How This American Life is Cultivating a Generation of Podcast Listeners


This American Life (TAL) is cultivating a generation of podcast listeners. A strong collection of its stories over the past half year have come from other podcasts, and it isn’t scared to promote them. For example, I have heard of the following shows directly through TAL: Serial, StartUp, and Invisibilia. TAL produced the first season of Serial, so it is only natural for them to promote it. Longtime producer Alex Bloomberg is the head of StartUp, who worked with TAL, so again there is a connection to why they would choose to make this promotion. TAL has been a podcasting giant from the beginning, and the show brings a strong listenership and dedicated audience to the table. When TAL promotes or discusses a subject, it going to gain high levels of popularity.

The incredible thing is the ripple effect this type of promotion has on me, as a listener. After listening to TAL’s broadcast of the first episode of StartUp, I became hooked. Then Bloomberg informed new listeners about another show he worked on, PlanetMoney. I then became a subscriber to it as well. Bloomberg’s new podcasting company, Gimlet Media, has produced its second show titled ReplyAll which was first played on an episode of StartUp. Bloomberg also appeared on an episode of The Moment, which is an interview-based show featuring people from many different backgrounds. These shows have collected to form a web. Over a course of a year, I went from listening to two podcasts to having more audio than I can listen to.

Most people will tell you they only pay attention to a few podcasts. For me, it was Radiolab. I listened to nothing but Radiolab for about two years. Then, I went on a trip with my cousin and we listened to an episode of TAL. I slowly started to consume more audio. With every new promotion came a new subject being studied. TAL has opened up the door to at least five other podcasts, in both direct and indirect ways. I wouldn’t have otherwise listened to or heard about these shows. Podcasting networks such as Radiotopia (and what Bloomberg is setting up with Gimlet Media) are giving people the opportunity to take in multiple shows at one time. If you like 99% Invisible, chances are you will like another show put together by Radiotopia because all their shows have similarities with varied subjects and hosts. The podcast app Overcast will now give you recommended “starter kits” of episodes from various podcasts to try out. iTunes has made great strides in promoting podcasts in the Podcast section of the store.

As listener bases for podcasts in general begin to grow, individual shows will begin to pick up listeners from a multitude of ways. Traditionally, podcast listeners have been a minority. Sure, most people may have their one NPR program they follow, but outside of that, people don’t pay attention to much else. That is changing, of course. Serial’s break into mainstream discussion has shown the potential for a massive listening audience (Bloomberg talks about this in StartUp episodes 10 and 11). And while Serial may have gotten a jump-start from TAL’s audience base, a huge number of people heard about this show from a variety of outlets. Even StartUp has a ton of listeners who found the shows through random circumstances.

Word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective tools in podcast promotion. I heard about TAL from other people. I told my entire office about Serial (a few of us had discussions every Thursday). A co-worker told me about “Welcome to Night Vale,” which I listened to every episode in about three months. My Medium publication called “For the Love of Podcast” was built in an attempt to connect podcast listeners to other listeners. Through a community of listeners, we can feed off of each other’s interests and recommendations to lift up podcasting as a whole.