Podcasts. They’ve always seemed to occupy a beguiling space in the vast, vast realm of downloadable content. Are they for the scores of old people who, otherwise preoccupied with getting a hip replacement, missed their favourite Radio National show? Are they a safe middle ground for the opinionated amongst us who are too restless to settle for making a zine, but too self-conscious to resort to screaming their thoughts through a megaphone on a crowded tram? Or are they the product of Apple’s nefarious attempts to further entrench themselves within our lexicon, thus ensuring iPods remain the dominant mp3 device? Undeniably valid conspiracy theories aside, I never used to listen to podcasts. I listened to music. I watched television. That was enough.
Until Serial: the gateway drug of podcasts that introduced me, alongside everyone else and their mum, to the possibilities of purely auditory storytelling. For the benefit of those who live under a rock, Serial is a true crime podcast charting host Sarah Koenig’s journey as she seeks to uncover the truth behind a 15-year-old murder. She interviews the man imprisoned for the murder, trawls through mountains of evidence, and slowly pokes holes in the state’s case. For 12 weeks last year, it was all anyone talked about: it thrust podcasts into the masses’ cultural consciousness in a way never seen (or, rather, heard) before. In the Golden Months of Serial’s reign, the most crucial juncture of meeting someone new was when you got to find out whether or not they were a fan. At parties I would cast out the question like a fly-fisherman, and when I got a tug back, my eyes lit up like a child’s. I was even investing a significant chunk of my life savings into a Kickstarter for a version of Grindr that identified Serial fans in your area.
But, alas, all good things come to an end. Serial’s finale marked the end of an era and before long, I was back to watching TV, my headphones were exclusively for music and the Kickstarter webpage disappeared overnight. And that might have been the end of my aural relationship with podcasts, if not for one thing: my inadequate Internet plan.
In January 2015, I surpassed my data limit. My connection speeds were consequently shot with a horse tranquilizer and streaming episodes of The Nanny just wasn’t feasible anymore. What was I to do? Where was I to go? I was out on my fanny. Before my dalliance with Serial, I’d have turned to a book (like a nerd) or watched TV on my actual TV (like an old person) but now I had a third option: podcasts. With their small file sizes providing hours of content, they were perfect. If visuals are the carbs of modern storytelling, I spent January on the Narrative Atkins Diet. And honestly? It was amazing.
The beauty of podcasts is that you can enjoy them without looking directly at a screen; you’re free to walk about, run errands and tend to your domestic duties. When I was in the kitchen, I listened to Chat 10 Looks 3, ostensibly just a recording of Annabel Crabbe and Leigh Sales’ friendship. When they started swapping recipes for gooey ginger cakes, I discovered inner peace. For grocery shopping, I hopped onto Can You Take This Photo Please? with Justin Hamilton, a hilarious interview podcast featuring the crème-de-la-crème of Aussie stand-up. And for my more introspective moments, I put on WILOSOPHY, and listened to the sultry tones of Wil Anderson as he cajoled the likes of John Safran and Judith Lucy into revealing their innermost philosophies.
In spite of my patriotism, however, it was the American podcasts that really bowled me over. When the world’s coolest comedian, Brooklyn 99’s Chelsea Peretti, screams painfully accurate insults down the line to her guest callers on Call Chelsea Peretti, you know you’re in for a treat. Similarly, Comedy Bang Bang’s approach (blending interview podcast with sketch show elements) offers the perfect stage for masters of improvisation like Nick Kroll and Jenny Slate to showcase their wit.
I assumed podcasts wouldn’t be enough to satiate my entertainment needs; but in a way, they gave me much more than television. It often felt like I was carrying intimate conversations with good friends in my pocket. I didn’t have to set aside time to listen to them; they were my tram journeys, my laundry days, and my bedtime stories. I’ve since upgraded my internet plan, and the AFP’s Fraud Unit is investigating that Kickstarter, but something tells me that my month without TV has assured podcasts a permanent place on my download menu.