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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Sarah Koenig

‘Serial’ exemplifies the art of podcasts in digital age

In the 21st century, technology is evolving at an exponential rate. In the last five to 10 years we’ve seen the human race crank out devices and programs that seemed fathomable only in a sci-fi movie. This new, seemingly never-ending slew of devices has paved the way for many new media outlets, mostly courtesy of the internet. This week I’d like to talk about a new media that has just begun to take off: podcasts. 

Podcasts have picked up a large following in the recent years, yet they’ve been around since about 2004. With roots in the 1980s, the invention of broadband internet and portable digital audio device, like iPods and MP3 players, gave these streams a way to thrive in the growing media landscape. When podcasts were first available, people thought they would be a huge hit and one of the best-selling new mediums. I even remember making one in middle school with a very prehistoric version of Audacity because my teacher was convinced that podcasting skills were going to be necessary in the following years.

Though they didn’t catch on as quickly as they were expected to, podcasts are now taking the internet by storm. There are numerous podcasts available for streaming and download all over the internet on just about any subject you can think. One of the most successful podcasts that has really blown the top off of the podcasting world is “Serial.” 

“Serial” is a podcast produced by Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, who both worked as producers on the National Public Radio show, “This American Life.” Koenig stars in the show as she discusses a murder case from 1999 of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Released in 12 parts airing weekly, each episode discussed a different aspect of the case. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the trial, but Syed was still given a life sentence. Koenig digs into the case further and brings some of the most doubtable aspects to life, as well as reviewing key pieces of evidence. Koenig never says exactly what she believes about the case; she lets the audience decide.

Season one of “Serial” has been downloaded over 68 million times according to CBS. Because of the notoriety that the case received, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals gave Syed the option to appeal the courts previous decision. I listened to an interview with Koenig and she discussed how she had no idea how popular her “side project” would be. People around the country are in high anticipation of season two, although no one is sure if there is going to be a season two and if there is, if it will be still centered on the Syed-Lee case, or a different one.

I think it was so popular because it was mobile. People could stream it in their cars on their way to work or in their headphones on their way to class. People didn’t have to be tethered to anything to hear the story, which is the beauty of podcasting in general, and why I believe the podcasting industry is just starting to take off now. People have internet almost anywhere, whether it be WiFi or a mobile network. 

“Serial” isn’t the only successful podcast out there. I personally like to listen to Snooki’s podcast, “Naturally Nicole,” every now and again. It’s a great way for me to keep up with pop culture while not wasting my time because I can listen on my way to class. “RadioLab,” “Freakonomics” and “TED Radio Hour” are also very popular — Radio Lab and Ted Radio discuss many different topics, and are usually interviews with professionals on their profession. A lot of Radio Lab’s stuff is a lot of current events, while Freakonomics is an economics and business podcast. 

For those of you interested in arts things I’d recommend checking out “PRI: Arts and Entertainment.” They touch on everything from Kim Kardashian, to The New York Times Best Seller list to popular art galleries. Also “LearnOutLoud” has a lot to choose from. If you really want podcasts relevant to your interests you can just google “podcasts about…” and you’ll definitely find something.

Lastly, podcasts are sometimes undercut because people are saying that it is taking over and destroying public radio. I personally don’t see that happening. Public radio is meant to appeal to the masses, while podcasts generally aim for niche, more specific, audiences: That’s like saying the big five television networks will go down because of expanded cable channels. We’ve had cable for 20+ years now, and the networks are still alive. I just think that people who listen to NPR will still listen to NPR, they just may add in a podcast or two on subjects they really like. 

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