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Podcast: The reinvention of radio

/ 05:25 AM August 11, 2019

I can still remember with clarity the day we lost our radio set to a burglar. It was as though a window to the larger world had been abruptly shuttered. This was in the 1950s, when television was very new — so new that a TV set and its ubiquitous outdoor antenna were the prime status symbols in any community.

Perched on a wooden base beyond the reach of the kids, our cream-colored US-branded radio occupied almost the same level as my mother’s religious statues. The radio was, in retrospect, the single most important icon of modernity in our house. In the early evening, we would listen to the rapid-fire delivery of the news by the inimitable broadcaster, Rafael Yabut. After supper, we would gather and wait for the Tagalog programs featuring the voices of actors we would later watch in black and white movies.

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I don’t recall that my parents ever bought a replacement for the stolen radio. For the longest time, its wires jutted out of the wall of our house like the cruel reminder of a cultural amputation. Some years later, my parents gave us a “Made in Japan” portable transistor radio. We listened to it in the kitchen, in the bathroom and in the bedroom — a delightful voice from outside the world of our everyday lives.

The battery-operated transistorized radio made information more accessible to a lot of people. In many ways, it connected Filipinos to one another across the archipelago, and, of course, to their government in Manila. As importantly, the radio made possible the development and rapid spread of a common national language.

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I thought radio would vanish with the advent of television. But it has not. Its portability has rendered it imperishable. Today’s internet has made radio even more accessible from everywhere and at any time. It has become truly global in its reach.

Nothing perhaps more dramatically demonstrates the existence of this global listening community than the app “Radio Garden.” Available free-of-charge, this amazing mobile application allows the user to pick up live radio signals from all over the world with great ease. The app shows Planet Earth aglow with innumerable luminous dots signifying a universe of radio signals. The app shows the location and name of the radio station that is transmitting a given signal. It likewise indicates the time of day in that particular place. The diversity is astounding.

Here is how Radio Garden sees its role in the world of communication: “By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as reconnecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away.”

So long as you are online—i.e., connected to the internet—you can listen to virtually any radio station around the globe. The basic operating principle is still that of radio broadcasting. You can tune in only if you are online.

The podcast is changing all of this. The technology allows you to download digitized audio files of music or talk into any mobile media device, so you can listen to these at your convenience, anywhere and at any time you choose. But more than this, as in all so-called “horizontal media,” this form of communication is mostly free and not “gate-kept.” The roles of consumer and producer are easily interchangeable. This is made possible by the fact that audio files are only a fraction of the size of video files.

To produce a podcast, all you need is a microphone, a laptop which serves as a recording and editing machine, and a small insulated room relatively free from external noise. Today, a number of existing servers host podcasts that feature a certain number of episodes.

I have previously heard of the term “podcast” (a blending of “iPod” and “broadcast”), but I have only recently become aware of the rich variety of programs now available on platforms like Spotify and Apple podcasts. My introduction to the pleasures of “listening” to text came via audiobooks. With age, when I noticed that my reading was slowing down considerably, I turned to the audio versions of the books that I wanted to read. (Public Lives, “From reading to listening,” 1/20/19)

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I later found out that Spotify did not only contain the music I liked to listen to, but also a whole library of podcasts on the most fascinating topics imaginable. These days, as I take my daily walk around the UP campus, I might be listening either to an “Audible” book (I have just finished listening to C.S. Lewis’ angry treatise on death, “A grief observed,” and I’m almost done with Michael Pollan’s brilliant “How to change your mind”) or to any of my current favorite podcasts — “Twenty Thousand Hertz,” “Freakonomics Radio,” “Revisionist History” with Malcolm Gladwell or “Here’s the Thing” with Alec Baldwin.

Seeing my growing interest in this new digital platform — a reinvention of radio — my son CP and daughter Kara inveigled me to create my own podcast. I guess their other motive was to drag me away from the abyss of incalculable grief following my wife Karina’s untimely passing. In the last four weeks, I have thus found myself sitting down with wonderful people I know to talk about the things that have consumed much of their time. These encounters, titled “Conversations with Randy David,” will now be released through the Filipino podcast community called “PumaPodcast,” which is accessible on Spotify, among others.

Having spent more than a dozen years as a television talk show host, I thought podcasting would be a boring reprise of those years. Far from it: I’m relearning the forgotten art of the unhurried conversation.

[email protected]

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