When I first started listening to a podcast, I didn’t really understand that it was a podcast.
It was in 2012, shortly after I had graduated from high school, that I discovered “Welcome to Night Vale” – a surreal show that somehow manages to marry the spirit of “The Twilight Zone” with NPR and a dash of H.P. Lovecraft by following the broadcasts of a fictional community radio station.
I had seen some art relating to the show before picking it up that led me to believe it was some TV show or maybe a comic. Learning that it was solely an auditory medium initially threw me for a loop. I just couldn’t figure out how it “worked.” Was I supposed to listen while staring at a wall doing nothing else? How did people enjoy that?
But then again, I listened to audio books occasionally, and I listened to music constantly. Surely, it couldn’t be that different, I thought.
I didn’t know about any podcasting app in those days, so I went straight to the website to download episodes.
It only took me one to get hooked.
The show was the perfect mix of weird and the supernatural with a loose plot threading between episodes that was impossible for me to predict. And even when the characters were essentially talking about “nothing,” the creators behind the show, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, somehow managed to find the most interesting and entertaining ways to spin it.
It only had a handful of episodes out when I first gave it a try, and I devoured them quickly - on the bus, while doing chores, during any repetitive task, and occasionally right before bed to help me drift off.
Despite my initial reservations of that new form of media, “Welcome to Night Vale” had grown on me and I began to view it as just another story, like those on TV or in books.
But after a few months, I gradually left it behind and forgot about that strange little show and the word “podcast.”
It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I began hearing “podcast” thrown around again more and more often.
“Oh, like ‘Welcome to Night Vale’!” I would say if podcasts got brought up. “You should give it a try-”
And that was it.
But last year, when my office began discussing the possibility of producing podcasts, I got curious.
Was my once favorite show still going on? Were there more like it?
Yes and yes, as I soon discovered.
I dipped my toes into the world of podcasts again after a five year hiatus, this time with a better understanding of what a podcast actually is, and soon fell headfirst into dozens of shows I still cherish today. Fictional stories, news updates, pop culture commentary, educational tidbits, advice “columns,” comedy shows – the breadth and possibilities of the medium seemed endless.
It’s become one of the fastest growing forms of media out there. Mostly, I think, because of how accessible it is. Pretty much anyone with a mic can start one, myself included, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s never been so easy to get your story, your idea, out there, no matter how weird.
At over 130 episodes and counting, I’m still catching up on “Welcome to Night Vale,” in between all of the other newer podcasts I’ve gotten hooked on. But even with all the shiny, new shows, it will always hold a special place in my heart. After all, it’s what introduced me to the brave new medium of podcasts.