The exact beginnings of podcasts is debated, and there are many claimed "firsts" between radio shows from the 1920's, to RSS feeds, and more. However, through my compiled research, I've found this to be the most widely accepted story.
In 2004 Adam Curry, a radio DJ for MTV, wanted listeners to be able to listen to his shows while scrolling and reading through the rest of their RSS feed. With the permission of MTV and the assistance of his producer Dave Winer, his two shows Daily Source Code and Morning Coffee Notes were added to the feed (for reference, an RSS feed was the first platform that allowed users to read multiple articles from various sources all at once. While now this seems like just any old news feed, this was very shiny and new at the time). Later that year, Curry's shows were gaining a lot of traction, and so Liberated Syndication (Libsyn) created software that allowed others to create and distribute their own shows. Podtrac then followed up with software that allowed listeners to follow their favorite podcasts and be notified of new uploads. By 2005, Apple had already added a podcast tab to their iTunes app. In September of 2005, Google reported over 100 million hits on the word "podcast," only one year after the very first time the word was searched. Thus, the phenomena of the newest media began.
It can be hard to decide what counts as a "view" in podcasting: as a listener can download and listen, or listen online. No matter how you count it, The Daily from New York Times and NPR News Now always end up on top. The same can be said about television: news channels have always been on top. This may be the exact reason podcasts are seemingly taking over television. Podcasts are on every smartphone and internet device today, and so do not require the same commitment cable television does. Even to make a podcast is thousands times cheaper and easier than making a television show; and unlike television, your income can come directly from your current listeners and advertisement deals instead of the platform your posting on. Because of this, many news channels have created their own podcasts, so they can capture the attention of both kinds of viewers. As for independent shows, and not unlike TV, podcasts have every type of show: talk show, nonfiction, fiction, children's shows, crime shows, immersive fiction - any type of shows you can imagine can be made into an audio performance. Without the visual element from television, it offers listeners the chance to not be glued to their screen, but take in the story while doing other things like work, cleaning, exercising or driving.
Besides television, the first thing that may come to your mind when you think to compare podcasts to another form of media may be books, or even audiobooks. Audiobooks were actually invented in 1932 by The American Foundation for the Blind, so that those with blindness could enjoy the same stories as anyone else without the ability to read. This means that from the very beginning, audio stories and inadvertently, podcasts, are more accessible than more visual forms of media, like books or the previously mentioned, television. Since then audiobooks have done nothing but grow in popularity, and are enjoyed by many who may not have the time to read, or struggle with focusing with the words on the page. Both of these medias allow users to use their imagination in the sense that there is no visual stimulation, and so both are "better" than television. But unlike an audiobook, a podcast is a story you can follow for months or even years at a time, and listeners can get to know the lives and attitudes of characters better than a one off story line that is offered in a book. Lastly, tell me the last time you got a free book that you got to keep forever. What about the time before that? Normally, you have to pay for books. But nearly all podcasts are completely free for the entirety of their existence. Many have options to pay, or donate to the creators, but in generally, podcasts are a completely free form of media; which is a beautiful rarity.
As previously mentioned, there is no visual element to podcasts. I'm sure everyone can remember their mom telling them sitting so close to the TV would hurt their eyes, well there's no gluing yourself to a screen when you're only listening! Besides this, there is an absolute laundry list of the benefits that podcasts can bring you and your health. A study done in 2016 by UC Berkeley found that happy podcasts boost dopamine, true crime can boost adrenaline, comedy podcasts can boost your endorphins, and meditation podcasts make listeners feel looser and more relaxed. With this information, that means that podcasts listeners can tailor their listening habits to their moods, in order to perk up their day. Many people also reported being more active and getting more done in their day when they turned to podcasts over other media, which helps maintain a healthier lifestyle for frequent listeners.
So where are all these podcasts hiding? There are a number of apps dedicated to podcasts, like PodBean, Luminary, Stitcher and Podcast Addict. Podcasts are also available on a number of apps with other functions, like Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio. Nearly every podcast usually has its own website, and many of these applications are available on any internet device.
If you're now interested in listening to any of these types of shows, I am excited to tell you some of my favorites. I use PodBean, so all of these are available on there, as well as a number of other podcast platforms. For a general fiction introduction, the very popular Welcome to Night Vale or immersive RABBITS may be for you. For the true crime buff, Sword and Scale will easily grab your attention. If you're looking for a comedy, Hello From the Magic Tavern will definitely be for you. For nonfiction, Planet Reimagined and Revisionist History are great intros into the fun of reality. For education, The Happiness Lab and The Anthropocene Reviewed are great places to learn. There are millions more shows, but these are great places to start.