As this blog is written, a restorative justice center architect is playing in the background asking ‘what a world without prisons could look like’. It’s one of thousands of podcasts from TED Talks and one of millions available – for free.

In 2017 RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) reported that around 4.7 million Brits download podcasts every week. However, this form of media is not a new concept, giving a nod to its relatives the radio and audio book.

Twenty years ago they were a novelty. Apple led the charge, uploading podcasts to its channel in the early noughties where its namesake was born, combining ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’,

Fast forward to 2018 and we have become a nation, even a planet, of podcast lovers and binge-listeners. In the last few years they have boomed and become part of our routine.

Whether listening to politics while working out, true crime during the commute, mindfulness at bedtime or comedy on a long drive – podcasts perfectly fit around daily life, allowing listeners to tune into the best bits whenever they like rather than adhering to a radio schedule.

Covering every topic imaginable, the podcast’s strength is narrowcasting and bringing together cultural niches. From spirituality, feminism and American presidents to dinner parties, Denzel Washington and The Simpsons, there is something for everyone.

One format that has become a huge hit and gained a cult following, with FOCUS being no exception, is true crime. Apart from signalling our love of morbidity, real-life horror in your ears has proved to be a perfect match.

What is it about listening to true crime that is so appealing? It is perhaps thanks to how sinister the material is when it’s heard, as opposed to being read or viewed. This explains why podcasts are so popular. Listeners are immediately engaged and by tuning in we are cutting off a primary sense leaving the outside world and being transported to whichever world we have chosen.

Looking at the frenzy on a deeper level, it’s refreshing to see that, in the age of the self-checkout and Alexa, we still strongly desire human communication and opinion, as well as the opportunity to be whisked away by our imagination. Although a personal experience, it also creates a sense of community with like-minded listeners.

The podcast phenomenon isn’t just sweeping those in who want to listen, but also those who want to go behind the mic. Aspiring podcasters are on the up, with people choosing this platform to generate a discussion around their niche topic to an audience.  Due to the set-up being relatively simple, this can easily become a reality.

Organisations are beginning to tap into this by literally putting a voice to their brand.  Save the Children recently launched ‘Anywhere but Home’ an audio drama series based on true stories of the journeys made by children and families displaced by conflict around the world.

Media houses are also joining in, turning their print into sound. In 2015 Buzzfeed asked its loyal readership to listen in, while, only last week, the London Evening Standard announced the launch of its very own podcast:  Underground: Tales for London, short stories inspired by the tube.

As with most forms of media nowadays, the future of podcasting is uncertain as the boundaries become blurred. Earlier this year, it was reported Spotify is building upon its podcast business, debuting a new “multimedia format” that adds visual elements to podcasts.

For now, the question of the moment is: “So, what are you listening to?”

Here’s the FOCUS team’s collective podcast playlist:

Happy listening!

Written by Laura Frankland