Podcasting and online listening made simple

Radio:  We don’t have enough space here to document the history of radio.  Suffice to say, despite many reports of its death over the generations, radio has never been more vibrant, more diverse, and more powerful in its ability to paint pictures in our minds.  Over the years, personalities like Kenny Everett, Sue MacGregor, and Chris Morris have shined, while the likes of John Peel, Annie Nightingale, and David Rodigan have helped curate music tastes.

Professional radio is heavily regulated.  Most of this is for the common-good, covering standards, commercial ethics, fairness and privacy.  However, it can also lead to criticisms over a lack of diversity in programming and formats, and constraining creativity.  While the UK is blessed with original public service broadcasting in the form of BBC Radio, it doesn’t represent all audiences of the UK.  And while we have a vibrant UK commercial radio sector which emerged for the first time in the 1970s (before which the BBC’s only competitors were illegal pirate ships), much of our ‘local’ programming is no longer such, and excludes local people from participating.  It can be difficult to find music on the radio beyond a narrow playlist of ‘safe hits’, unless you know which shows to tune to.

Podcasting:  Into this mix comes podcasting.  Podcasting has enjoyed growing success in recent years, with more and more people choosing to listen to audio content online.

In simple terms, a podcast is a regular set of digital audio files, where listeners can subscribe to regular episodes of so that each new episode is automatically downloaded to their local computer, phone or tablet via any one of a number of syndication platforms – for example, iTunes (now called Apple Podcasts); Stitcher; Stitcher; Overcast; Spotify and Deezer.

They started to emerge around 2005, and the growth in their consumption has been consistent – a slower burn than the equivalent Netflix and TV watching.  The official body charged with measuring radio audiences reckons that 9% of adults in the UK say they download podcasts every week – a not insignificant 4.7million people.  While some people ‘sniff’ at how relatively small such an audience is compared to the total population, just remember that in the figures for the first quarter of 2017, the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show attracted only a few more – at 5.14million a week!

The growth in the number of podcasts has been exponential – it’s as if there are more podcasters than listeners!  It can be a bit off-putting to someone who wants to explore the treasures that are available out there to listen to – “just where do I start?”

Podcasting has democratised access to the airwaves.  If you have a creative idea, a format, or a viewpoint, the floor is yours.  While some podcasts are just a downloadable version of a previous radio show, many more are bespoke, specialist, niche – and made by anybody.  The improvements in recording quality made possible by smartphones, and the availability of free editing software options such as Audacity have only encouraged this.

Podcasts made the news big-time in 2015 with the success of ‘Serial’ which had over 250 million downloads.  This has been followed in 2017 by ‘S-Town’, which had over 16 million downloads in its first week.  Crime is very popular.

Online Streaming:  Because podcasts are downloadable, they cannot contain copyrighted material.  This means that they almost always do not contain music, except for that which is available without copyright.

In the beginning, we had radio – AM, FM, DAB, and internet streamed radio for example.

Now, just like podcasts there is also a format where you can share your passion for music, express your creative presentation skills, or signpost new music finds in a particular genre you have a taste for, and that is online music/radio streaming, thanks to Mixcloud.  Not just DJ club sets, but actual radio shows.

Their official blurb says; “Mixcloud has blanket radio licensing deals with various collecting societies around the world.  This means that users can upload their shows or mix sets with songs from any catalogue and we (they) pay royalties to these societies, who in turn distribute them to artists, labels and publishers.”  

This deal is in part funded by ad revenues, and subscriptions.  The only rules it has it that it does not allow the upload of single tracks or albums, and has a limit of tracks you can use by a single artist.

Like podcasts, a platform like Mixcloud, which as well as carrying streamed music content, carries podcasts, is a further democratisation of the digital airwaves.  Budding DJs and radio presenters are free to craft their shows, knowing they don’t have to worry about rights issues.  All they have to worry about is their show’s content – and promoting it on social media platforms once it is finished, so they can secure an audience for it.  You too could be a DJ – and in doing so, help supplement the algorithms of sites like Spotify by re-introducing a human element into the radio-DJ signposting of music recommends, just like the likes of John Peel have done before, and the likes of Annie Mac, Phil Taggart and Jo Whiley still do on the radio today.

Listen Again:  Like the BBC’s iPlayer Radio (and Mixcloud), you do not have to sign up to a podcast in order to listen to it.  It is perfectly possible to just listen to a single episode in the place that you find it – that could be on the original website hosting it, on the audio platform hosting it (such as Mixcloud or Soundcloud), or even via a ‘widget’ that you have found ‘shared’ via social media, such as Twitter or Facebook.

Sound Vault: ‘a radio space for all’

Because this online radio space is a bit of a ‘wild west’, a few of us wanted to come together to create a network which makes full use of podcasts and online radio streaming, where;

  1. Anyone who had an idea or an ambition to make a radio show or podcast to get the support to realise that, and if it met that values of our space, share via our networks too;
  2. We could help a wider group of people understand how to find and listen to the treasure trove of output available online – and realise that with the beauty of mobile phones, bluetooth, wi-fi, and speakers, it really is simple to access a huge range of content from around the world.  This is sometimes given the glorified title of ‘digital literacy’ in policy circles.  We just like to #CelebrateListening