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The Inside Guy

Tom Krymkowski

An-ti-ci-pa-tionBy Tom Krymkowski

It's pretty scary how many commercials I have buried in the recesses of my mind. There was one that tried to show that it was worth the wait for the product to finally come pouring out of the bottle. I don't know any kid that would have waited as long as the one on television. And time marches on. Do you notice how we've switched to more proactive squeeze bottles?

So I ask you, where's all the life-changing, world-shaking, amazingly cool media that this new dawn of communication is supposed to bring? Is it all just a flash in the pan? Have my hopes been dashed on the rocks of harsh reality?

Hardly.

The problem with being an early adopter is that, in your excitement to see what's next, you forget that it is indeed early. I first heard about podcasting just over a year ago. I remember going to a local meeting and there were less than ten people there. Now we're filling the room to capacity and beyond.

It's still in its infancy, and I'd argue "the terrible twos."

The wonder of everything new is waning. We're all getting into way more than we probably should. The "parent" forms of media don't know what to do with us. We look like them, but somehow we're quite different. There's the occasional tantrum, as we push boundaries and test both our limits and those of our environment. But we keep developing. And just like a child, you can't always see the incremental steps.

There are a whole lot of small problems that need to be solved. Each small solution goes toward solving some of the bigger issues. There are few "eureka" moments, when an idea surfaces and changes everything. Normal innovations, even breakthroughs, are the result of one baby step after another. It can definitely get a little boring. But boring is good. Boring often stays under the radar where you can make mistakes and try new things without hurting your chances at success in the long run.

So, where are we headed with this? What's the end goal?

I think what we're shooting for is to make this whole process as easy as older media technology. A lot of changes already happened on the production side. Recording technology is inexpensive and has options to keep the process simple. Then all you need to put together a radio program is a computer and some editing software. Podcasting made getting it out to your worldwide listeners an inexpensive process.

But you still need some technical skills on this side of the equation. The proper microphone techniques and interviewing skills are necessary. Getting the sound into your computer, while getting easier, can still be a challenge for some people. Editing software can be confusing for many. Sending out your completed masterpiece is still a little difficult. These are all great opportunities for someone to come in and make the process easier. And that's exactly what's in the works.

On the listening side, what do you really have to know to use a radio? They've made it pretty simple. No engineering degree is needed to turn it on, tune it in, and adjust the volume of the signal. When podcasting gets as easy to use as a radio, or sending an e-mail, we can pause for celebration. Of course then get ready to need "spamcast" applications.

It's Complex on the inside, simple on the outside.

There's also the "Holy Grail" that everyone is looking for. In broadcast media, there was never the kind of one-on-one connection between a program and those who watch or listen to it. Now everyone is trying to make that ideal an actual reality. There's a classic question often asked in front of a microphone, "Is this thing on?" It won't just be answered. The goal is to know a lot more.

And frankly, that "more" has real value.

Whatever reason you might have to podcast, and unless you just do it for fun and don't care who hears it, you'll want to know the who, what, when, where, why and how of it all. How many people actually listen? That's a harder question to answer than many people think, but easier to answer than with traditional media. Who is listening? Not who in a Big Brother sort of way, but who in a demographic sort of way. These two questions alone will allow advertisers or sponsors to accurately value a podcast, and podcasters to better serve their listeners.

Right now this child can't feed itself. Most shows are self-financed. Most organizations are pulling funds from other departments. There are lots and lots of "repurposing" right now. Once the monetization of podcasting becomes a reality things will really get interesting. It's already happening in small doses. When it's systemized, watch out. Then a show will be able to not only feed itself but to walk on its own two feet. In hindsight it all happens so fast. Anticipation turns to adulation.

The words of a Tom Petty song come to mind - "The waiting is the hardest part."

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.

Next Generation Radio:
A series of week-long student training projects, designed to give students who are interested in radio and journalism the skills and opportunity to report and produce their own radio story.
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