Ages of Atlanta: Media
Podcasts replacing radio for many, especially millennials
Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark, hosts of “Stuff You Should Know,” recently sat in a studio only slightly larger than a broom closet in the offices of HowStuffWorks at trendy Ponce City Market.
They were taping multiple podcasts in advance of a weeklong trip to do live shows in England, Ireland and Scotland. This particular episode was about medical “triage.” The word, they explained, was French and originated from sorting vegetables.
This led to a discussion of Cajun food, then a reference to the 1987 film “Angel Heart,” set in New Orleans and starring actress Lisa Bonet.
“Very pretty lady. I always crushed on her big as a kid,” Bryant said.
Clark recalled Bonet’s time on “The Cosby Show,” but couldn’t come up with her character name. Bryant was stumped, too. “Sue me,” Clark said jokingly.
“I apologize for all the things we don’t know,” Bryant declared. They then got back to the subject at hand: triage.
The casual nature of this podcast, with its conversational tangents and asides, is part of its appeal. Begun eight years ago at the Atlanta-based information company HowStuffWorks, “Stuff You Should Know” is now one of the most popular podcasts in the world. Combined with its dozen other podcasts, HowStuffWorks draws 27.5 million downloads monthly, according to chief content officer Jason Hoch.
Podcasts have gone from a mere niche product to something increasingly mainstream, especially among younger people in Atlanta and elsewhere.
Millennials have embraced podcasting at a higher rate than their older brethren. This generation has come to expect entertainment available at their fingertips anytime, anywhere, and podcasts fit the bill.
About 27 percent of millennials listened to a podcast last month vs. 24 percent of Generation X and 11 percent of baby boomers, according to an Edison Research study earlier this year.
“When I’m sitting in Atlanta traffic, I prefer podcasts,” said Matt Lovell, a 31-year-old Jonesboro restaurant consultant. “I hate hearing the same songs over and over. I also travel a lot. I download podcasts for the plane. It’s consumable anywhere in the world. It automatically deletes after I listen. Technology has come a long way the past couple of years.”
In his Chevy Impala, his phone now syncs with the console, so his Pandora and podcast apps come right up when he turns the vehicle on.
But, as the Edison study shows, the slightly older Gen X’ers are not far behind in their usage of podcasts.
“I used to be a big talk radio guy,” said 41-year-old Marietta resident Austin Long. “I listened delivering pizzas. Sports. Rush Limbaugh. Whatever. Then, in 2008, I started finding podcasts. I didn’t have to sit through commercials and the ones that happen on podcasts come and go quickly.”
Now, he rarely if ever goes to AM/FM radio as a source of entertainment.
Former MTV VJ and Gen X’er Adam Curry is credited with creating the first successful podcast in 2004 with software developer Dave Winer. A year later, iTunes added podcasts to its mix, greatly improving awareness.
Over the years, with the arrival of smartphones and ubiquitous Wi-Fi, podcasts became even more accessible. Growth was steady. Then, in October 2014, “Serial,” a podcast spin-off of an already popular radio program, “This American Life,” debuted, and the 12-part crime mystery became a phenomenon. “Saturday Night Live” did a spoof and, last year, “Serial” pocketed a coveted Peabody Award. The series has been downloaded more than 80 million times.
A Georgia Tech forum last year featuring an attorney involved in “Serial” drew a capacity crowd of 300-plus students, requiring an overflow room.
“It was definitely a big lift for the medium,” Bryant said. “That was one that sort of slapped mainstream media in the face.”
Companies like HowStuffWorks and individuals such as Marc Maron and Joe Rogan have thrived in the world of podcasting, generating enough listeners to draw advertisers and real income.
The podcasting world, though, is still heavily populated by amateurs. Tom Cochrane, who runs the annual Podcasting Awards, estimates there are about 120,000 to 130,000 active podcasters available on iTunes. Most do it out of their homes. Few have radio backgrounds. Most make no money whatsoever. He said only a few stick it out long-term.
The most dedicated podcasters frequently do it out of love for the subject at hand and a desire to connect with like-minded listeners.
“You might feel like you have a relationship with a talk show host,” Cochrane said, “but very few people can get through on the phone for a syndicated show. In most cases, a podcaster will respond to you in a day. They’ll read your comments on air. There’s very tight interaction. Podcast fans actively listen, as opposed to using it as background noise.”
Video is the sexy medium online nowadays. Check out Snapchat, Facebook Live and YouTube for proof. But audio still has a place in this world.
“I clean the house, I run a marathon, I go on a road trip or have a long commute,” Bryant said. “Video is no good for those situations. You can just throw on earbuds to be entertained and educated at once.”
While the recent Edison Research survey showed only 36 percent of the population has even heard a single podcast, access will only get easier as more vehicles gain Wi-Fi capability.
“At some point, terrestrial radio will become secondary to listening to radio and podcasts online,” predicted Doug Stewart, a Cobb County-based sports talk host, who does his own daily podcast. “I’m in a good place with my business model.”
Vince Gatling (Aphonzo) and Josh Ellis (Uncle Joe)
Age: 29 and 28
Residence: East Atlanta, Los Angeles
Podcast: “Unreasonable Doubt,” available on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud
What it’s like: a freewheeling discussion of current events, pop culture and sports, as if their characters are in a barbershop. Recent topics have ranged from actor Chadwick Boseman to a family reunion to Black Lives Matter.
How often: every Monday and Wednesday since March
Listeners: about 800 a week
Why they do it: Ellis wanted to get into radio. His math teacher friend Gatling suggested they do the podcast instead, to build his chops and awareness of his skills. The two Florida A&M buddies like that they can go in-depth on subjects in ways that are more difficult in commercial radio. “They’ve stopped caring about the smart person or the detail-oriented person” on AM/FM radio, Gatling said.
iTunes review: “Great insights. Great dynamic. Killing it, guys!”
Podcast: “Wine for Normal People” on iTunes, Stitcher
How often: weekly, more or less
Its purpose: wine information for people who are not wine snobs.
Why she does it: A peppy New York native, Schneider said wine was a passion of her father’s and, after taking a class, she turned into a wine expert. “There’s agriculture. There’s pop culture. Wars have been fought over wine. It’s exciting for my dorky head.” An agent called her and got her a book deal after hearing her podcast.
Past podcast subjects: the effects of Brexit on wine, a primer on white wine, drinking wine while pregnant.
iTunes review: “Finally a podcast about wine that doesn’t require an advanced degree.”
Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark
Ages: 45 and 38
Residence: both Atlantans
Subject matter: from radiation sickness to exploding head syndrome to lighthouses.
How often: Tuesdays and Thursdays (never a repeat, with more than 860 in the can)
Popularity: Since 2008, “Stuff You Should Know” has consistently been one of the most listened to podcasts in the world, downloaded millions of times a month.
How it came to be: HowStuffWorks, the encyclopedic Atlanta-based company, was seeking a way to expand beyond written stories. Bryant and Clark, writers there, had chemistry that drew early iTunes attention and now a passionate following. They became active in social media from its inception, building a passionate fan base that sends them art pieces with their faces on them. Over the past few years, they’ve done live shows in Canada, on the West Coast and in Great Britain.
Residence: Cobb County. (He’s had stalkers. He won’t be more precise.)
Subject matter: sports
How often: live 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays
Background: Stewart was part of the successful 2 Live Stews sports talk show on 790/the Zone for a decade. The now defunct Zone let them go in 2012. He wasn’t able to find another gig on traditional AM/FM radio, so he started the podcast in 2014 partly out of desperation.
Listeners: about 5,000 per show
Why he does it: “I figured I needed to do something to keep my skills kind of sharp.”
Challenges: “It’s much harder to get people to listen than you imagine. I think people are set in their ways listening to radio.”
Podcast: “Submarine Sea Stories” on iTunes, Stitcher
Subject matter: stories of life aboard a submarine
How often: He’s done 41 so far, drawing about 86,000 downloads total.
How it came to be: “In the Navy, I was in a Cold War submarine in the 1980s. I would spend 74 days under water. I really developed close friends at the time. I began reconnecting with them. Found a few on Facebook. That was a transformative period in many people’s lives on the sub. You can’t just sleep in. You always have to be on point, do your job. If you don’t, you get tied up in duct tape.”
Why he likes it: “I like following a story, see where it leads. Podcasting really lends itself to that. I’m able to be myself and people connect with it. It’s also made me a much better listener. I learned a lot while editing myself. I interrupt too much! I’ve learned to let things go in the direction they’re meant to go.”
Future podcast topic: He has started “Marietta Stories,” focused on interesting people in the city to talk about its history, its present and its future.
Podcast: “Lets Chat Radio,” available at blogtalkradio.com/letschatradio2
Style: interview show covering south Fulton County
Why he does it: “I was so tired of hearing negative news. Everything on the TV was always negative. I wanted to share something that’s just positive and constructive. We talk about anything positive that happens in the community, from educators to business people to realtors.”
How many he has done: about 100
Downloads per episode: 50-100
Awareness of the term “podcasting”
2006: 22 percent
2011: 45 percent
2016: 55 percent
Percent who have ever listened to a podcast:
2006: 11 percent
2011: 25 percent
2016: 36 percent
Percent who listened to a podcast in the past month:
2006: 9 percent
2011: 12 percent
2016: 21 percent
2013: Men, 15 percent. Women, 9 percent
2016: Men, 24 percent. Women, 18 percent
Average number of podcasts a regular listener catches per week:
Device used most often to listen to podcasts:
2013: computer (58 percent)
2016: smartphone/tablet (71 percent)
Source: Edison Research, January, 2016
Top 10 most popular podcasts, Aug. 5, 2016
“TED Radio Hour”
“This American Life”
“Stuff You Should Know”
“Radiolab Presents: More Perfect”
“NPR Politics Podcast”
AGES OF ATLANTA
This is the fourth in a five-part series about how age shapes life in Atlanta, from faith and food to music and media,