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A Podcasting History: A Look Back of the Biggest Milestones

a man podcasting

In an age that glorifies visual stimulation, podcasting is an anomaly. What is ultimately a modernized version of 80s talk radio, podcasts are now a global trend. Millions of people around the world rely on podcasts as one of their daily essentials.

Podcasting has become a multibillion-dollar industry¹ and it’s gaining momentum every day. I mean heck, my entire livelihood is thanks to podcasting! If you don’t believe me go, just take a glance at the website you’re on…

But what we’re really interested in today is the beginning…

How did this revolution start? How did an audio medium in a video-based society find its way to the top of pop culture?  

The answers to these questions are absolutely fascinating and, in many cases, surprising. 

Let’s find out how we ended up here and dive headfirst into Podcasting: A History. 

Technology

Podcasting would not be possible without the progression of technology. Technological advancements seemed to be aimed more at visual mediums. However, from the shadows, an audio revolution took place. 

Talk radio reached new heights in the 1980s thanks to RCS (Radio Computing Services). This software allowed music and talk-related software to be distributed in a digital format. 

Before RCS, multicast networks such as MIDI and Mbone were used to transfer audio files. 

The digitization of audio files allowed for them to be downloaded by anyone, wherever in the world they found themselves. It also gave rise to the audio series, making it easier for multiple audio files to be grouped together under one folder. 

If RCS is the father of podcasting, then RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is its mother. RSS is a web feed that allows users and applications to access updates to websites in a standardized, computer-readable format². This meant that you did not have to be a computer whizz to have access to online content. Anyone could subscribe to RSS feeds and track their desired content. A true game-changer. 

In 2000, American author Tristan Lewis suggested that audio and video files could be attached to RSS feeds.  The following year, the idea was implemented by Dave Winer and Adam Curry. Later, we will discuss this pair in more detail—the founding fathers of podcasts. 

Portable Digital Music Players 

So, we now have digital audio files that can be collated and a simple way of accessing those files. For podcasting to truly evolve, however, one more thing was needed. And who else to fill that void than the legend himself, Steve Jobs. 

MP3s and MP3 players came into the fold in the year 2000. This new era of music distribution allowed audio files to be transferred straight from a laptop or PC to a portable device. You could then listen to the music directly from the device. This marked the beginning of the end for portable CD players like Walkman and their cassette counterparts were now rendered completely obsolete. 

Apple and Steve Jobs had the world at their knees with the introduction of the iPod in 2001. Coupled with its online access to the iTunes music store, the iPod was one of the most successful and revolutionary products of the early 2000s. And it would be Steve Jobs who would catapult podcasting to the very front of media consumption. 

In 2005, Apple released its iTunes 4.9. An update that fully integrated supporting podcasts on the platform. The next year, in his keynote speech, Steve Jobs demonstrated how to record podcasts using Garageband. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Podcasting piggybacked off Apple’s meteoric rise, and then it branched off to create for itself a whole new world of audio excellence.   

Adam Curry and Dave Winer

Adam Curry and Dave Winer are the founders of the modern-day podcast. In 2000, Adam and Dave conceptualized the idea of podcasting without actually naming it that. Adam wanted a system where you could download the content you subscribe to. Dave didn’t like the idea of subscription services for videos so audio content made more sense to him.

Dave used Adam’s idea in his newly formed RSS feed and the idea of podcasting started taking shape. 

It was only four years later, in 2004, that the duo developed a program called iPodder. This software made it possible for users to download radio broadcasts directly to their iPods. Although they had made steps towards realizing their vision of 2000, it was iPodder that truly cemented Adam and Dave as the founders of podcasting. 

Strangely enough, neither Adam nor Dave coined the term ‘podcasting’. That honor goes to British technologist Ben Hammersley. In Audible Revolution, a now-iconic article from 2004, Ben highlights the popularity gains of online radio and the increase in affordable audio recording software. He throws around a few name options including ‘Audiblogging’ and ‘GuerillaMedia’. 

I, for one, am happy that podcasting won that particular showdown. 

2005

2005 is considered the breakthrough year for podcasting. This year stands alone as having countless landmark achievements for the podcasting world. Most notably, the New Oxford American Dictionary dubbed ‘podcast’ the Word of the Year.

This was also the year in which Apple released its iTunes 4.9, which was podcast compatible. With users being able to download podcasts directly to their iPods, the convenience of it all catapulted podcasting into the mainstream. 

Apple also developed a service for podcast creators called Apple Podcasts. This service made it easier for creators to make new content.  By having podcasts accessible to users and making it easy for podcast creators, Apple made its name synonymous with podcasting.

Commander in Chief

In 2005, George W. Bush became the first President to deliver his address in the form of a podcast. Citizens were able to listen to his address on the go, an inspired addition considering the fast-paced society in which we live. 

Todd Cochrane published the first-ever DIY guide to Podcasting in 2005. Podcasting: Do-It-Yourself Guide is still ranked a respectable 630 in the Podcasts & Webcasts genre on Amazon, 17 years after its initial release. 

Cochrane was also responsible for bringing in podcasting’s first major advertising deal. His agreement with GoDaddy.com was one of the first indications that one could be a full-time podcaster. 

Yahoo! released a podcast search site in 2005 which allowed users to listen and subscribe. This innovation paved the way for podcasting’s first six-figure deal. 

Mommycast, a Norwegian-based lifestyle podcast, gained a major following thanks to Yahoo!’s search site. The hosts went on to sign a massive deal with Dixie Consumer Products.  

Late in 2005, the first People’s Choice Podcasts Awards were held in Ontario, Canada, at the very first Podcast Expo. 

2005 was the year that podcasting announced itself to the world. In the years that followed, it would go on to dazzle and entertain, becoming a multibillion-dollar industry. 

2006 – A Milestone Year

After 2005, podcasting grew exponentially year by year. 

Broadband internet became faster and more accessible. More people now had instant access to the wonders of the internet and podcasting took its place at the top of the frenzy. 

Podcasts evolved from a purely-audio medium to having audiences at live shows.

Steve Jobs began the year with his keynote speech, demonstrating how to record podcasts using Garageband. He instructed the live audience about how to use this free software offering from Apple. 

Lance Anderson then became the first podcaster to take his podcast on tour. His live podcast show, the Lance Anderson Podcast Experiment, earned him a coveted spot as a speaker at the first Podcast Forum at Cambridge University. Almost 20 years later, and Anderson is still one of the most prolific podcasters when it comes to live tours. 

This American Life launched the podcast version of their popular radio show in October 2006. It became an instant hit as it had already built up a fanbase as a radio drama.   

Christmas 2006 saw the very first podcast released by Buckingham Palace, with the Queen’s Christmas Day speech available for download. 

Not quite 2006, but a major podcasting milestone nonetheless. 2007 saw comedian Ricky Gervais setting a Guinness World record for the most downloaded podcast, with an average of 250,000 downloads per episode in the first month. This record would be surpassed by Adam Carolla in 2011, who had a whopping 59,574,843 unique downloads of his self-titled podcast³.

2010’s

In 2013, Apple announced that it had one billion podcast subscribers! An incredible achievement considering iTunes 4.9 was launched a mere nine years prior.

In 2014, This American Life would capture the word again with their new series offering: Serial. An investigative journalism podcast that has been lauded as one of the most innovative of its time. It was a pioneer in the way that it fully captivated its audience. So much so, that it was the first podcast to have a parody skit done on Saturday Night Live. 

Spotify acquired Gambit Media in 2019, an acquisition that set them up as major players in podcasting. One year later, Spotify handed Joe Rogan a deal in excess of  $100 million! Podcasting elite? You bet ya! 

2020 and Beyond

Last year, 2021, podcast ad revenue surpassed the $1 billion mark¹. An incredible feat when you consider that podcasting is mostly a DIY industry and that it is less than two decades old. 

In America, there are now more than 90 million weekly podcast listeners¹. If you take into account the globalization of media, the number of listeners across the world is astronomical. The Infinite Dial has some key insights into those exact figures. 

Podcasting is certainly here for the long haul. 

The Life of Podcasting

Podcasting, as we know it, has entered its 21st year (Check out this PodNews article for more on podcast’s “origin story”!) 

And, just like any new adult, it is growing and moving in complicated yet inspiring ways.

And in this article, like proud parents handing over the key, we’ve taken a look back at how this treasured industry came to pass.  

Millions of us now get our news, entertainment, and even educational content from podcasts. As podcast enthusiasts, I’m sure that we can all agree that they are truly amazing!

The history of podcasting is deeply rich and wonderfully captivating. But what makes us most excited is the fact that podcasting’s future is bright! One thing that will make all of us sleep well tonight is the fact that podcasts are here to stay…

…and also the podcast we’ll listen to as we climb into bed. 

Sources:

  1. Insider Intelligence: Podcast Industry Report: Market Growth and Advertising Statistics in 2022: https://www.insiderintelligence.com/insights/the-podcast-industry-report-statistics/#:~:text=Podcasting%20will%20be%20a%20%2494.88,for%2020.3%25%20of%20internet%20users
  2. Britannica: RSS: https://www.britannica.com/technology/RSS
  3. International Podcast Day: Podcasting Historical Timeline and Milestones: https://internationalpodcastday.com/podcasting-history/ 

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