Investigating The Podcast Phenomena: Why Did They Get So Popular?

Investigating The Podcast Phenomena: Why Did They Get So Popular?

It wasn’t too long ago when people would look at you strangely at the mention of podcasting.

We’d just gotten used to the concept off blogging and suddenly we had this new thing to get our minds around.

Yet, in just a few years, podcasting has established itself as a genuine phenomenon.

Dozens of new podcasts are popping up every single day, covering every topic you can (and can’t) imagine.

In this article, we delve into the history of podcasts. We discover why podcasts got so popular and consider the benefits of podcasts over regular media.

The History of Podcasts

People In Radio Station

The genesis of what has become the podcast phenomenon dates back to before the widespread adoption of the world wide web.

Back in the early 1980s, Radio Computing Sevices provided talk related software to radio stations in digital form. Early online digital distribution formats included MIDI and MBone. 

In the mid-1990s websites began offering audio subscription services. In 1993 the first internet talk radio show was launched.

It was, funnily enough, called Internet Talk Radio. Each week the host, Carl Malamud, would interview a different computer tech expert.

Listeners had the ability to pause and restart the audio files as they were listening to them. 

Downloadable audio shows began in 1996 with a comedy called The Dan & Scott Show. Then, in 2001, Replay Radio was introduced by San Francisco based company Applian Technologies.

This was a TiVo-like recorder for use by internet radio shows. It allowed users to scan a radio publisher’s website for new files and then copy them directly to the user’s PC hard drive. 

A major step forward came in September 2000 with the release by i2Go of a system that provided for episodic serial audio content to be selected, downloaded and stored on a user’s pc.

I2Go launched a series of episodic series covering the fields of sport, entertainment, weather, and music. 

In the early 2000s software developer, Dave Winer began developing the concept of combining sound and video files in RSS feeds.

In September 2003 he and a colleague posted audio interviews on the Harvard Berkman Center blog as MP3 files.

From this evolved Open Radio Source, which is still running, thus distinguishing itself as the oldest still in existence podcast on the planet.

The first BloggerCon web blogger conference was held on October 2003.

Group of People On Blogger Conference

Over the next 12 months, a number of technical innovations were introduced to enable the provision of a commercial episodic audio hosting service.

The first of these was Audioblog, which has since become Hipcast. 

The name ‘podcast’ for this new technology was dubbed by a writer for the Guardian newspaper named Ben Hammersley in a 2004 article.

The name was picked up the pioneers of the technology and soon became widespread.

From October 2004, How-To Podcast articles began to be featured in technical and then mainstream publications.

In November 2004, the first Podcast Service provider, LibSyn, was launched. It provided subscribers with bandwidth, storage, and RSS creation tools.

Two years later, London based radio station LBC began the world’s first premium podcasting platform. British comedian sensation Ricky Gervais used this platform to lunch his Ricky Gervais Show podcast.

His second season of the successful show was moved to It became the first podcast to charge users for downloads. 

The popular This American Life radio show began a podcast version in October 2006. This podcast still runs and is one of the most popular out there, with an average of 2.5 million listeners per episode.

The Adam Carola Show podcast began in March 2009. Within two years it had broken the record set by Ricky Gervais to become the most downloaded in the world with 59.6 million downloads. 

By 2011, more people had downloaded podcasts than were listening to Twitter. 

In 2017, the New York Times launched a Daily News podcast. It currently has the highest download rate of any United States-based podcast.

The advent of the Smartphone has run parallel with the growth of podcasting. This is no surprise. By round 2015, most people were walking around with Smartphones in their hands.

This gave them the ability to download and listen to podcasts anywhere at any time – from sitting on the train to waiting at the dentist.

According to Nielsen and Edison’s research, there were more than 700,000 active podcasts worldwide as of April 2019.

The most active podcast listeners in the world are South Koreans, with 50 percent of the population regularly listened to podcasts. 

Podcast Streaming

There are a number of reasons that have led to a rapid rise in the popularity of podcasts.

Foremost among them is that they cover such a vast array of subjects. It doesn’t matter what you’re interested in, you’ll be able to find a podcast to meet that interest.

Whether you want to just skim the surface of a subject, take an in the irreverent overview or go all in for a deep dive, you will be able to find a podcast to do just that.

Podcasts are also uniquely designed to fit into our lifestyles. If we’ve only got 10 minutes to indulge, we can quickly and easily find a podcast that will precisely fit that time slot.

Another huge benefit of listening to a podcast as opposed to reading something online is that it offers us options.

Many of us will find it impossible to carve the time out of our day to read a 15,000-word investigative report on a subject, no matter how into that topic we are.

But with a  podcast, we can listen while we’re doing other stuff. We can also pause it as we need to, allowing us to digest bite-sized chunks throughout the course of the day. 

Podcasts provide a level of personal involvement that you can’t get in any other format. Often there are communities that are built up between podcasters and listeners.

Podcasters often refer specifically to individual listeners on-air, allowing them to feel that they are an active part of the process (which they are). 

A great example of listeners getting actively involved in the podcast process is the true crime genre.

There have been a number of cases around the world where podcasts have been created around unsolved cases.

The podcast community has, in effect, became a huge team of amateur sleuths, with the result that criminals have been caught.

The most famous example of this type of phenomenon in the United States was the Serial podcast.

What are the Benefits of Podcasting Over Regular Media

Microphone For Streaming

Podcasting has a number of benefits over traditional media.

First among them is their unique ability to engage their audience. Many people listen to the same podcaster every day.

The podcaster is far more likely to give a glimpse into their personal lives than those who speak through other mediums.

This draws the listener in, making them feel that they really know the podcaster.

Many people get addicted to their daily podcasts, feeling that they cannot operate unless they get their ‘fix.’

Another major benefit of podcasting over other forms of media is its portability.

Statistics tell us that 70 percent of podcast listeners do so on their mobile phone, with the majority of them doing so away from the home. Podcasting, therefore, allows people to multi-task.

It gives them a way to escape from the boredom of a long commute on public transport or of waiting in line.

Podcasting is also very attractive from the perspective of the buyer of advertising. The average listener to podcasts is in the 18-54 age range.

Forty-five percent of this group have an average income of around $75,000. This makes them the ideal market for retailers who advertise on forums like podcats. 

In addition, Podcasters invariably provide more than one media source for advertisers to roll out their campaign on.

These will usually include social media, email and website advertising, making the offer far more attractive.

The attractiveness of podcasting to advertisers has a flow-on effect to potential podcasters who see the medium as a potential money maker.

Podcasting is, therefore, attracting more and more startups every day. Podcasting is a relatively low start-up venture.

There is nothing wrong with recording on a smartphone for the first couple of episodes in order to test the waters.

Another attraction to podcasters is that podcasts often involve free-flowing discussions that do not require spending hours and hours writing scripts.

Podcasts are also a perfect venue for storytelling.

This is a key way for small businesses to get their message across, allowing them to make emotional connections with their prospective customers. 


Podcasting has emerged as the most convenient and popular way to digest information across every conceivable subject.

In doing so, it has presented the opportunity for anybody to become a specialist in their field, building a thriving community and creating income opportunities for themselves.

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