Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Podcasts

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Podcasts

Article excerpt

No phrase is better calculated to tense the neck muscles of a regular podcast listener than 'We have something special for you now.'

Having your radio shows downloaded to your phone, music player or computer, rather than plucked out of the air the old-fashioned way, immediately grants the listener a great deal of extra freedom: you choose the feeds to which you subscribe, you decide which episodes to hear and in which order. But it also demands from the listener a measure of extra trust, or at least a ruthless readiness to skip, because what a producer puts on a feed can vary much more than in the scheduled-to-the-second world of broadcast radio.

Sometimes, instead of a show, you're sent an apology for a show: several of my favourite American podcasts have been replaced in recent weeks by cheery chats about the snowstorms that prevented their recording. Quite often you're sent a show and a half: In Our Time now routinely podcasts the what-did-we-miss discussion in which its guests indulge after their live audience has moved on to Woman's Hour , a trick that might make you newly grateful for Melvyn Bragg's chivvying skills. And increasingly often, it seems, you are sent a tape of the regular host saying that they have something special for you, followed by an episode or fragment of another show entirely.

Maybe we should blame Serial . After its vast success as a well-advertised spin-off from This American Life , any new podcast or new initiative in an old one gives rise to an orgy of cross-promotion. Invisibilia , a psychology podcast launched by one producer from This American Life and another from the equally well-regarded science show Radiolab , seemed to stalk me from feed to feed for weeks; first as trails, then as extracts, then as a whole episode or two, then as studiedly excited you-should-be-listening-to asides. It's possible that I would indeed be listening if it would only leave me alone. 'Bored but brilliant', an experiment in rationing one's smartphone time launched the other week by the technology podcast New Tech City , seemed also to be an experiment in how much time could be seized from other podcasts put out by the same radio station, WNYC. …

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