Increasingly affordable access to both personal media devices and digital broadcasting equipment allowed podcasts to become a vibrant avenue of creativity. While many of the most popular podcasts stem from established sources of radio and media like NPR, podcasting culture came along with a reduction in the cost of broadcasting equipment — a marked placement of digital technology into the hands of regular people. A welcome byproduct of this small scale of production is the personal touch found in most podcasts. Emphasis is often placed on firsthand stories or confessions, with a narrator speaking directly to the audience in a way that just doesn’t happen very often in conventional media. While quality can be seen to suffer from time to time, the amount of podcasts made by amateurs in their garage or at their work desk — like the gentlemen behind the salutary Legends, Myths and Whiskey podcast
— continues to inspire listeners and would-be podcasters all over the world.
The success of Serial
undeniably pushed podcasts into the public eye like never before. Started as a true crime spin-off of the also popular NPR podcast This American Life, the show used investigative journalism to revisit a nebulous legal case. Listeners flocked to the show in droves, boosting the perceived value of podcasts as a media platform. It was the fastest podcast to hit five million downloads from the iTunes store — and by February of 2016, it had been downloaded 80 million times. As noted by the Peabody Awards in 2015 when Serial took home the illustrious honour, “Serial rocketed podcasting into the cultural mainstream.”
The format has spiraled off in numerous interesting directions. The Sleep With Me
podcast features a host rambling on for hours to help insomniacs get their much-needed rest (108 five-star ratings on iTunes can’t be wrong). You Must Remember This
is a vivid study of the stars and rumors of vintage Hollywood. NPR’s How I Built This
details how innovators and entrepreneurs came up with products like Spanx, Clif Bars and Airbnb. There’s also a more PSA-bent to some podcasts: the Australian National Heavy Vehicle Regulator
has turned to podcasts to reach out to truck drivers (or ‘Truckies’) to inform them of changes to truck regulations.
As the Hot Docs Podcast Festival website states, “Just like documentaries, podcasts forge deep connections, open up new perspectives and tell incredible stories.” While there is multiplicity in podcasting (more and more traditional radio shows now offer a podcast compliment to their broadcasting) the form generally caters to listeners that want in-depth, long-format examinations of subjects. Hot Docs is taking this spirit to heart by hosting shows like Sook-Yin Lee’s podcast Sleepover
and the intriguingly titled Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids
at this year’s inaugural festival.
Passes to the Hot Docs Podcast Festival have now sold out, but single tickets to some events are still available. Check out their website
for more information.