Byron Chronicles

Dispatches from the podcast revolution

Audio Drama PDX, Part Two: Loose-knit, raw and independent, a fledgling industry is perched eagerly where radio was in the 1920s

People get into podcasting for some very stupid reasons. On reflection, mine might have been one of the stupidest.

Four years ago I was meeting with my friend Ron, a co-producer on the film BRASS: Lair of the Red Widow that we were hoping to shoot. Developed as a potential TV pitch, it featured a family of Victorian science geniuses involved in a war with a criminal mastermind in an alternative history London.

The problem was, making a film takes a lot of money, even when your proposed film is only fifteen minutes long. (In this case, the eventual budget was about $13,000.) Another problem was the time between writing and final production, as I’d become deeply attached to my clan of 19th century good-doers. Three months in, they’d begun to knock on my mental door at odd times to propose other adventures I should write for them.

“We could always do it as a podcast,” Ron said.

At that time podcasts were still a somewhat exotic-sounding proposition, though Ron’s girlfriend had been running a successful one (about polyamory, if you must know) for some time. She admitted it was a lot of work, but it generated a pleasant little income via downloads and merchandise, so we were inclined to think it could be done—and for a lot less expense and hassle than making a film.

“Much easier!” I agreed. Wrongly, as it turns out. There’s a big difference, expense and production-wise, between your typical podcast and a full-fledged audio drama.

Portland podcast pioneer Eric L. Busby plays on SF themes.

We are in the midst of a full-throated podcast revolution. Twenty-four percent of Americans listen to at least one podcast a month, while 44 percent of the country have at least listened to one, up 4 percent since last year. (That’s 143 million people.) In an age of increasing social fragmentation, podcasts are perfect for commuters with long drives, as well as those in the gig economy who have sporadic downtime. Available whenever and via smart phones wherever, podcasts give us extra content to spackle into lives already plastered by other on-demand media.