NPR Celebrates 10th Podcasting Anniversary

From experiment to phenomenon.

In a perfect illustration of the tendency of technologies to speed up as they catch on, 80 million NPR and public radio station podcasts were downloaded in the first year and a half that NPR introduced podcasts to its listeners, back in August of 2005. Ten years later, it takes one month to reach 76 million podcast downloads, and that just for NPR-produced or distributed shows.

There are some fun factoids from the story NPR tells from its decade of podcasting, including one about a meeting Bryan Moffett, now general manager of National Public Media, then an analyst who had worked on the podcast launch, had with an Apple competitor in the podcast distribution space.

“I remember leaving their offices that day and saying to Bruce Melzer, NPR’s [then] director of business development, ‘Man, those guys are toast,’ since Apple had quickly dominated the podcast directory space,” Moffett said. “Except, ‘those guys’ were Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone. Pretty much while we were there talking, they were working on the side project that would become Twitter.”

Without the benefit of hindsight, podcasting was just another technological experiment for NPR to test out. “At the time, we didn’t know whether podcasts would crash and burn next to minidisks, but the format was a beautiful match for the audio programming our journalists had been shaping for decades, and it had potential,” notes NPR.

By every measure, including listening, public awareness and downloads, podcasts are more popular than they have ever been, according to Pew. Today it is a space where viral wonders like Serial and Invisibilia are not one-offs but the flashiest part of a trend that continues to grow. In 2015 33 percent of Americans listened to a podcast. Back in 2006, only 11 percent had.

We’d say they are living up to their potential.