What’s a Podcast?

What’s a Podcast?

By Hannah McGregor Date: May 28, 2020 Tags: Amplify

Podcasting, a portmanteau of iPod and broadcasting, has existed for over a decade, and as a form has seen a steady growth in the number of podcasts created and the size of audiences over the past decade. According to the Edison Research “Podcast Consumer 2017” report, an estimated 67 million Americans listen to podcasts on a monthly basis, while “The Canadian Podcast Listener 2019” found that “[n]early 11 million Canadian adults (37% of the 18+ population) have listened to podcasts in the past year.” A key reason for that growth is the ever-diminishing barriers to access. The widespread use of smart phones means that most North Americans can easily download new audio files directly into their portable devices and listen while going about their daily activities (Wrather 2016).

Podcasts are not only easily accessible, but they also present a low barrier to access for creators, who need only a microphone, a simple piece of sound editing software, and an account with a hosting service like Soundcloud (Eckstein 2013). Podcasting functions through RSS, or “Really Simple Syndication,” which amalgamates feeds of serial digital media. Because RSS is open web technology, there are no costs affiliated with a podcast feed being picked up by apps like the one that comes preloaded on iPhones. It is impossible to know exactly how many podcasts are being produced today, though estimates are in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands (Vogt 2016).

As researchers across the humanities and social sciences continually seek to expand the reach and accessibility of their research knowledge among academic and non-academic audiences, podcasting has become an increasingly popular medium for scholarly communication and research dissemination. Growing numbers of scholars have turned to podcasting as an ideal means to share their research more broadly as the medium plays an increasingly central role in North Americans’ media consumption habits. And yet, while there is ample evidence that academics are interested in making podcasts (see the list of podcasts hosted by scholars under References), there remains little institutional support for podcasting as a form of scholarly communication.

The Amplify Podcast Network—a partnership between Simon Fraser University’s Publishing program and Digital Humanities Innovative Lab (DHIL), Wilfrid Laurier University Press (WLU Press), Wilfrid Laurier University Library (WLUL), and The Documentary Media Society—addresses this lack of support through a multi-pronged approach: acquiring and peer reviewing a range of podcasts produced by scholars in humanities and social science disciplines; developing best practices for increasing the discoverability and sustainability of scholarly podcasts; and building support for scholarly podcasting through community engagement, pedagogical resources, and ongoing collaborations with other research projects.


Eckstein, Justin. 2013. “Sound Reason: Radiolab and the Micropolitics of Podcasting.” University of Denver. Google Scholar. Web. 13 Jan. 2017.

Edison Research. 2017. “The Podcast Consumer 2017.” Edison Research Blog, April 18, 2017. Accessed December 19, 2017. http://www.edisonresearch.com/the-podcast-consumer-2017/.

TPX. “The Canadian Podcast Listener 2019: Summary Report.” The Canadian Podcast Listener. Web. https://www.canadianpodcastlistener.ca/home#report

Vogt, Nancy. 2016. “Podcasting: Fact Sheet.” Pew Research Center: Journalism& Media 15 June. Web.

Wrather, Kyle. 2016. “Making ‘Maximum Fun’ for Fans: Examining Podcast Listener Participation Online.” Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 14 (1): 43–63. https://doi.org/10.1386/rjao.14.1.43_1