I'm not sure what it is about podcasts that makes me so obsessed with them. Since listening to the critically acclaimed Serial back in 2014, I've been hooked. Whether it be true crime, a political chat show or a comedy sketch, I can't get enough; on the bus, tube or times I want to switch off I simply plug in. Scrolling through my phone I can see I'm currently subscribed to no fewer than 24.
My love for the podcast has never been more apparent; I recently spent hours upon hours traveling across an entire country and I would binge on podcast series like people binge on Netflix. I would get my book out to read or scroll though my video downloads but never did I read or watch for all that long before I caved and loaded up the podcast app. After all, there's only so much watching and reading a girl prone to travel sickness can do.
So what is it about them? If I really think about it, it goes way further back than 2014...
To the late 1990s to be exact. The modern podcast has perhaps unlocked a buried nostalgia that stems from childhood. Although bedtime stories were popular in my house, they would often dissolve into tantrum and tears before "Once upon a time..." was even spoken. My younger sister and I shared a bedroom which ultimately meant we shared story time too. Being three years apart, we would never agree - I would want Little Bear while she would want The Jungle Book. A supposedly calming activity to help us along with sweet dreaming turned into quite the opposite.
The answer to this repetitive bedtime catastrophe? A story tape. Why a stranger's voice proved more exciting than having one of our parents read to us I do not know but lo, they stopped the tears and turned bedtime into something we looked forward to. The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley was a firm favourite as was Crompton's Just William. Michael Rosen's poems proved so exciting that instead of sleeping, we swore to learn the entire tape (both A and B side), to which we can still recite now 20 years on.
But the story tapes themselves clearly did something more than just stop the bickering. Maybe the stories sparked my imagination which in turn ignited my dreams. But I beg to differ. If that were indeed true, surely I would be writing fantastical novels by now?
Or perhaps the obsession lies not with where my mind could be lead but rather where it is immediately led to. Maybe it is the immediacy in which a podcast demands your attention from the get go that has me. Unlike reading a book where you, the reader, build the story from scratch one page at a time, a podcast comes with its foundations laid. You are introduced to a narrator and the protagonist/s (almost) immediately - no long descriptive paragraphs to trawl through here.
Now should a podcast be a series and delivered in instalments, each episode could be looked upon as a chapter in a book and thus, each episode builds the foundations. What I mean, however, is that only a podcast must lay out its key narrative and themes in chapter one. Failure to do this = failure to grasp the audience = failure to launch.
Further, you are going into a podcast blind and can only rely on one sense - your hearing. Whereas a book can play on and manipulate your sight and touch, listening to a podcast demands you to do just that and only that - listen. When was the last time you just sat back and listened? You didn't flick through your phone or thumb through a magazine at the same time? A podcast has the unique ability in demanding little but asking a lot of you.
Podcasts haven't just become entwined in my daily life but for some they have become their lives, specifically in the context of the true crime podcasts. Just look at the impact Serial has had on the protagonist, Adan Syed, and those involved in his case in the USA or Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder here in Britain. They have brought endless discussions to the dinner table and television talk shows worldwide. The podcasts themselves have kicked into motion an extraordinary movement that is only gaining momentum.
Whether you listen to twenty podcasts a week whilst commuting or one every two months because you are nostalgic for the childhood story tape, there is one thing that is certain: do not underestimate the power of the podcast.