Modern Radio

Podcasts are a relatively new tool to reach a broader online audience with different types of information. A podcast is effectively a radio broadcast online with a talk radio content that is information driven rather than musical or comedic entertainment. Podcast can have one author to tell a story; they can bring in audiences either in person or on the phone. With an audio only media the presenter and audience or support staff are required to make sure the audience keeps track of who is talking and what their role or authority is. The podcast examples we had for this week indicated in a couple of instances that audiences had called in or experts were in the studio to contribute to the conversation in a good flow to make sure the conversation remained engaging and entertaining.

The podcasts can cover a wide variety of materials. The Hindsight podcast engaged the sad and complicated story of Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. Army soldier who had been captive of the Taliban in Afghanistan and who was charged by the military with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The podcast explains the circumstance of Bergdahl’s enlistment and capture with an eye to provide evidence that the charges were drummed up. Another contemporary issue was tackled by the Playboy Covers Up podcast that looked into the issue of the new direction taken by Playboy to no longer have nude playmates on the cover and within the magazine, realizing that a new readership and marketing could dramatically increase circulation. In this regard, podcasts serve an opportunity to explore contemporary issues with an eye to explain misunderstood issues or explain the controversial.

The other two podcasts took historical topics. Episode 188, Fountain Drinks on 99% Invisible presents the incredibly interesting topic of clean water and water fountains as an issue. The author explores the issue from the devastating London Cholera outbreak in 1859, when John Snow discovered that contaminated water was to blame for the epidemics. The discover is usually credit with the creation of the London sewer system but clear drinking water is similarly important. The podcast takes the story of the water fountain through the various stages of development, including segregation and event spaces without fountains. The Radiolab podcast on Fu-Go tries to debunk the story of Japanese combat balloons sent across the Pacific Ocean with explosives to attack the United States. The two journalists present what their podcast description calls “a seemingly ridiculous, almost whimsical” story. A writer, geologists, and a professor join them. It is odd that apparently no historian or military historian was worth the invitation for this podcast.

While podcasts are a great tool and opportunity for people to tell interesting stories without much technology or fancy studio, the amateur nature of the podcast and wide circulation on the web has both positive and negative aspects to it. A podcast can reach a broad audience and provide some interesting stories for audiences. There is also the issue with errors and facts. While the podcasts selected were good, there are dozens and hundreds of others out there that perpetuate myth and incorrect material, if not outright conspiracy theories. Like in so many instances, the scary part is left to the consumer to make a good decision which podcast has accurate material and which one has not.

Niels Eichhorn


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