By David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
The audio lectures were a last minute Christmas gift for a relative. But Guy Duerbeck of New Brighton, Pa., decided to slip on his earphones and listen in before adding the holiday wrapping.
"The tapes were lectures on detective fiction," he says. "After listening to the first tape, I was hooked, and by the end I knew much more than I knew before."
What Mr. Duerbeck and hundreds of thousands of other Americans have learned in an age of frenetic TV images, sound bites, and cyberspace glut, is that old-fashioned listening to in-depth discussions and lectures on tape can be fun. The biggest audio market these days is in best-selling books. But a handful of small educational companies specialize in audio or video tapes that explore great ideas and issues through wide-ranging lectures, courses, and interviews. * A lineup of "superstar" university professors lectures on such topics as philosophy, literature, history, and music on tapes from The Teaching Company in Springfield, Va. * Thought-provoking talks on contemporary culture and Christianity, from Mars Hill Audio, Charlottesville, Va., are included in a subscription to six 90-minute audio documentaries a year. * Discover magazine has just launched "Personal Audio," a tape offering either 10 articles of your choice from a variety of upscale magazines, or pre-selected articles on a single topic. All tapes are approximately two hours in length. * Audio classics from Knowledge Products, Nashville, Tenn. - narrated by the likes of Charlton Heston, Lynn Redgrave, Walter Cronkite, and Louis Rukeyser - offer dramatic presentations on such subjects as the Giants of Philosophy, the Great Economic Thinkers, Giants of Political Thought, and Religion, Scriptures and Spirituality. Return to favorite topics The prime market today is adults who want the intellectual stimulation of continuing their educations. Some may have started by listening to popular or self-help books on tape, but eventually sought more enriching and challenging fare. "Often two kinds of people buy our tapes," says Tom Rollins, president of The Teaching Company. "One group never had a chance to study any of this as undergrads," he says, "and then there are those who did study, but their careers took them elsewhere. Now they have time to return to subjects they were once passionate about." The convenience of tapes - listening in the car, during your morning jog, or working around the house - continues to make all kinds of audio tapes popular. "The audio approach makes a lot of sense," says Jim Heetderks, executive director of Mars Hill. "It allows you to redeem your time while doing other things." All the companies receive occasional letters of criticism, but on the whole customers like the comprehensiveness and balance of their productions. …