How Podcasts Differ From Live Radio

When television hit the airwaves and became a household fixture, everyone expected live radio to become obsolete. This might be true of national radio stations, but local stations mushroomed everywhere and attracted a certain audience. Of course, it helped that TV sets were too bulky and you couldn’t carry them around. And despite all the odds, live radio survived.

Then the internet came and with it podcasts. Podcasts are as democratic a media platform as they come. It’s the mouthpiece of practically anyone with an internet connection. Gone are the days when you had to call your local radio station to get your voice heard. Now you can say anything you like and express your firmest opinions no matter how outlandish they are. But it’s not just the content that sets podcasts apart from the live radio. Those two media platforms have some crucial differences that make them appeal to different audiences.

Live and Evergreen

Unless you’re listening to online music on internet radio stations, chances are you’re listening to a live broadcaster. And with the addition of a jingle or a radio imaging voice over, radio attracts audiences with dynamic and up to date content. Broadcasters and radio hosts are the radio’s most formidable attraction. They talk to you at the same moment you hear them, and you can call the station and chat with them on air.

Podcasts are different in that they’re prepackaged, and nobody knows when exactly they were recorded. They only become available when the podcaster uploads them online. While the programming in live radio is continuous and flowing, most of it is fleeting. The listener is interested in what comes next and they hardly feel the need to re-listen to a certain radio program.

A podcast, on the other hand, is evergreen. Its focus is narrow, but the content stays relevant for a long time. At any moment, listeners can scroll through the list of podcasts they subscribe to and listen to them over and over again. Unless the topic of the podcast is transitory, like current politics, chances are the podcast would continue to attract listeners for years on end.

Appeal and Schedules

The first thing that gives podcasts a huge advantage is the type of people they appeal to. Live radio creates a wide variety of content to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. This is different from the narrow niche the podcast often addresses. A podcast about UFOs, for example, will only attract listeners interested in that topic. But by doing so, it will miss out on the vast number of people who couldn’t care less about the mysteries of the universe and whether the truth was out there or not. 

And although at first glance podcasts seem to have a wider reach to audiences, especially the young demographics that spend hours on their phone every day, the fact is, live radio is easier to find. That’s because the sheer number of podcasts out there that exceeds 2 million podcasts makes it hard for listeners to find a single one they’re interested in. Unless you have the name of the podcaster, their podcast title, or a link to the said podcast, chances are you’ll have to sift through thousands of podcasts about the topic you seek before you find a good one worth listening to.

A radio station, on the other hand, is easier to access. Especially if you’re looking for a local radio station that only takes a few moments of fiddling with the car radio before you stumble into it. But if mass appeal and easy access give the live radio a leg up in its battle of survival against podcasts, the radio has inherent handicaps that threaten its very future.

One of those handicaps is scheduling. All the radio programs are scheduled weeks, if not months, in advance. While that is a good thing on the surface, as it ensures that the radio keeps entertaining its audience with a continuous stream of material, it also means that if a listener misses a scheduled program, there’s no way for them to catch it again. 

Podcasts don’t have this problem. They’re always available 24/7 and you can listen to any podcast you like at the time of your choosing. You can even queue a few podcasts to play back to back while you take a long road trip, for example. And if you get distracted and miss something, you can simply rewind and play it again. A podcast allows you to skip forward over the boring parts or commercials. That’s something you cannot do with the live radio that plays all kinds of material whether you like it or not. Your only option is to change the station.

Podcasts and live radio compete fiercely for the same audience. The audience whose eyes are too busy and only their ears are available at the moment. But while live radio tries to appeal to a wide swath of the audience with its diverse programming, podcasts target a niche audience with in-depth analysis and coverage of a single topic. As podcasts keep gaining ground and claiming more and more listeners that once favored live broadcasting, the radio has its work cut out for it to stay competitive and prove that it is still the relevant media platform it once was.