Out of the Blue
The Land of Pods
What’s old is new again
By Deborah Salomon
Until recently, I knew pods only from the English peas growing in Granddaddy’s garden . . . and tent-like enclosures E.T. might take camping.
In mankind’s insatiable quest for the new, the shiny, he-she-they occasionally turn up a relic that, when dusted off, can be recycled, then touted as le denier cri. I speak of podcasts which, in generations before Gens. X-Y-Z, were called radio: Sit down in front the wireless, the transistor, the boom box, and listen to people talking, music playing, ad jingles, news and weather, whatever.
Relax. Close your eyes. You could be listening to The Fat Man or The Jack Benny Show. More recently, on road trips, I enjoyed NPR’s Car Talk, international news, and a show where listeners challenged a chef to contrive a recipe from unlikely ingredients.
I understand why Gens. X-Y-Z prefer podcasts. Podcasts are chic, informative, entertaining. But thinking they invented the talkie genre, no way.
As for the name, Google informed me that it attaches iPod — the delivery hardware for the original product — to broadcast, an ancient verb turned noun. Though still confused, I stand better informed.
My first podcast experience was on TV. At the end of HBO’s mini-series The Gilded Age the audience is invited to stay tuned for a podcast exploring the show. What followed was a conversation between writers and producers. On the screen remained a still of the opulent set. Like when the picture freezes. My brain, accustomed to multi-stimulants, tuned out.
Better Google a definition before proceeding: “A digital medium consisting of an episodic series of audio, video, PDF subscribed to and downloaded through Web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device.”
Discouraged but still intrigued, I booked an in-person conversation with Frank Daniels IV, The Pilot’s radio/podcast-meister who was still a teenager when podcasts came into being, circa 2004. His tutorial filled me with shock and awe, as would a neurosurgeon explaining how to cut open a brain. He explained platforms, monetizing a famous or ordinary name, how 60 percent of Americans have listened to at least one podcast, creating your own, accessing subject matter, even libel vs. slander dispensed by hothead podcasters like the infamous Joe Rogan. He spoke on lack of filtration (censorship), when and where people listen (forget the bathtub), the appeal for children who can don headphones and run around or fall asleep while listening to Grandma read a story.
Really, Daniels knows more about podcasting than I know about chicken soup. Always smiling, he convinced me podcasts were the modern-day World Book Encyclopedia.
Like baking bread and knitting, podcasts grew in popularity with better-educated housebound techies during the pandemic. Only disappointment: no loaf, no sweater.
Daniels concedes that the medium has gone in too many directions. Millions exist, some super-interesting and educational, others mere ego trips. “But it won’t burn out; podcasting is here to stay,” he says.
Not sure I am, however, despite Daniels’ patient and enthusiastic tutorial. Obviously, podcasting makes him happy while just making me anxious, same as artificial intelligence and deep-fake videos. Have you heard about the new program that writes an essay or report from inputted facts? There goes my job. Besides, not sure my Android cell is au courant, or compatible. No Sirius or laptop, either, just a rickety old PC, a non-smart TV and an AM-FM radio. Can’t grasp RSS feeds. Too much up and downloading. Too many choices, like looking for a good beach read at the Library of Congress. Besides, ear buds render me slightly dizzy.
So I’ll stick with my little portable radio, a go-to during power outages. NPR survives storms and, even Daniels concurs, nothing lifts the spirits like classic rock. Should that pale, I’ll dig up old-time podcasts of 20 Questions, The Jack Benny Show and Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick, the must-hear news and gossip hour consumed 1945-63.
At least until E.T. invites me for a weekend camping. PS
Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.