The Return of Podcasts: Not Just For Nerds Anymore


When you think about podcasts, do you see visions of Three Nerds in a Basement sending out long, random messages into cyberspace? If you said “yes” to the previous question, you are in good company. Before the widespread use and availability of digital media, personal computers and devices, podcasts were largely produced by amateur technology “nerds”. With the rise in the popularity of digital media for news and information, podcasts are now being produced by more traditional media sources.

Podcasts are a type of audioblog that uses digital media applications downloaded on smart phones, tablets or computers to create broadcasts about any number of subjects. Podcasts can be heard (or viewed) and distributed with little cost to the creator and audience.


According to a USA Today article titled, “Remember podcasting? It’s back – and booming,” Apple has surpassed 1 billion downloads for podcasts via iTunes. Podcasting_iconAccording to iTunes downloads, six of the top 10 podcasts in the U.S. are created by public media, such as Radiolab and Freakonomics Radio from WNYC, and NPR’s TED Radio Hour, This American Life and Fresh Air. The public media podcasts are generally informative and based upon interesting subjects and are presented in a series. One Radiolab podcast that caught my attention was a series of podcasts on the Placebo effect, “The healing powers of belief, from the symbolic power of the doctor’s coat, to the very real stash of opium in your brain.” I found the podcast informative as well as credible.

Podcasting aimed at health and wellness issues have dramatically increased featuring subjects ranging from fitness, nutrition, and public health alerts and monitoring to series based health programming. “Slate” is an example of a very popular topical podcast that covers many subjects in addition to timely medical and health issues. Slate hosts broadcast the content in a conversational and personal sounding way to engage listeners.

Teenagers tend to be sleeping more and more.

Teenagers tend to be sleeping more and more.

An engaged listener is one that not only feels a connection with the host but may even change health behavior due to the podcast content. One Slate/NPR podcast collaboration is called “The Checkup”  features episodes on health and health myths. The latest episode on “The Checkup” is called “Teenage Zombies“.


According to an Edison Research study, the podcast audience is young (half of all listeners are age 12-34) and affluent (4 in 10 podcast listeners have a household income of at least $75,000). The podcast audience uses smartphones or tablets for audio podcasts and are more likely to be social media users (78 percent compared to 56 percent of the U.S. population)


Podcast quality has dramatically improved over the past few years. This is due in large part to professional producers like NPR utilizing the podcast medium. Podcast networks have started to form and become successful in part because advertising revenue is becoming available to support them. In his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organization, Shirky discusses the “network effect” that “networks become more valuable as people adopt them.”

Podcast networks including, “Slate” and “Serial”, provide opportunities for capturing a large listener base. Advertisers view these listeners as an opportunity to broadcast their messages to an engaged audience in a non-FCC regulated environment. As Slate writer John Alderman explained, “What we found, and what the advertisers found, is it’s incredibly powerful when the person is speaking to you, whether you’re in the car or making dinner,” “The conversational tone of podcasts and especially the Slate podcasts make it a truly personal connection.” A Midroll survey probing 300,000 podcast listeners found that 63% of these listeners bought something a that podcast host had advertised on their podcast.

In the future, it will be interesting to see if the success of podcast networks (with the addition of advertising dollars), can influence the spread of podcasting to the mainstream as well as use the power of engagement to influence mainstream health behavior.


Shirky, C Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organization, Penguin Press, New York, NY (2008)


5 thoughts on “The Return of Podcasts: Not Just For Nerds Anymore

  1. I enjoyed this post. As an avid podcast listener I was surprised to see the statistics you had laid out for listenership. I knew it was growing and gaining more mainstream acceptance but I still have to tell people I “heard it on the radio” as opposed to going through the explanation of what a podcast is and how to get them. I initially got into podcasting because my favorite radio shows ended up putting up their shows commercial free the next day and I could listen to them at any time and they were generally commercial free.

    I found it very interesting that mostly upper class people listen to podcasts. I wonder if getting them onto music apps like pandora, spotify or something else would make them more accessible to the lower and middles classes. Or perhaps it’s just going to take a few more years before they are ubiquitous like television and radio.

    I find podcasts very interesting because they are very, very tailored to a specific audience. You have to seek them out. They aren’t generally advertised and they have very specific audiences. You can find everything from all-gay talk, yoga, long form interviews, storytelling (a la Serial or This American Life). It’s not like traditional media of casting a very wide net and hoping to catch some fish. I wonder if podcasters in the top sections of the iTunes page would be interested in promoting public health campaigns like on television and radio. Just a thought.

  2. I was also a little surprised by the amount of listeners podcasts have. But when you stop and think about it podcasts are usually free or very inexpensive and easily available. You can go on iTunes and immediately download a podcast to your phone that you can later listen to. I would also agree with your point that podcasts are becoming more pleasurable. Back a few years ago I heard a podcast for the first time and found it very dry and somewhat boring. The quality of podcasts has improved as well as the variety. I think podcasts are an excellent route for public health looking into the future.

    In terms of your blog I liked the structure of it. You provided valuable information showing the significance of podcasts among adults. Good use of multimedia. You incorporated pictures and videos. My only suggestion would be to find a video of shorter length, not sure many people will stick around to watch it.

  3. Love the layout of this blog post. It contained lots of goodies- tons of links, embedded video, and photos. All in all, this is a great overview of podcasts, what they are, and how to use them. The author directly commented on how podcasts could be used for public health and linked to examples. The only suggestion I have is although the video is very informative, in “real life” i don’t think a reader would watch all 50 minutes of it.

  4. Great background information about podcast history, podcast audience statistics, abundance of of podcast samples with interactive links, and examples of public health podcasts. Thanks for sharing these great resources! I agree that podcasting offers multiple opportunities to reach public and maintain high level of interest by selecting hot topics, publicizing and promoting podcasts in mass media and social media. I think podcasts have opportunity to grow their audience by increasing use of technologies: monitoring shares, downloads, feedback, and actively incorporate these trends into future podcasts. It is advisable to get own podcast app, enable “sharable” features and shortlinks, list podcast in the top-directories with large audience, like iTunes, network with other large public health organization and co-host your podcast, invite motivational speakers, listen an example from CDC: “Mother Love: Diabetes is Not Your Destiny”

  5. I am guilty of being completely hooked on podcasts and I never thought I would be. Podcasts like Freakanomics Radio and Serial have become part of my daily commute home. I always feel like it is time well spent and feel connected to their message and their organization. I think there is huge potential, as you pointed out, for public health organizations to utilize podcasts to get their message out in a way that is new and easier to digest than reading on the web.

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