Podcasts aren’t radio, but in many cases they might as well be. When someone says, “I don’t watch TV,” yet is up to date on lots of shows by virtue of a Hulu or Netflix account, there’s a disconnect at work that’s difficult to address politely, one that seems to have more with identity flag-waving than with anything technologically persuasive.
Podcasts may align with radio, but they’re something else entirely — or, more to the point, they’re capable of being something else entirely. Many, nonetheless, still feel like radio, from the structure to the content to the intonation. Not, as they say, that there’s anything wrong with that. The podcast mode has been on my mind a lot as I’ve been planning my own, titled Disquietude. Now that it’s out, I hear other podcasts through a different … well, not lens, but through instinctively analytical earbuds. When amid a hastily recorded bit of timely tech news, for example, the word “Googleable” sounds oddly close to “giggle-able,” I can relate to the anxiety in regard to whether you really want to do one more take. There’s at least one grammatical error in my first Disquitude podcast episode that kills me, a simple plural/singular misalignment, but I just couldn’t face the mic one more time.
I did radio twice for long stretches, first on WYBC on the East Coast during college, and then on KDVS on the West Coast after moving to California. Reviewing plays during college is how I learned the concept — if not the fully adopted practice — of whittling one’s discussion points to a select few, and hanging them on some semblance of narrative. Both stations encouraged relatively freeform approaches for its DJs, and that’s what I took pleasure in. Disquietude, as I plot episode two, is still very much a work in progress. I have aspirations to “play with the form,” as my friend Erik Davis (of the Expanding Mind podcast) encouraged me recently. It’ll come in stages.
If there’s a podcast that gets at the orthogonal-to-professional notion of the medium, the other-than-radio aspect, it is the excellent Patzr Radio series, which is helmed by Jimmy Kipple, who (employing a brief vocal element by Paula Daunt) did the theme for my Disquietude podcast. His Patzr consists of collections of #cheap-concrete, to employ Kipple/Kpple’s favorite tag. It’s snatches of everyday sound, rendered into “listening material” courtesy of nothing other than the mere fact of the podcast’s existence.
There are 72 Patzr episodes to date, all the same one minute and forty seconds in length, the latest a mix of unintelligible passing voices, and rough noises against subterranean leakages, doppler-effect motoring, and exquisitely banal footsteps that are not in the least bit threatening — except to the extent that the assemblage threatens the tidy conception of a podcast. When a format is merely a feed and a file, a few lines of RSS code and a fixed audio document, there’s a lot you can do with it, and sometimes doing very little, doing something explicitly contained, is the best reminder of the potential therein.