Despite reports to the contrary, radio isn’t dead. In fact, not only has it been revived but it's combined with its close cousins, the podcast and the long read, to herald in a new age of audio.
The renaissance of this once disparaged medium was reflected in the passion expressed by industry experts who took part in a debate at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia which was moderated by Thomson Foundation’s Director of Communications and Training, Deborah Kelly.
John Shields who’s the director of podcasts at The Economist explained why he thinks audio is speaking to a new generation. “A good podcast interview is like a CT scan of the soul”, he said, adding that podcasts were ‘an antidote to the craziness of the viral social media world’.
The listening figures seem to support what he says. Podcasts are booming. By next year it’s estimated that 504.9 million people will be listening worldwide to them.
Among the growing audience are Ukrainians who have turned to podcasts when access to other mediums has been difficult because of electricity and internet failure following air strikes.
An interview with podcaster Andriy Chemes was played during the debate in Perugia. He said when people were sitting in bunkers with no signal, they needed something to do; something to listen to. “Downloading podcasts to your cell phone – that's a very accessible thing to do,” he said.
“Downloading podcasts to your cell phone – that's a very accessible thing to do,”
Another interview with broadcaster and podcaster Volodymyr Anfimov was also played in which he highlighted the important role audio now has in Ukraine.
“I choose people who can support my audience,” he said. “The last episode was recorded with a military psychologist who gave a lot of useful advice about not watching violent videos from the war.”
The panel agreed that audio removed the barrier often created by a TV camera between the interviewee and the audience.
James Smart who’s the managing editor, newsroom production at Nation Media Group said: “People become themselves in interview situations. They almost forget those recording devices and just talk.”
Silence too was incredibly powerful he added. “You can write to the silence of audio."
Nicole Jackson, the head of audio at the UK Guardian who was also on the panel, said that podcasts gave people time to go deeper in a subject, and they ‘give people the space to talk about things. It's very satisfying for journalists and editors’.
The discussion wasn’t just about podcasts. Audio versions of articles and magazines are becoming more commonplace and of course, radio too is still a vital lifeline for many communities around the world.
“Radio is our older cousin”, said James Smart. “Radio works because it connects communities”. And that appears to be true for many countries. Deborah Kelly cited UK radio listening figures which showed more than one billion hours of radio were consumed by 89% of the adult population in the last three months of 2022.
More evidence of the popularity of audio was reflected in the audience turn-out. It was a full house at the venue in Perugia. One audience member asked about providing podcasts in local languages. Nicole Jackson said she would ‘love to use AI tools to translate our podcasts and put them out in multiple languages in future’.
‘I would love to use AI tools to translate our podcasts and put them out in multiple languages in future’
It looks like audio will continue to adapt to new audiences, new technology and new ways of storytelling.
Audio is alive and well, so stay tuned!
Get access to the full discussion on the International Journalism Festival platform
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