How Podcasts Expanded Public Radio's Reach

How Podcasts Expanded Public Radio's Reach

Though podcasts are still a relatively new medium, they have become an incredibly popular format that grows in listenership daily. With thousands of shows available on-demand, fans can listen to their favorite content when it’s most convenient for them, whether it’s at home, at the gym, or in the car. 

While podcasts may be new, their success stemmed from the tried-and-true spoken word format, which originated with public radio. Public radio's embrace of podcasts helped establish the new medium and has expanded public radio's reach to new and younger audiences. 

How Public Radio Helped Put Podcasts on the Map  

Public radio connects across generations, as listeners of all ages tune in to the news, think pieces, editorials, discussions, music and entertainment. Podcasts do the same, with interesting programming ranging from conversations with celebrities, politicians, and remarkable people, to music history, true crime stories, and much more. Public radio introduced the talk format, and podcasts modernized it with on-demand streaming technology. Podcasts quickly gained credibility, largely due to the early adoption by public media, an already trusted and beloved institution.   

The first example of how public radio shaped podcasts occurred in August 2005 when NPR debuted a directory of over 170 podcasts created by NPR and affiliate public radio stations. They quickly followed up in November of the same year by establishing alt.NPR, a platform for independent creators to create less mainstream content that speaks more to specific interests. That propelled podcasts' popularity with NPR's venerable name behind them. Many of these early NPR podcasts remain the most popular podcasts today.  

Podcasts Suit Public Radio's Spoken-Word Format   

Spoken word format has long been synonymous with public radio. Calming, authoritative voices created trust and familiarity with the audience, making the news seem more understandable and quelling fears during turbulent times. Public radio hosts presented a sense of humanity that created a bond with listeners. 

Those same qualities now extend to podcasts. Like public media listeners, the podcast audience is loyal, engaged, and attentive, garnering sponsorship messaging more notice and recognition. It was a natural transition made even easier as the content needed little editing to prepare it for podcast publishing. That familiar format delivered in a new and exciting way helped earn listener attention.  

In the early years of podcasting, most of the top 10 shows were from NPR and other public radio stations. The following NPR shows (many of which are still some of the most popular podcasts today) helped shape early podcasting: 

This American Life by WBEZ 
Radiolab by WNYC Studios 
TED Radio Hour by NPR 
Freakonomics Radio by WNYC Studios 
Planet Money by NPR 
Fresh Air by NPR 
NPR Politics Podcast by NPR 
Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me by WBEZ and NPR 

The Continued Growth of Podcasts  

Audio is the most significant form of media right now. Technology has increased sound quality and provided more ways to reach audiences where and how they spend their time. That means sponsorship messages have a greater reach, as well. An astounding 73% of people in the U.S. aged 12 and over have listened to online audio in the last month.  

Podcast listenership is also growing. Monthly podcast listeners between the ages of 35 and 54 now represent 43% of the audience, up from 39% the previous year. 62% of Americans aged 12 and over have listened to a podcast, up from a prior year total of 57%. There are over 3 million podcasts, which seems to increase almost daily.  

Why the continued upward trend? Podcasts are so popular because they allow the listener to do other things while listening. They can take it on the go with them in cars, on walks, or at the gym. They can listen as they work, clean the house, weed the flower beds, or as they relax in the evening.  

Podcasts can also fill content niches since they're a relatively accessible medium to develop. Podcasting allows amateur creators to express their creativity by making shows while working full-time or establishing their careers. For radio stations, employees can make shows that reach a smaller audience, providing entertainment to harder-to-reach groups who will appreciate shows that feel tailored to them. 

They also present a massive opportunity for businesses that use podcasts as part of their marketing strategy. Podcasts create a sense of familiarity and community, building a personal connection with the audience that creates brand awareness and loyalty. Podcast advertising lets your customers see behind the curtain and learn more about your business, values, and future products, often voiced by the show host who the audience already trusts 

Bringing Public Radio and Podcasts Into Your Marketing Mix 

The advent of podcasts and their meteoric rise shows how well public radio and podcasts work together. Despite its stature as a long-standing and respected institution, public radio remains at the forefront of innovation, evidenced by its early adoption of podcasts.   

With the vast number of podcasts and popular public radio shows available, how do businesses choose the right one for their marketing goals? How do they know whether to go with a public media sponsorship or add podcasts to the mix? The real question is, why limit your opportunities to only one? Connect with a trusted media partner today to help guide your marketing strategy.

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