What’s That I Hear? A Rumination on Podcast Vs. Radio Listening




This week BRASS is a featured show on another great public radio station, KFAI 106.7 FM in Minneapolis. Jerry Stearn’s venerated audio drama show Sound Affects, A Radio Playground, will be playing all of Season One of our show beginning this Sunday at 9:30.

KFAI joins a roster of radio stations, both public and commercial, who’ve broadcast our show over the last couple of years, including KTOO in Juneau, Alaska, Classical KING FM in Seattle, WEFT FM in Champaign, Illinois (currently broadcasting The Devil in Whitechapel Mondays at 7:30 CST), and in the past via over 50 commercial stations across the US and Canada via the Imagination Theatre network.

This set us to thinking: what’s the difference between listening to a show as a podcast and as a broadcast? To some extent, of course, there are issues of format; our shorter regular episodes, originally produced at around 15 minutes, were regularly combined to create half-hour segments for radio. For Season Two and Whitechapel, we’ve been featured more often on shows like Sound Affects that curate several different shows, so length of time hasn’t been as strong a determining factor.

When a show’s broadcast, there’s a sense of shared experience. The same thing that you’re hearing is being listened to in a random collection of cars and homes throughout a geographical area. Some dedicated listeners will have tuned in for their weekly fix of audio drama, while for others, the experience may be completely random. As a boy in the early 1970s, the late-night discovery of The Shadow’s sinister laugh, discovered one night via a twirling AM dial, led me into the world of  Old Time Radio during its first major revival.

Later, my first experience with public radio was via volunteer shifts at my local public radio station, KCAW, Raven Radio, in Sitka, Alaska. This was the first time I’d experienced radio as a community phenomenon. It was a heady experience to develop regular listeners to an afternoon show, even in an isolated town in Southeast Alaska. KCAW broadcasts to a handful of small towns throughout the region, and today is practically omnipresent in Sitka’s coffee shops, community centers and liberal-leaning homes that are the habitual dwelling place of the Public Radio Listener.

Podcasts have done away with a community audience in favor of offering an international reach. Through the magic of the RSS Feed, BRASS is heard not only across the US but the world, with listeners throughout Europe, Australasia, and further afield. Shout out to our listeners, in the single digits, in Iraq, Bulgaria and Cyprus, for example!

Entertainment on demand is a wonderful convenience, but at times it feels like something has been lost. While the radio audience makes the effort to follow a schedule to tune in, podcast listeners fit the show into their own lives–and often via their phone and earbuds while doing household chores or commuting in car or bus. Podcasts are a sort of spackling in the cracks of most people’s existence, a diversion during other work or between destinations–and it’s inevitably a solitary one.

It’s still early days for podcasting, and like most audio drama out there, we’re still working out how to create entertainment for audiences who are sometimes only partially listening. How about you? Did you come to BRASS through a wayward dial or word of mouth? Do you listen in small bursts here and there, or save up episodes for bingeing? What works for you, and what doesn’t, in following the sometimes fairly convoluted adventures of our heroes?

We’re always interested in hearing from our listeners, regardless of the format or the reason. If you’d like to help us build our BRASS community, shoot us a note at info.battlegroundproductions@gmail.com, and tell us about yourself.

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