Print storytelling is my career, but audio storytelling may be my first love. I grew up huddling with my family around the radio, listening to Adventures in Odyssey, Focus on the Family's often surprisingly great evangelical kids' radio drama.
So podcasts were a natural fit. I've swapped out the moral lessons of an elderly Christian ice cream shop owner for the wonky ramblings of nebbishy New Yorkers. I'm the sort of person who sits in the driveway and downloads a new episode so I'll have something to listen to during my 15-second walk through my front door.
Theoretically, a pandemic should have been a boon for podcasts — all this time with nothing to do but eat, drink, and consume entertainment. That's not what happened. Instead, podcast listener numbers, particularly in late March and early April, fell. My listening habits fell off, too.
Podcasts are unlike almost every other form of storytelling. We watch movies in air-conditioned theaters. We binge TV series swaddled in blankets on the couch. We read novels over macchiatos in coffee shops.
But podcasts are different. Podcasts don't demand your attention — they share your attention. They're meant to be consumed on the move. They convert menial commutes into intellectual romps, tedious workouts into edifying excursions into fascinating areas of knowledge. It's why podcasts are a leading indicator of my own physical health — if my backlog has been growing, I know my arms are getting scrawnier and my gut's getting tubbier.
But the pandemic killed the commute. The pandemic killed the gym.
On top of all that, the pandemic largely killed one of nonfiction podcasts' best assets: The diversity of topics. Nearly every news-oriented podcast was suddenly dedicated to one thing. Scrolling through three months of titles like "COVIDious B.I.G." wasn't something I looked forward to.
Without movies opening or celebrity galas or sporting events being held, culture podcasts didn't have much to talk about, either.
But now, that's changed. Even before last weekend, it was like the podcasting world began to wake up from its COVID coma. There were all sorts of dramas to discuss and debate — New York Times food columnist Alison Roman's feud with supermodel cookbook author Chrissy Teigen! Trump's war on Twitter!
And then, a video showing a Minnesota police officer killing a man is released — and protests erupt across the country. It's the sort of cultural chasm that podcasts are made to explore. And so as the economy begins to open back up, my ears have stayed glued to my Bluetooth. ♦