Podcasters are always trying to get noticed and get more listeners and fans. For many podcast listeners, they tend not to stray too far away from the top podcasts listed on iTunes. When I saw The Guardian had posted a slideshow (ugh) of "Less popular podcasts"- I was hoping I would find a few gems.
Unfortunately the list is dominated by podcasts that, in my opinion are quite popular: The Moth, The Bugle, and even Welcome to Night Vale.
I wasn't that surprised to see that these are still top tier/large and popular podcasts. But consider it in this light.
To many of the folks who are fans of podcasting, The Moth is a "big time" podcast- it is regularly featured on iTunes's front page. The Bugle? That's John Oliver of Daily Show fame! Night Vale has been the number one podcast on iTunes.
And those are comparatively "under the radar". That's how far podcasting is from anything approaching mainstream. It's also why the top podcasts tend to be based on people or properties that have presence elsewhere in media, like NPR and the BBC.
At the moment, NPR has 4 out of the top 10 podcasts according to iTunes. This American Life, which is closely associated with NPR but which is actually owned by Chicago Public Media, holds the top spot. That's a pretty solid lock on the top spots for public radio.
A pure podcast
Of those podcasts, only Night Vale is a "pure" podcast. A "pure" podcast means something that existed first and singularly as a podcast. It's not a comedian or celebrity doing something to stay relevant(not that there's anything wrong with that), it's not NPR repackaging their broadcast content; it was created just to be a podcast. I'd like to see more of that kind of content reach higher levels of success.
The earliest television programs were largely stage plays with cameras set up in place (or in addition to) an audience. Over time, the medium of television found its footing and the kinds of stories that were told through television became more unique to the medium and took advantage of its strengths.
For the time being we are still experiencing podcasts mainly as "time shifted radio". Welcom to Night Vale seems to be one of the fairly early examples of showcasing the strengths of the medium. It is not locked to time, it parodies existing media and it seems to acknowledge that listeners generally encounter each episode on their own. The world only exists for that one listener at that time.
Hopefully more podcasts, built for the medium itself and not as a secondary channel, can grow larger audiences.