When I was in college and getting back into reading comic books, I was exposed to the beginnings of podcasting culture, finding a lot of comic book podcasts that I’d listen to. I had an office job at a college, in a windowless back room in a cubicle.
For the most part, I was alone, except at times when I had a few interns…and of course, there was someone in the cubicle all the way in the back of the room who had a position in the college I didn’t quite know but I think he managed proctoring and coordinated testing. He was really scary, a little racist, and hung up conservative newspaper editorial cartoons and front-page headlines all over the walls.
For the most part though, alone, like I said. So I listened to comic book podcasts, though I couldn’t tell you how I discovered what they were and how to listen to them. Regardless thought, it was something new and interesting, and it was, I think, an evolution of growing up listening to radio. Music came from records, but talking and sports and news all came from the clusters of numbers on the dial that tuned into whatever I could find, being broadcast from wherever.
I grew up on car radio, sports talk radio, afternoon talk radio, baseball games on radio, and taping music off the radio into weird staggered mixtapes before I had CDs. I can still remember listening to Mike & The Mad Dog in the car to catch the Yankees game. I was, I’m a little ashamed to admit, a fan of listening to Howard Stern in the mornings and 101 WNEW FM in the afternoons after school when I got home from school (this was after I moved back to the US from a stint in Greece with my family, where radio was another glorious story. I still periodically bring up the story of finding the Turkish pop station that ran then-cutting edge American pop and R&B blocks at random times, & the bemused joy I took in it at 14).
Weirdly, I never got into National Public Radio. The “NPR aesthetic” was, in retrospect, something I should have liked, brought up on “Mr. Bean” and Sesame Street and a burgeoning sense of political awareness and humor thanks to newspaper comics. I think thought that the relatevely-limited public access TV impact I’d had in my psyche versus comic books, cable, and middle-class Queens, not to mention the ugly thrash of adolescent punk rock and heavy metal kept me away from that.
College in New York City for me as a guy into hardcore and punk and thrash was K-ROC 92.3, the college and pirate radio stations from Long Island and New Jersey. It was radio station-sponsered concerts, car rides to and from the deli or shows with the late night shows playing the stuff we really liked versus the stuff we tolerated. I also listened a lot to the old Motown radio station CBS FM, which would play constantly in the barbershop that was only a few blocks from the house I lived in.
Yeah, growing up in the waning days of CDs and cassette tapes and the early days of torrents and MP3s was all about mix tapes and album sharing and passing, but it was also about still holding out for “good” radio.
I listen to a lot of podcasts still, though it’s something that’s drastically changed in terms of what sort of material I like to listen to and immerse myself. Also, I feel like the inevitable bubble burst on this is going to create a weird wasteland of material scattered about, half-forgotten archives of episodes and scripts and cheaply-made shirts with logos for shows that couldn’t keep up a schedule or didn’t have the money to keep doing it for free.
Something significant about that too is the amount of really short podcasts. The rise of guaranteed weekly episodes means you can stretch stuff out, especially for topical shows. However, a series of twenty-minute episodes broken up into “seasons” isn’t the same thing as a radio show. Granted, when you’re not live and not taking an hour of calls, and when you’re a one or two-man operation, it’s a little harder to stretch that time out.
Still though, I find it fascinating. It’s a subconscious admission of a failure to replace, and instead shift the focus slowly over time towards re-shifting the goalposts. It then becomes less about “replacing” radio as it is being inspired by it, which sort of makes podcasting less Internet Radio, more Audio Blogging and Audio Prose Publishing.
The rise of popularity for fiction podcasts, which probably goes back to the Reddit-based No Sleep show (premiered in 2011) has led to some cool and interesting stuff coming out nowadays, though if you go back far enough, like No Sleep you’re finding that it’s always existed, people bringing the radio drama back to life like a resurrected cigarette. Live stage shows where theater companies put on live readings with foley sounds and everything were, at least when I was in college, something coming back in style. I remember my friend Shari and some group she was a part of doing “The Invisible Man” by Wells.
On the train of thought from right before though, there’s this point that if podcasting and audio publishing online isn’t trying to be Internet radio, then fiction podcasts are more akin to the zine and DIY publishing scene of comics and prose fan manuscripts, stuff circulating at conventions, in swaps, and small bookstores or flea markets. Sure, we’ve had the self-publishing boom of e-books, but it was always there before.
My bookshelves since I was a teenager have been scattered with demos and zines, with one-shot mystery and fantasy novels from series that never really took off. The amount of comic books and magazines I’ve gotten into, only to find them dying off, or ending right as I get into it. Podcasting these days, post-Serial, post-No Sleep, post-Welcome To Nightvale, is the same thing. The one-off series, the failed and stalled incomplete stories, the ones broken up into seasons that come whenever they can scrape the money together (similar to indie comics like say, Eastman and Laird’s TMNT early comics).
I’m ultimately curious what the podcast wastelands will look like, and what’s going to come out of not just those unburied corpses, sorta how the corpse of radio itself still gets picked at by podcasting. It’s a weird vulture constantly going back to this food source that never seems to truly run out, except it feels like a scanty and mythical sort of carcass, of something that we can’t believe ever existed.
I know it existed though, and because of that I can tell that what we think rose from the remains of it is a different beast entirely. I’m a little interested, I have to admit, to see what that beast is going to be.