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Podcasting: A Seismic Shift

March 10, 2011

On a recent episode of the Adam Carolla Show — a podcast I listen to only when the guest is someone of interest — actor Jerry O’Connell congratulated former radio host Carolla on his podcast, and told him “You know, a year ago it might have been thought of as a demotion, but not now.”

Little Fat Vern was right. And I blame Kevin Smith for that.

Three years ago, director Smith and producer Scott Mosier  started a podcast called Smodcast. When I heard about it, I expected it to be canned items from Smith’s roaming spoken-word tours, so I was surprised to find it to be a podcast in the truest sense of the word, like the others I enjoyed: two guys at home with microphones, rambling and talking.

This, for years, was what most podcast have been. There are, of course, the recycled radio shows; they’re released as podcasts, but they originated as fully produced in-studio professional radio programs. Not in someone’s basement.

Anyway, Smith has expanded his podcasting “empire,” adopting a ’70s sitcom “recorded live before a studio audience” format as he launches show after show. I’m not sure when he sleeps. But the formula works, in small doses; I really don’t need to hear, yet again, how small Little Kev is, and how he injured it the first time he got frisky with his wife.

Meanwhile, Carolla, one of those host/announcer types who has been around forever, was turfed from his radio gig last year and turned to iTunes instead, following Smith’s lead, where he continues to produce an almost-daily talk show with a few more F-bombs. And there’s Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, an interesting rant show with comedy guests — again, something I listen to only when the featured comedian is someone I like. Famous people, it appears, have discovered podcasting.

Podcasts, when you think about it, are suited for standup comics, more and more of whom are becoming radio hosts anyway (in Canada, our nightly current affairs program, CBC radio’s As It Happens, is now co-hosted not by a veteran journalist, but by this guy). Podcasts are replacing TV spots and live gigs as a way to get their work out there. I would never have heard of Marc Maron if he hadn’t started podcasting, not that I’m sure this is a good thing yet.

If you do this with your belt buckle, you deserve Dane Cook.

If Dane Cook, who, to his credit, was the first comic to exploit the hell out of the Internet to achieve stardom, launches a podcast, I will probably listen, then implode.

So where does this leave the original wave of podcasters, people like Geeks On, Horror Etc., Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Comics Geek Speak, Treks in Sci-Fi and, of course, Simply Syndicated? (I’ll admit that list is a little skewed toward what I like, because I don’t listen to that knitting show). It’s difficult reading that Jason Mewes is suddenly the biggest podcaster in the world when people like these fine folks have been working hard for years to bring audiences information that goes beyond a repeated desire to have people’s tongues put where they shouldn’t go.

Like I mentioned, I dip into these comedy shows from time to time, but my day-to-day listening (remember, I work out of a banged-up red minivan full of laptops, video gear and empty coffee cups) remains with these original programs. Someone I know calls them “craft radio,” but I stick with “podcasts,” a word I’m happy to use and explain, which I have to do almost daily. These are the shows that speak to me as a person, not to me as a fan of Patton Oswalt or Jay and Silent Bob.

These are the programs Little Fat Vern was referring to as being of “demotion” level, and that illustrates the attitude the general public has towards things like this. All I can hope for is that the intrusion of these big famous rich stupid people into our beloved industry helps spread the word — literally and figuratively — and elevate podcasting in general to a wider audience — and bring the little shows I love to people who might like them, too. This seismic shift has been a long time coming.

As I do regularly, I urge anyone who doesn’t listen to podcasts to visit the iTunes store, type in a topic and follow the links to the free podcasts. Or just go to Google, type in your favourite topic plus the word podcast, and see where it leads. You might be very, very surprised at what you find.

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