Politicians have podcasts now, have you noticed? In the UK, we have Ed Miliband’s Reasons to be Cheerful, Nigel Farage’s Farage Against the Machine (a name so bad it prompted the band whose idea he borrowed to call him a “pissweasel”), Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Moggcast, and now Nick Clegg’s Anger Management. In the US, there are a whole load more, and I’m only familiar with a few: Hillary Clinton’s With Her, Bernie Sanders’ The Bernie Sanders Show, and Keith Ellison’s We the Podcast spring to mind, but I’m sure there are loads more in America and beyond.
I’ve written an article for the New Statesman this week examining why politicians are jumping on the podwagon, and in it I made the argument that it’s mostly about control and being able to circumvent conventional media gatekeepers. (Do go and read the whole article, especially if you’re interested in the UK angle on this. I’ve also done some good roasting of a new podcast by our former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, who for some reason launched his show with an episode featuring everybody’s favourite double-breasted brass-buttoned jacket fan, Nigel Farage.)
However, I think this is part of a broader trend that’s been going on for a long while, and I want to explore that a bit here. It isn’t just politicians who like the idea that they can say what they want straight into the ears of their fans, without any pesky network controllers or media regulators getting in the way. Controversial comedians were among the earliest adopters of podcasting, with the likes of Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand racking up big audio followings. (Brand routinely gets in trouble on conventional broadcast radio, as in this instance from last year when he got a bit blue with an Elvis impersonator on a Sunday morning radio show.)
Shock jocks who get booted out of major networks do podcasts. Satirists who get let go from the BBC for not being funny/being too “white and male” do podcasts. TV presenters who don’t get asked to be on TV as much any more do podcasts. Pop stars who don’t sell as many records as they used to do podcasts. Basically, anyone who feels a bit hard done by that legacy media platforms aren’t giving them more airtime seems to think that podcasting is the route back to stardom.
In some cases, they’re right. Loads of people listen to Rush Limbaugh and Fearne Cotton has been topping the iTunes charts for a while now. And I’m pretty sure that Ed Miliband, former leader of the UK Labour Party, is going to have a much nicer post-politics career now thanks to the popularity of his cuddly podcast than he would have done if him standing in front of a giant stone slab was still his most recent contribution to pop culture.
But it doesn’t work for everybody, and the reason is the same boring one that applies to almost all independent media endeavours: either the show isn’t good, or it’s not right for the personality’s pre-existing audience, or both.
If Fearne Cotton suddenly announced she was doing a podcast about the 1989 abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme and its ramification for the future of UK trade unions, I might subscribe, but it probably wouldn’t do quite as well with her usual fans as her current touchy-feely interview show with famous guests. Similarly, if she was executing the Happy Place format poorly, by only asking her guests detailed questions about cheese and forgetting their names, it would probably have fewer listeners. Podcast listeners are discerning, and it’s not as easy to earn a place in someone’s regular listening schedule as some celebrities seem to think.
The podcast recommend
“I love Jonathan Van Ness of Queer Eye SO MUCH and in this lovely, easy-to-digest podcast, he explores a different topic each week with an expert guest. Hoorah!”
I too love Jonathan from Queer Eye a ridiculous amount, and I did not know he had a podcast, so thank you, anon, for this recommendation.
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The podcast links
Five things about podcasting I read this week:
Why Millennials Like Podcasts — Audio4cast
The best podcasts this spring — Guardian
That’s everything for today. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget that you can subscribe to get two extra emails about podcasting from me every week: I do commentary on industry news on Thursdays, and playlists of great shows to listen to on Sundays.
Coming up this week — my thoughts on what makes a good podcast advert and a playlist of my favourite interview shows.