The Rise of the Podcast


Hamad AlFayhani recording an episode for his podcast, “Okay, Listen.” Photo provided by Farah Al Sharif.

Fingertips experiment with the rounded dial of the relic of a bygone era with surgical-like precision. The dial goes back and forth, decimal by deci—wait! I think I got—no, that’s not the right station either. And then it happens. Your favorite song hits the airwaves, fills the backseat of your car, and all is right in the world again (or for three to four minutes, at least.)

So, radio, where did you go?

In the vague recollection of a memory thrown somewhere in the back of my mind, I see the remnants of a space grey iPod Nano and me scrolling through 2008’s greatest hits (Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” anyone?) It seems as though I have explored every menu that handheld device offers—all but one, which I always skip over by default due to the lack of a better understanding. Indeed, my podcast menu remains empty right to the day my iPod plays its last song.

In 2004, Adam Curry and Dave Winer brought about the rise of the podcast, marking an audio renaissance that re-envisioned the intimate, ritualistic practice of tuning in. Podcasters lay forth their virtual soapboxes, and soon the town criers flocked to the gazebos of the web. “Hear ye! Hear ye!” said they. And so the world heard.

The term podcast originated as the lovechild of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast.’ Its predecessor, ‘audioblogging,’ became popular in the 1980s, but in the 2000s audio-based content became readily available and easy to produce as a result of the Internet and lack of governmental regulation.With audio services such as SoundCloud, TuneIn and Pod Wrangler, the podcasting stage lifted its curtains and welcomed all.

Terrestrial radio belted static noise, as the decade saw the growth of online radio and podcasts. Radio became the nerve center of commercial advertisements and morning zoos. The podcast scene brought all for all, appealing to interests, hobbies, and opinions alike. The common listener now has access to a vast selection of echo chambers, bringing the listener solace in a world of dissenting sentiments.

With the existence of hits such as Sarah Koenig’s investigative journalism podcast “Serial,” which tells covers one true crime story every season, podcasts often aim to appeal to various niches. According to the 2018 Infinite Dial study conducted by Edison Research, 2006 to 2018 saw a 33 percent increase in podcast listeners. In September, Esquire magazine released a list of the top 15 podcasts of 2018, including podcasts such as “Slow Burn,” “In the Dark”and “The Wilderness.

In fact, we are now seeing the rise of a podcast in our very own backyard here at Northwestern University in Qatar. Produced by communication sophomore Hamad AlFayhani, “Okay, Listen”  encompasses the life and struggles of the common millennial or modern-day college student, including episodes about filmmaking, motivation, and the Internet. AlFayhani says it is an opportunity for him to educate his audience and even himself through the podcast’s weekly episodes. “Okay, Listen” is about everything and nothing, all at once.

“I feel like we really needed a platform such as this one in Doha, and “Okay, Listen” is where I both convey my opinions, but also become more aware of the differing opinions around me,” AlFayhani said.

“Okay, Listen” was received well among NU-Q’s student body, with the first episode raking in over 400 listens. “[Okay, Listen] is so funny and lighthearted and the topics are so relevant to us as students,” said Ghadeer Jassim Abdelrahman, a journalism senior at NU-Q. “I like to listen to the podcast on the balcony of the third floor of NU-Q. It just makes the experience all the better.”

Many podcast consumers owe their interest in the medium to its convenience and variety of topics. “I like listening to people talk about the shows I watch or about lifestyles. I like having something to listen to whilst I do something else, something that’ll make me laugh,” said Alya Primiardhani, an international business graduate of the University of Liverpool’s class of 2018. Primiardhani is currently listening to “Insecuritea,” a podcast that is “primed to take you through the latest episode of HBO’s “Insecure” with a dynamic dissection,” as well as The Receipts” on BBCRadio 1Xtra, which features three female hosts who talk about everything and anything, from diversity to dating.

So what does the future of podcasting hold? On the horizon, it seems as though the podcast may return to its humble roots of being a communal activity. In a couple of years or so, podcasts may become as easy to reach as terrestrial radio currently is in the cars we drive. Living in the golden age of podcasting, the radio wave has been ridden out. Terrestrial radio walked so podcasts could run.

“You had your time, you had the power, you’ve yet to have your finest hour,” sang the great Freddie Mercury in “Radio Gaga.” Perhaps he, too, saw radio for its purest form. A dear companion, lost greatly to modernity.

Radio, someone still loves you.

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