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
* 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
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
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. …