Is it a radio show or podcast? Does it matter?

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In my household there are five desktop radios. Sometimes, especially on weekends, all five are turned on to the local NPR station. My wife, a devoted NPR listener, doesn’t want to miss a word as she moves from room to room.

Multicasting through the house works well for me, too. But when NPR started re-packaging my favorite shows online, and marketing them as podcasts, I began time-shifting. Why build my weekend around Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, when I can build the show into my weekend? Time-shifting allows me to listen whenever I want, wherever I want, through whatever device I want.

For that type of consumption, is Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me a radio show or a podcast? I don’t know. For years it was a radio show. Now I click on a program clearly labeled as a podcast, but obviously originating on the radio.

The important point is that it doesn’t matter. If there is one characteristic of podcasting in 2015, with its greatly expanded meaning, it is this: Content matters, and little else.

That was the revelation, to many new listeners and industry observers, of Serial, which is cited just about every day in the media as the catalyst of a podcast resurgence. Serial, produced by the This American Life team, got a tremendous exposure boost from NPR on-air promotion. That drove listeners from the comfort of lean-back broadcast to the excitement of lean-forward podcast discovery. The program was delivered in a new way for some portion of its audience, but during the show’s run the buzz was not, “Have you heard that new podcast, Serial?” — it was “Have you heard Serial?”

This is why podcasting is such a natural opportunity for radio. Anytime you have a new and developing market for re-purposed and re-packaged content, it is like finding a $100 bill in an old jacket.

Some business strategies are explicitly formed around that opportunity. When The Huffington Post created HuffPost Live, a 24-hour web-only TV station, the venture required a large investment  in staffing and infrastructure. From the conception phase forward, the ROI plan was always to cut individual video segments and place them on the flagship Huffington Post website, where organic traffic was much higher and advertisers were hungry for video inventory.

When the focus shifts, from delivery mode to content quality, it is a triple-win for publishers, advertisers, and listeners. The alternative, so-called platformism, forces all three stakeholders into delivery silos where growth is limited. Podcasting has escaped its geeky, “platformistic” early years, when it was attached to RSS feeds of blogs. Now it’s content, content, content — and the sky’s the limit.


Brad Hill