A word from the Editor...
I RECENTLY bumped into a man I knew coming out of the station. He was carrying a bag and wore, on his head, an impressive pair of earphones, which he dislodged so we could chat. I was too polite to ask at the time, but curiosity nagged at me. So later, after making it clear he was under no obligation to tell me, I sent him a message asking what he had been listening to. Was it, perhaps, a mind-improving podcast? No, he responded, it was a song. And he sent me a link to it. All this would have been impossible not so long ago. A “link” was either part of a chain or simply missing. Anyone seen with headphones had to be listening to music on their preferred audio device – all the way back to the Walkman, which played cassettes. Now, of course, people can walk around listening to music, or overseas radio stations, or stories, or poetry, or a movie soundtrack – or podcasts, which can feature all or none of the above. Think of a podcast as radio-on-demand, available for consumption when convenient. And although they have become a feature of the modern digital world, there is something wonderfully old-fashioned about podcasts. In essence, they’re about people listening to something – just as they did in the early days of gramophones in the 19th century.
I can recall lying in bed as a young boy – and, no, we’re not still talking about the late 1800s – captivated by a radio dramatisation of a Sherlock Holmes story. It made me aware of the power of sounds, and perhaps explains why one of my favourite ways to listen to music is to lie in a dark room wearing headphones. (Flat on the floor is good, but you run the risk of being trodden on.) The trick is to shut out distractions: all that exists is what you can hear. Samuel Beckett plays with this notion in his radio play All That Fall (1957). Mrs Rooney interrupts other characters to say: “Do not imagine, because I am silent, that I am not present, and alive, to all that is going on…” Her voice is enough to remind us of her existence.
Actor Alec Baldwin, meanwhile, needs no such reminders. To some he is still at sea in the movie The Hunt for Red October, to others he will always be the urbane network boss in the TV series 30 Rock. But to associate editor Melissa Cranenburgh, author of our cover story (see p16), he is a podcaster – the man behind an interview show called Here’s the Thing. Baldwin was due to visit Australia as guest of honour at a charity ball late in February. Then he cancelled, much to the chagrin of event organisers. Why did he pull out? Speculation has swirled around scheduling issues or the tyranny of distance. My theory is that he’d seen messages and posts from Big Issue emissaries, seeking a chat with him about podcasts while he was in Australia, and wanted to avoid us.
So take this, Baldwin! Instead of endorsing Here’s the Thing, I will direct people to one of the few podcasts with which I’m familiar – Garrison Keillor’s ‘News From Lake Wobegon’, from the long-running American radio show A Prairie Home Companion. Lake Wobegon is the fictional Midwest place where, as Keillor reminds listeners, “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” I’ve been spotted sitting alone in a car, or walking down a street, chuckling at the latest Lake Wobegon news. It’s well worth checking out, especially as Keillor is bowing out in July. Then again, all the news will still be there. Recorded. Old-style radio, available anytime, through the wonders of new technology.
Alan Attwood, Editor
For more on podcasts – their evolution, their unique appeal, the ones we're obsessed with and the celebrities who are making them – grab a copy of Ed#505 from your vendor today!