Podcasts: The future of storytelling

A podcaster. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  •  Just as grandparents gathered their kids around a fire under the night skies to tell stories; podcasts now offer a means to share, even in venecular languages

By Nation Reporters

About 16 years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary added “podcast” to its lexicon.

Since then, professionals and amateurs alike have gone to town with their podcasts, some attracting hordes of regular listeners.

It’s a medium that has been gaining currency in institutions and individuals.

Advertisers and marketers have also found a promising place to reach potential customers.

What’s fuelling the popularity of podcasts?

Podcasting services provide a convenient means of listening to information. People enjoy podcasts because it only requires a person to listen, making it easy to catch an episode while running, cooking, and cleaning, along with numerous other activities.

As such, they offer an easy way to absorb information while doing something else.

South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya lead the pack with the most podcasts in Africa. But the volume of podcasts in Africa is a sliver of the productions from Europe and the US. A vast population, however, remains unaware of podcasts.

A storytelling community

When Adelle Onyango quit her radio presenter job at Kiss FM, she found her freedom in her podcast, Legally Clueless.

Telling stories on her own platform with no restrictions became her full time job after 10 years of being on radio.

“I think I reached a point where I wanted to spotlight incredible Africans but some of them are not socialites or musicians but they are doing some absolutely fantastic work and nobody is celebrating them,” she said.

Africa is known for its rich history of storytelling. Grandparents gathered their children around a fire under the night skies when electricity was not yet a necessity in homesteads.

The reason for the gathering was to tell folktales that were passed down from one generation to the next.

Rural-urban migration may have killed this important tradition and flow of information that might not ever be recovered again.

“One of the effects of colonisation is that a lot of our history was either burned or not documented. We have not really done a good job of archiving our past. But can you imagine if we would use podcasts to document all of it?” Adelle posed.

In an effort to promote Pan-Africanism, Adelle has recorded episodes in different parts of the continent such as Mozambique.

“I felt embarrassed as an African that I relied on western media to tell me about another country that is on my continent,” she said.

She strongly feels that podcasts will help Africans to learn and understand more about each other.

She also believes that they are going to help Africans build their own identities.

Such growth will require technological advancements that will elevate new and aspiring podcasters.

Afripods CEO Molly Jensen said, “Globally, the trends show that podcasts are going to take off in Africa. It makes sense that podcasts would be a natural fit for a continent full of storytellers.”

Afripods is a podcast hosting company that aims to build the largest library of African audio stories on the planet.

Currently, podcasts have been recorded in 50 different African languages on Afripods. Podcasts offer an unique opportunity for people to be able to learn their own vernacular languages.

They can also offer a cheap means of inclusivity that no other form of media can easily provide.

Since 2020, Afripods have provided African podcasters with a platform where they can upload their recordings and distribute them on different players such as Spotify, Google podcasts and Apple podcasts for free while advertisers can pay to have their ads on the podcasts.

Podcasts are still in their infancy in Africa which is why there are very few reports that show indicators of the growth and performance of podcasts in the continent.

However, a recent study by Africa Podfest showed that the accessibility provided by podcasts is a key motivator to getting African podcasters started due to its low budget requirements and the accessibility it offers as an audio medium as opposed to visual media.

Kenya has the highest number of podcast listeners out of six African countries studied in the report. It also revealed that podcasts appear to be mostly consumed by male and female audiences between the age of 25 and 35 with the male audience being a large number of the listeners.

“The reason why we started the Sandwich podcast was because we realised we have so much to talk about in terms of being young individuals and we literally had no one online who related to us,” said Tony Kibet from the Sandwich podcast.

Tony and his fellow podcasters, Owen Njunguna, George Nyamita and Joan Melly have experienced the impact of their podcast ever since they started recording it in a servant’s quarter with just a phone and one microphone. Their podcast was listed as one of the most streamed podcasts in Kenya by Spotify last year.

Podcasts are becoming one of the most accessible ways to gain knowledge or get entertained.

Topics discussed on the podcasts such as self-help, personal development, culture, arts, business, leadership and entertainment are the most streamed themes according to the Africa Podfest report.

Musician Kaz Lucas started a sex positive podcast called The Spread. In a TED talk, she explained why she chose to educate young people on consent and sexuality through her podcast.

“I truly think that the strategy to raising adults with healthy sexual behaviours is to first teach kids about consent super early, way before sex is even a topic of conversation,” she said.

Molly Jensen believes that anyone who has a voice can have a podcast which is the beauty of storytelling.

“Some of the biggest podcasters may have not traditionally been influencers or media professionals. These are people who are able to build authentic communities that are able to grow with them. They become personalities because of their stories and what they are talking about,” she said.

Internet access

Consumption of podcasts in Africa has been hampered by the high cost of the internet and lack of awareness.

But, the cost of internet access is plummeting, more people have smartphones in their hands, and awareness is on the rise.

The Covid-19 pandemic was partly responsible for the heightened use of podcasts.

As people spent more time at home, podcasters kept churning out information to assuage the desire for knowledge about the new disease and how to cope with it.

Increased use of podcasts also attracts advertisers who desire to place ads in places flocked by potential customers, generating income for the podcasters.

Benefits of a podcast

1. Multitasking makes work easier - The greatest advantage of listening to podcasts (as opposed to watching television) is that you can listen on the go.

Now you can be entertained or learn a new lesson whenever you want, wherever you are.

This hands-free, eyes-free form of entertainment will make you look forward to your morning run, commute and daily chores.

2. Cut down on screen time - The great thing about podcasts is that they provide an entertaining alternative to visual media.

Podcasts, much like videos, require no reading and little energy, however, they don’t cause the same visual strain or mental numbness as videos.

In fact, studies show that the brain is more active while listening to podcasts than when watching television.

This is because podcasts require listeners to use their imagination rather than spoonfeeding consumers with visual accompaniment.

3. Learn unique topics directly from experts - One way podcasting is great as an educational tool, is that podcasts are accessible; they are a way for the common man to communicate to the masses without the use of mainstream media.

This means experts from millions of industries can easily share insider tips with the masses.

Now, instead of reading confusing manuals or becoming bogged down with useless information, you can learn directly from knowledgeable people in a simple, effortless, and free tutorial.

Imagine you are trying to market a small business; you now have the advice of dozens of experts at your fingertips

4. Avoid the bias of mainstream media - Another benefit of the podcasting world is that we are no longer limited to receiving our news from the same three major networks.

Podcasts introduce tons of variety; the sheer volume of podcasts guarantees that you can find more than two or three perspectives on any given topic.

Enjoy the freedom of truly original thoughts by adding a little diversity to the mainstream media narrative you’re accustomed to hearing

5. Easy to produce - For those interested in hosting a podcast, they are relatively easy to set up and do not require a lot of equipment or heavy machinery.

The most basic tools are a laptop, mic, a good quality camera and many use their phones for both the camera and mic functions.

Additional tools could be a light ring and more important of course is software like Adobe Audition which help you put your podcast together in production.

To make quality podcasts, make sure you bring fresh content to the marketplace.

Interview knowledgeable people, especially if they have good debating and storytelling skills. Use good quality recording equipment to create good-sounding podcasts.

To create a buzz around your podcasts, use social media to spread the word.

Using platforms such as YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook to share your podcast and engage with your audience will likely grow your listenership.

Whereas podcasts are mostly seeing traction among younger consumers, there is a need for more research to understand the listeners of podcasts, who they are, their gender, age group, profession, and interests. That information will empower podcasters and advertisers alike.

Information is at the tips of our fingers and we need to be as diverse as we can to maximise it.