Podcast Self-Care

I have depression.  It is hard for me to admit it to myself, and even harder to tell friends and family.  I want to pretend like everything is ok, and hope the rest of me will catch up.  That’s not how it works though.

Earlier this year, one of my friends told me “podcasts are single-handedly getting me through college.” and while this is a bit of an exaggeration, what she said is true for me too.  Podcasts have become an integral part of my daily routine.

One of the most challenging characteristics of depression is the lack of motivation.  There are days when it takes monumental effort to convince myself to get out of bed.  There are days when I fail to do so.  But I try to start a podcast.  Hearing other people talk about what they are passionate about, reminding me that there are things worth doing that day, helps me convince myself to face the day.  Even after I get up, podcasts help me get through daily chores.  It’s much more enjoyable to fold a load of laundry while listening to comedy shows.  Podcasts are the only reason my room is clean right now.

Another, less common symptom of my depression is insomnia.  On my own, it’s nearly impossible to shut down my racing mind, falling asleep can take hours, and in the middle of the night, I’ll realize, I’m awake again, my mind still cycling through my worries and to do lists.  Podcasts have been the saving grace of my sleep habits.  I can’t focus very well on a book, plus as soon as I turn the lights out, my anxious thoughts are back.  Podcasts let me leave  the lights off, but still give me a story to escape to.

Without podcasts, I don’t think I would be a functioning human right now.  I am not the only mentally ill person who has found comfort in podcasts.  There is a whole genre of mental health podcasts created by and for people with mental illnesses.  The community helps fight stigma and encourages people to seek out the help they need.  It is a large part of the reason I have been able to seek help for myself.


Pokémon Podcasting

On July 6, 2016, the tiny videogame company, Niantic released Pokemon Go.  The game skyrocketed to popularity, hitting the nostalgia sweet-spot for many young adults and popularizing a revolutionary new type of game.  At the height of its craze, Pokemon go had more daily users than Twitter.  Players began trading information on where to find the best pokemon and strategies for how to advance as quickly as possible.  Two brothers took advantage of this passionate fan base by launching a podcast, Pokémon Go Radio (PGR).  Using the mics on their smartphones, the brothers record segments such as “Catch of the week” and “The ‘mon that got away” as well as dish out the latest news, tips, and tricks in the pokémon world.  Nar and Sal now receive tens of thousands of downloads and are still happily chatting about the latest updates to the game.


Now there are many other ways the PGR creators could have used to publish their pokémon conversations, they could have written a blog, or created a youtube channel, both well established digital media, but podcasting offered the brothers some unique advantages.  

Firstly, podcasting has a fairly low barrier to entry.  All phones already have a microphone built in, many of which are fairly high quality, and even high quality microphones are relatively cheap compared to the equipment needed to produce videos.  Also editing audio recordings is much more forgiving than video.  Audio can be cut and rearranged much more inconspicuously, and continuity errors are pretty much nonexistent.  Nar and Sal did not need any specialized skills or equipment to start their podcast, they just did.  As the podcast has become more popular, and the creators have gained more experience, the quality of the audio recordings and editing have improved.  

But the potential popularity of their podcast presented another problem for the brothers.  They loved talking about pokémon, but they had no desire to become celebrities, and since they sometimes talk about playing while at work, they didn’t really want their day jobs finding out about their little side project.  So Nar and Sal are pseudonyms, while their actual identities remain anonymous to their podcast’s audience.  This would be much more difficult to do over a visual medium like youTube since viewers would expect to see the hosts’ faces.

Finally the app continues to undergo frequent updates, so often older episodes become inaccurate as the game changes.  The RSS news-like feed ensures that podcast listeners hear the most recent episode first, and that most people listen to their episodes the week they come out, rather than months later.

These and many other aspects of podcasting have lead to the medium having one of the widest variety of topics and formats of digital media, and one that has been the most divergent from traditional audio media.

Political Podcasts


It’s an election year, and it seems like every medium is supersaturated with election coverage.  Podcasts are no different, and so, elections podcasts provide a case study in the wide variety of podcasts.  Although they all cover the same topic, each podcast approaches the election with different backgrounds and different goals.


FiveThirtyEight Elections


Five Thirty Eight began in 2008 as poll aggregator blog.  It produces statistical analyses of politics and sports.    The website was licensed to the New York Time in 2010 and subsequently acquired by ESPN in 2014.  Although it is owned by traditional media, Five Thirty Eight is wholly a digital media production.  

The FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast published its first episode on January 22, 2016.  The podcast, like it’s parent website, takes a numbers and polls based approach to the election.  Although it does  do an excellent job of explaining trends in the polls and their causes and significance.  If you’re looking to do a deep dive into election data, this is the podcast for you.


NPR Politics


National Public Radio, is an ancient and well established traditional public medium.  Because they already have the infrastructure for producing high quality audio content, NPR and it’s local stations produce a vast selection of podcasts, using their podcasts to develop show concepts outside of the time and topic constraints of broadcast radio.  

The NPR Politics podcast published its first episode on November 9, 2015.  In the podcast’s most recent episode, it  clipped all of the best soundbites from yesterday’s debate and provided a summary of the overall impressions and important moments of last night.  Though it, like most of NPR, tends to have a liberal bent, this podcast is an excellent way to stay informed on events of the election without being overwhelmed by extensive analyses and differences of opinions.


Says Who Podcast


Created by YA Author Maureen Johnson, and Reporter Dan Sinker.  This podcast is not backed by any large traditional media, it is the least professional, most biased, and quite possibly the most enjoyable.  Created precisely because this 2016 election cycle is especially insane, Says Who is comedy centric and strongly anti-Trump.  The tone of the podcast is best described by its tagline “Says Who: It’s not a podcast- it’s a coping strategy.” Says Who published its first episode on September 10, 2016



Now, all of these have varying degrees of liberal bent.  Whether it’s by virtue of the demographics of podcast listeners, or due to my own filter bubble and bias, the best political podcasts I know of lean left.  But that is not to say that there is not a wide variety of conservative podcasts out there.  Podcasts are a space where traditional media, popular digital media, and newcomers can all find an audience as long as they are producing thoughtful and thought provoking content

The Economics of Podcasting


Podcasts are small but they have managed to develop a variety of stable business models. These models produce a wide variety and quality and content on podcasting platforms.  Advertising revenue has allowed the largest podcasters to quit their day job and given the smaller podcasts enough money to justify the time investment they are making.

Advertisers are willing to pay a premium for the native, host read ads that have become commonplace among podcasts.  In fact, the cost per thousand views, or cpm of podcasts are $18 for a 15 second spot whereas broadcast network television pays an average of $24.40 for a 30 second ad.  Because the host personally reads the advertisement, the consumer feels a connection to the product as the host’s personal brand is attached to the product.  In addition podcasts tend to have dedicated, niche audiences resulting in a better ad response rate and allowing targeting for highly specific demographics.  Direct-response ads have become the most popular advertising method because they have a code that will measure how many listeners respond to a specific podcast’s ad which advertisers care much more about than how many people are listening to it.  The advertiser can get an exact number stating how much business they are receiving based on a specific ad placement.

There are other ways podcasts have monetized the dedication of their audience.  Some will directly ask their audience for support via crowdfunding sources such as kickstarter or patreon.  Others will create ticketed events or merchandise, others have opted for a “freemium” plan where the regularly scheduled podcasts are free to all, but bonus content is available to paying premium subscribers.  E.g. Marc Maron whose new episodes are free but back catalog is behind a paywall.  Finally, a few podcasters have put all of their content behind a paywall, you pay for access to the content, and if you can’t pay, you can’t listen.

Podcasts are not the first digital media to struggle with monetization, and it is possible that monetization will become homogenized as podcasting becomes a larger part of the media landscape.

Podcasts 101

When I asked my friends what they thought of podcasts, I heard “podcasts are for dweebs,”  and “Podcasts are single-handedly getting me through college,” and just about every opinion in between.  Turns out this medium, and people’s opinions of it are far more complicated than I thought.


What’s a podcast?

A podcast is a kind of on demand radio show where creators release episodes on a weekly or daily basis, and listeners decide what they want to hear and when.  But podcasts have gone far beyond radio shows in the breadth of topics they cover and the variety of formats they use.  There’s a podcast out there for everyone.


Who listens to podcasts?

About ⅓ of Americans have listened to a podcast, yet the medium is not viewed as a part of mainstream culture.  The strange thing about podcasts is that they haven’t experienced any volatile surges in usership common in digital media, but rather have been on a steady climb for a decade.


While they’ve never exploded in popularity, podcasts have developed a significant yet often unnoticed listenership.


Why listen to podcasts?

Podcasting is the multi-tasker’s media.  With a pair of earbuds and a smartphone, any monotonous chore from doing laundry, to the morning commute, can be turned into an opportunity to learn something new, hear perspectives on the news, or just laugh.  A podcast doesn’t need your full attention to start, but the best ones will have grabbed it by the end.


This blog is about podcasts and how they are clearly the best form of media out there.  Well, not actually.  This blog is more about how podcasts are unique because you don’t need eyes to enjoy them.

If you’ve never heard of podcasts, or never actually tried them here’s a list of excellent podcasts you can start with.  Hopefully you find one you like!