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Tom Krymkowski

Splitting HairsBy Tom Krymkowski

What exactly should we name this baby?

Recently, I've been thinking about podcasts and their place in the world. No surprise there. That's what this column is supposed to be about, right? But lately I've been thinking semantic. Words do have power and they represent ideas, be they concepts or physical objects present in the world. There are even plenty of people, myself included, who like to argue that even the "stuff" is just an idea. But enough metaphysics. My point is that everyone is throwing around the word "podcast" these days. Well is it, or isn't it?

What started me down this train of thought were a few programs containing interviews with representatives of major traditional broadcasters. All the big players were represented in one show or another, from the public to the private. All of them talked about their foray into "on demand" content delivery. That's their buzzword where podcasting is concerned. I say "their" because, while I do work with broadcasters, I have little say in programming decisions. But that gets to my point.

I think we should coin a word for content that starts its life as an RSS feed. Let's call it a "podcast." And let's have another word for content that starts its life some other way. I'm really talking here about the spirit of the word. What the idea of it means to us (or at least to me).

On one level, podcasting is just a means to an end. It's a way of getting your audio, video, etc. from one place to another. It's an act. A verb. Fine. No argument there. And if the Wikipedia is to be considered, "podcasting's essence is about creating content for an audience that wants to listen when they want, where they want, and how they want." If broadcasters want to podcast they should go right to it. Apparently there's a lot of "demanding" listeners out there.

It is just content after all, and I agree that whatever route it takes to get to me doesn't really matter. Some terrestrial radio is now on satellite. So are some podcasts. Some satellite shows are streamed over the Internet. Great.

Like I said, it's just a means to an end.

But one of the reasons podcasting is gaining ground is not from the demand of the same ol' same ol'. If I can hear the same show on 5 different stations at different times in my market, why do I need to have it sent to my computer? What's great about podcasting is all the NEW content, as well as the NICHE content.

The voices we haven't heard.

I believe one of my greater purposes in life is to help people who don't have a voice get one. Where and when I can, I open doors. Sometimes personally, sometimes through technology. I'm a big fan of the democratization of media, and if I can help out, I'm there.

So now we have a way to hear these shows that would NEVER survive the gauntlet of the broadcasting world. Stories, interviews, music and ideas, that program directors worldwide would have to turn down for one reason or another. Some of the reasons are financial, some due to the limits of only having 24 hours in a programming day, and many other reasons we never hear about.

And what do we get with this wonderful new technology? "On Demand."

Same thing, different day.

I'm probably being naïve, but I've worked with enough media organizations to know that they're oozing with creative talent. Stifled and depressed creative talent, but talent nonetheless. They've had their drive and ideas channeled and beaten down for so long they gave up years ago. It's called learned helplessness, and it pretty much defines the industry. So much potential, and now we have the tools to release it.

I'd like to make just one humble request to the powers that be. The next time someone comes to you with an idea, let them podcast it. All you need to provide is the off-hours studio access and the server space - and maybe the IT guy or gal to help them get started. Let them put their own team together and develop their own content. If you really want to change the world, let them use a portion of the time you're already paying them. Then let them free to make mistakes.

If only a handful of people subscribe, so be it. It probably deserved to die and saved you a boatload of transmitter expenses in the process. But maybe, just maybe, your skunkworks team will come up with something that could actually grow an audience. With a little nurturing, it might even replace a slot on your coveted airtime. But the wonderful thing is that it doesn't have to. Most importantly, I think you can honestly call this home grown baby, what for once it truly is.

A podcast.

Thoughts? Write Us.

Tom Krymkowski is a freelance Audio Engineer, Multimedia Producer, and Amateur Photographer living in San Francisco. He works as a Technical Advisor for npr's Next Generation Radio. When he's not on the road he farms out his skills to NPR station KQED-FM, The Pixel Corps, PodShow, and other Podcasters in the Bay Area and beyond.

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