By Adam Wakefield

Podcasting as a format dates back to the 1980s, but it was in the 2000s that it began gaining traction after it was added to iTunes by Apple in 2005. Driven by the increasing use of digital media, podcasting has become an established art in itself, with the likes of This American Life, Serial, and Planet Money, to name only a few, garnering large audiences in the United States and internationally. From football to history to politics, there’s a podcast for them all.

Storytelling and brand building

Rasmus Bitsch is the managing editor of Sound Africa, a documentary podcast focused on “illuminating life through the power of radio”. He says one of the reasons Sound Africa exists is because locally produced podcasting is still small compared to other markets.

“We felt that there ought to be good South African podcasts — in the manner of some of the big American podcasts — that could do justice to some of the fascinating stories in this country and we decided to try and make one,” Bitsch says.

“Aside from this, we wanted a platform to tell the kind of stories not often told in the mainstream media that we care about ourselves. We were mindful that there is not much documentary radio in SA, either online or on the airwaves, and we wanted to change that.”

Sound Africa hopes to become the place for non-mainstream storytellers to get published if they have quality stories which might not necessarily fit into other mediums, or the 24 hours news cycle.

Andile Masuku, executive producer and presenter of popular podcast, African Tech Round-up, decided to fully throw himself into creating his own niche content after a four-year stretch on e-tv’s It’s My Biz, where he worked both in front of and behind the camera.

“The African Tech Round-up is by far the most successful niche platform I currently executive produce, and as the most listened to African tech podcast around the world on iTunes, the show has become my calling card,” Masuku says.

“Podcasting has never been a casual pastime for me. It's always been part of my business strategy as a new media entrepreneur. And as a broadcaster who does many different things within media, podcasting just happens to be a craft I enjoy applying myself to more than most of my other media gigs.”

One of the reasons Masuku believes it’s important to produce African podcasts featuring African voices is that we cannot trust non-Africans to accurately represent our interests on the world stage, or expect them to adequately articulate our values and convictions.

For speaker Ryan Hogarth, podcasting is an excellent way for him to build his brand and have creative control. Also, unlike a live radio show, it allows listeners to download or stream the content at their convenience.  

“I love the idea that people can download and consume at their leisure and who have very easy access to the back catalogue of shows,” he says. 

The medium is the message

Podcasting, as a sound-only format, may not have the visual aids, but according to Bitsch, storytelling in sound is the “original medium”.

“It’s about as old as language itself. By only using sound, you are making the listener’s imagination work to kick start their mental bioscope,” he says.

“When done well, sound can be very emotionally engaging in a way that sometimes video fails to do, probably because there is no visual filter.”

Podcasting is also a comparatively versatile medium, easy to distribute, easy to get creative with, and it can be relatively low cost to produce good content.

It is that engagement with the listener, “the intimacy of the medium”, which Masuku values highly as a podcaster, especially compared to commercial radio or music streaming.

“The relationship between a podcaster and their audience is a far more intimate affair. Not least because, as a podcast host, I'm more often than not talking to people rather than ‘presenting’,” Masuku says.

“Authenticity is expected and sought by audiences who, in the African context, must forgo tuning into the ‘free’ traditional entertainment options to listen to me talk.”

From a practical perspective, podcasting is also a multi-tasker’s medium. Listeners can do anything from wash dishes to listening while commuting to work.

Some tricks of the trade

For those looking to do their own podcast, Hogarth cautions that taking the medium seriously means time, persistence, and patience.

“Your first months are going to be spent talking to a small audience, but if you use other channels to disseminate your content, you will build up an audience, but not if you are sporadic and occasional,” he advises.

“There is a space for your voice, but it has to be a consistent one.”

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*Image courtesy of Casey Fiesler under this license