Podcasts are officially better than radio, thanks to user experience

The other day I realized that although I was skeptical of podcasting going all the way back to 2004, I have to admit that now in 2008, I vastly prefer the experience of listening to a podcast, when compared to listening to the radio (say, NPR as I am comparing voice podcasts vs. talk radio).

In my early college years, I delivered pizza and drove around for hours a day in my car, listening to mostly talk radio (KFI in Southern California) to keep myself from being bored. When I had a long commute in college for a few years, I started listening to NPR. I would drift in and out of stories and reports as I dropped off a pizza or had to run to class from the parking lot and I never really got the hang of the broadcast schedules. I haven’t had to commute by car regularly for over five years so I don’t have 5-10 hours to kill every week in a car and I listen to NPR much less.

So the other day I was running errands around town like I usually do. This entails driving a couple miles to my bank, a couple more miles to a downtown shop, and a few more miles to the grocery store. It’s a series of stops and starts and I have to pick up my mail down the street from my house and sometimes I get hot chocolate or food in a drive-thru and I realized the user experience of radio sucks for this. There are nothing but interruptions as I go about my day. I know I’m spoiled by having the internet around for so long and having a TiVo for the past 8 years. Everything remotely entertaining and informative in my life is completely on-demand for me — I can watch, read, or listen to anything I want, whenever I want, wherever I want.

Except Radio. With radio, I can’t follow every episode and I can’t even remember when stuff is on. While I long wanted to have a “TiVo for radio” what I really wanted was a On Demand radio service with pause capability, and that’s pretty much what podcasting gives you.

I know it’s still a pain in the butt to download and run iTunes, then sync to a device like an iPod/iPhone, then it’s a whole can of worms to get it playing back in your car, but once you’ve done the legwork, it’s a pretty amazing thing. I find in my regular in-town driving for common errands I have about 2-4 hours a week to kill in the car listening to music or podcasts. Currently, this lets me dutifully follow every show that I’m a fan of, and I can hear every segment of every episode without missing a beat (thanks to the mighty pause button) and it doesn’t entail sitting in a parking lot for 15 minutes waiting for an amazing interview to conclude. Over the course of the past year, I’ve worked through almost the entire back catalog at MaximumFun.org and I follow a couple of NPR’s podcasted shows, listening a little each time when I’m out driving around.

My truck came with XM radio and I get several NPR stations where I live, but ever since I started listening to podcasts on my iPhone in the car, I noticed I really don’t turn on the radio anymore, and it’s not because of the program quality. It’s all about the user experience.

6 Comments

  • Since podcasts started a few years ago, I have barely listened to any radio – AM or FM. The only AM radio show that I listen to (if I am in my car at the time) is Leo Laporte’s “The Tech Guy’ on the weekend.
    Otherwise, I connect my iPod to my car’s sound system and listen to podcasts.
    For me, radio is a thing of the past.

  • I get red-faced with embarrasment when I think about how I poo-poohed podcasting in the beginning. In a thread on Metafilter I believe I called it “DOA.”
    Yet, here I am now with podcasts slowly crowding out music on my third iPod (of the three in my home). I post a podcast of my ow radio show every week, to boot. I’m a podcaster on both ends. I was wrong. Podcasting is great.
    Matt, you’re part of a trend. There are many people like you who lead busy lives and don’t have time for “appointment radio.” It’s keeping radio execs up at night and public radio is in the midst of a lot of soul-searching, feeling-out, and striding forward on the subject. The big difficulty: how do local public radio stations thrive if the syndicated shows are offering podcasts that mean listeners no longer need to tune in to, or support, local radio?
    The podcast linked on this page has four public radio folks (all white men, so some things never change) talking very frankly about the seemingly inevitable mash-up of public radio and new media. The three guests are all smart as whips and share optimistic and forward-looking viewpoints that are gaining ground in public radio. As behind the curve public radio is, corporate radio is even further behind.
    A few places that the future of radio is being talked about:
    Gravity Medium
    Hear 2.0
    Converge
    PRPD News
    RadioSutton

  • Yeah, given how rough podcasts were at first (to fetch, organize, play, etc) I also thought they’d never take off.
    I did forget to mention this excellent Ask MeFi thread on intelligent podcasts worth downloading.

  • It would not be that technically difficult to create and then market a “Tivo for radio” device. It’s basically a flash-based hard drive with radio components that can receive the over-the-air broadcast and convert it to digital and then store it for playback. This is very close to what Tivo already does with the TV signals that come down your coax, whether they are already digital or not.
    For maximum usefulness, add wifi capabilities to the Tivo-For-Radio car stereo unit so you can grab the podcasts you want to listen to, push them to your car from your home computer, and then start-and-stop them anytime. This start-and-stop feature would also be useful for not missing that 5-minute chunk of NPR while you’re filling the tank or in the store.
    Lastly, if every car stereo on the road has wifi capabilities, stick something like iTunes on them so you can share your music with neighboring cars driving down the same highway as you. If I recall, I think I read a Cory Doctorow book or story that talked about something like this.

  • Completely agree although I do try to listen to the radio for the morning commute of 10-15 minutes since I have a decent chance of hearing topical news on the way in to work. Other than that, the podcasts are far superior.

  • I often have the urge to “rewind”, Tivo-style, the radio while I’m driving – especially NPR.
    Doh!

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