In the Ossa network, we have a huge variety of podcasters. Some have been publishing for over a decade while others just launched this year. If there’s any silver lining to the 2020 global lockdown, it’s the emergence of all these amazing new content creators!
Thinking about this got us curious about the history of podcasting – who invented podcasts? What did podcasting look like in the early years of the internet? How did discovery and promotion work before social media? What does this history plus the current trends of the podcasting industry indicate for the future of this medium? Let’s explore:
Let’s begin with the basics. What is a podcast? It’s typically understood as a series of spoken word audio files available for streaming online or downloadable to personal devices (just like music). The topics of these episodic series of audio range from wide-reaching lifestyle/influencer types of topics for casual listening to extremely niche subjects with tight-knit communities who listen religiously. With over 1,500,000 podcasts, there is truly a podcast for everyone.
The term “podcast” is actually a combination of “iPod” and “broadcast.” In other words, the host is broadcasting directly to your listening device. This term was coined by journalist Ben Hammersley in The Guardian in a 2004 about the potential of the then-new medium.
“Podcast” = “iPod” + “Broadcast”
“Podcast” beat out the terms “audioblogging,” “online radio,” and “on demand radio.” In 2005, the New Oxford American Dictionary declared “podcast” the Word of the Year.
But who invented podcasts? The answer to this actually goes back to decades before the term was developed.
You could argue the dawn of podcasting began in the early 90s, although it was referred to as “internet radio” at the time. In 1993, Carl Malamud launched the first internet talk show called Internet Talk Radio. The show was available as individual audio files interviewing computer experts each week.
This was the first revolution of traditional radio broadcasting, where users grabbed individual files and listened at their leisure rather than tuning in to hear whatever was being broadcasted at that time by major radio networks. Remember AOL.com? The Dan & Scott Show was another popular early downloadable audio show that launched on AOL in 1996. These shows were described as “asynchronous radio.”
The New Millennium
When the 2000s rolled around, software developer Dave Winer developed the concept of the RSS feed. In 2000, he and his company figured out how to attach video and audio files to the RSS format, along with the concept of enclosure, which passed the address to media aggregators.
In 2001, Applian Technologies developed Replay AV, an on-demand, DVR-type of radio recording software. This allowed users to schedule recordings of radio broadcasts and listen to them later, or even automatically download them to their devices.
Open Source & BloggerCon
The biggest year for early podcasting was 2003 when Winer created an RSS feed for his colleague Christopher Lydon’s blog. Lydon was a news anchor, talk show host, and former New York Times reporter. Up until that point, his blog was text-only, but with Winer’s RSS, Lydon was able to post and distribute mp3 files of his in-depth interviews with fellow journalists, politicians, and more. This feed eventually became Open Source and is now the longest running podcast, with new episodes published weekly.
Winer also collaborated with MTV VJ Adam Curry to distribute their shows Daily Source Code and Morning Coffee Notes via RSS.
During the first-ever BloggerCon in 2003, organized by Winer and friends, Kevin Marks presented a script to download and distribute RSS enclosure feeds to iTunes, which could then be downloaded to iPods (which were all the rage, as we remember). Curry presented a script that moved mp3 files from his blog to iTunes. These were the final puzzle pieces needed to lay the foundation for modern podcasting.
In 2004, Lydon referred to the medium as “an experiment.” He said, “everything is inexpensive. The tools are available. Everyone has been saying anyone can be a publisher, anyone can be a broadcaster. Let’s see if that works.”
It’s safe to say it worked. Out of this collaborative, innovative effort to create an entirely new form of media came an brand new industry now valued at billions of dollars. Some of the developments that have allowed for that growth and expansion include:
Libsyn (Liberated Syndication) was the first podcast service provider offering storage, RSS creation, and eventually, statistic tracking tools (Podtrac was the first to offer free download and demographic surveys). Both of these launched in 2004 and are still used today, along with other popular hosting services like Blubrry, Buzzsprout, Simplecast, Anchor, Soundcloud – the list goes on.
High Quality Technology
Obviously, recording and editing technology has vastly improved since 2003. Think HD microphones, the latest iterations of high-end headphones, and editing software with tiered pricing that’s accessible at any price point. All of this has immensely improved the quality of audio itself, and it can only get better from here.
Not sure where to start? Check out our Podcast Equipment 101 Beginner’s Guide for Starting A Podcast.
We all know social media revolutionized nearly every aspect of our daily lives, but for podcasting in particular, it made discovery, promotion, and connection with listeners much easier. Building relationships through social media became central to the growth and expansion of podcasts.
Podcast Networks & Conferences
Despite the digital connections. podcasting can still be a lonely business. That’s why podcast networks like Ossa have grown in numbers and influence so quickly. It’s always refreshing to connect with people who have similar interests, careers, hobbies, etc., (especially in a socially distanced world).
That’s the value of podcast conferences like Podfest and Podcast Movement as well. Connection with fellow podcasters is always constructive, and considering that the roots of podcasting can be traced to a tech conference, these gatherings are the best way to stay up-to-date with the constant innovation in this ever-evolving industry.
From early internet blogs to RSS feeds to iPods and the modern world of podcast streaming, the cultural innovation of this industry is nowhere near over. So to answer the question, ‘who invented podcasts?” it was really a group effort, and it’s still being developed every single day.
With a low barrier to entry, free promotion tools, and an audience for every topic, podcasting has leveled the playing field for content creators from all walks of life. It has given concrete value to storytelling on a huge scale.
One of the most common praises you hear about any particular podcast is that it “sounds like you’re in the room” with the host. That feeling of intimacy and connection is unique to podcasting and will continue to revolutionize how influencers connect with their audiences in the coming years.
Tell us your predictions in the comments!