Fall Preview: Where art thou, Radio/Podcasting?

It’s September. Time to make fun of pumpkin lattes, buy one, and then pick up a fresh copy of the local weekly’s fall arts preview. All around us, newspapers, magazines (and the entire internet) shimmer with a new season of art & culture, in a number of tried-and-true categories: Music. Dance. Comedy. Television. Film. Visual Art. Literature. Architecture.

But there’s an art form glaringly missing from this list.

It’s been around for more than a century — and it’s recently become a modern day mecca for incredible storytelling: Radio/Podcasting.

Here at the Third Coast International Audio Festival, we’ve been celebrating audio storytelling and curating the best of it for sixteen years. And lately, we’ve found ourselves in the front row seats to a veritable audio Golden Age. It’s no longer a murmur: radio shows & podcasts are building massive fandoms worldwide. Podcasting festivals are cropping up across the country. Live podcast tapings are routinely sold out. They’re even turning the podcast StartUp into an ABC series starring Zach Braff… yes, seriously.

Just here in Chicago, an unprecedented number of radio/podcast events are storming into town this fall.

Including (full disclosure!) Third Coast’s sold-out Conference on the art & craft of audio storytelling, and our live-on-stage Radio Cinema Spectacular. But also: Criminal Podcast (one of our Radiotopia favorites), Live Wire (featuring Reggie Watts), It’s All True (a great pick at the Chicago Podcast Festival), WNYC’s Death Sex & Money (in collaboration with Chicago’s own WBEZ), Pop Up Magazine (which filled the Athenaeum Theater last fall), FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast (from Chicago brainiac Nate Silver) and many, many more.

But you won’t see any of these events listed in Chicago’s fall previews anticipating the best art in town.

Not too long ago, TV previews ignored cable, HBO, Amazon and Netflix — likely not out of spite, but simply out of habit. These days, the popular art lost in the critics’ shadows is audio storytelling.

As this is a manifesto, here’s what we’re calling for: recognition of Radio/Podcasting as a true popular art form.

We’re calling for a Radio/Podcasting heading in the arts section — including listings of local events — but audio storytelling also demands more. We seek recognition of the Radio/Podcasting genre through thoughtful reviews, criticism, and a deeper examination of styles and trends. Press must move beyond listicles ad infinitum citing the top 10, 20 or 50 podcasts of the week, month, or year. That approach was okay a few years ago — when podcasts were a bit of a mystery — but now it’s time to actually consider the impact of audio storytelling.

We can’t wait to see who will take the lead. In the meantime, we — audio storytellers, radio journalists & podcasters worldwide — will keep knocking. We know you can hear us.

Yrs,
Johanna Zorn & the team at Third Coast