others, The Dawn and Drew Show"; and "The PK and J Show" each feature two couples talking to each other, being smart asses, and pointing out where the problems are in life.

In my opinon, the fun in these shows is that they aren't studio professionals. Even the professionals, the guys on TWiT, have sound troubles, "technical" problems like someone having hit the mute button on his mike, and have a cell phone go off. I've heard people stop broadcasts to answer the phone and it isn't a Comic Geek Speak show unless a dog starts barking. I've heard the host of Collected Comics talk as much about family illnesses and golf tournaments as I have heard him discuss the latest DC Archive. I've heard many a host, working by himself, complain about the content quality of the show as he records it.

To me, this is what made podcasting enjoyable. It wasn't slick, it wasn't packaged with the content predetermined and okayed by the corporate heads. Not since the early developemental days of radio, I think, when ham operators drove innovation, has there been a similar influx of non-professionals creating product.

Then came iTunes 4.9 a month or so ago. We had an iPod by this time, so upgrading was going to be a necessity, that this version was going to include podcasts a benefit. Then I looked at the podcast directory. Guess what? I didn't see many pointers for the "Tattoo Podcast," "a weekly half-hour show devoted to the world of tattooing and tattoos" or "A Klingon Word from the Word," thoughts "about the Scriptures, through the lens of the Klingon Language." I did see a lot of ads pushing Disney owned content from ESPN, ABC News, and Ebert and Roeper. The Al Franken Show was there, which I like, but it is a radio show, not a podcast. I can listen to Al Franken live over the Internet; I can record Al Franken's show off of the Internet to listen to at my leisure.

These aren't podcasts as I've learned to understand it. Apart from the fact that so much of the content on the front page of the podcast directory is nothing more than larger conventional shows chopped into easily digested five minute bites, there is little there that isn't corporate content of the type that Komisar is railing against in the quote at the top of this post. "Science Friday" is interesting and all, but is Ira Flatow a new voice? Is an eight minute interview with "Constantine from American Idol excised from a New York FM station going to be something that won't have its own version on an FM station in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Santa Fe?

If you are at all interested in listening to some of the interesting things being podcast, I suggest searching through Goggle for one of the podcast sites I mentioned previously. You can search through iTunes, but I don't like their search engine very much and some podcasts that I listen to aren't on iTunes yet. Look around the Website of the podcaster to see if you think you'd find the shows interesting. If so, then subscribe. A lot of podcasters want you to subscribe through iTunes, but I still use WizzRSS; subscribe how you want to, if you want to, but give the homebrewed podcasts a chance first before settling for CNN newsbriefs.

By the way, right after iTunes 4.9 was released, podcasting was discussed on "TWiT" and one of the people made a statement that podcasting was one of the communication methods whose spread was not driven by pornography. I thought about that at that time and I think he was right. Some shows, like southeastern Wisconsin's "Dawn and Drew," had mature contact, but discussion of sexual acts seen on Real Sex wasn't the reason the show was in existance. I just looked at iTunes list of its top podcasts. iTunes own "New Music Tuesday," has the most people downloading it, followed by "TWiT." Then at number three is "Open Source Sex." While I've nothing against filmed sexual encounters between adults where no one is hurt, I just think it is interesting that when the corporate-driven iTunes comes on-line enough people find and subsbribe to a "podcast radio show that is half explicit erotica, and half explicit sex instruction." The show's been around awhile, but it took iTunes to bring it out into the open. When will the cry "What about the children?" fill our ears over sex-filled podcasts as they are right now over "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas"? At least, it is a homebrewed podcast, so that counts for something.