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Private Podcasting and Max Headroom

Jay Cuthrell
May 27th, 2019 · 4 min read

Fudge Sunday

This week we take a look at the circuitous routes that podcasts have taken over the past 20 years. Along the way, we weave in references to tropes trove of Max Headroom. From origins to fits and starts to the claiming of legitimately enduring formats, podcasts are here to stay and probably just getting started even if the new world will be millions of Blank Reg devotees.


Origin and Inspiration

Podcasts, like many technologies, scratched an itch of sorts. Internet friendly content formats, increasing availability of broadband, and the notions of publishing syndication made the trafficking of (then) larger files possible.

Essentially, podcasts took the limited telephony access answering machines culture to a global delivery mechanism. Anyone can be their own radio station or their own publishing house with the invention of podcasting.

300px DAS paper 1983 - They Might Be Giants Dial-A-Song

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When looking through the history of periodic or episodic audio syndication to wider audiences, the true originals might be argued to be the telephonic inspirations of TMBG.

When looking at the proliferation of publishing from blogs to podcasts, the original dystopian view from “20 Minutes into the Future” and “Max Headroom” introduces the importance and ability for anyone to broadcast a signal into the void and find an audience.

hqdefault 1985 - Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future

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The original version from the UK.

Eventually, Max Headroom came to US audiences just as the Internet was becoming increasingly mainstream.

hqdefault 1 1987 - Network 23 and Max Headroom

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“We all work for the largest most powerful network in our world, Network 23. Doing whatever it takes to get that extra viewer… that larger TV rating…”

Over the next 10 years, the Internet was increasingly shaped by web browsers. Sound in web browsers became a function of plug-ins. By 2000, a unique confluence of formats, creative technologists, and underlying transport possibilities came together to innovate.

wikimedia button 2000 - The History of Podcasting

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Well. It’s a history. There may be others but this is a good start to get a rough idea about timelines, prior art, and advances in technology.

By 2005, Apple devices had native podcast support via iTunes. It would take until 2007 for HTML5 and the VIDEO tag freed streaming formats from the tyranny of the browser plug-in. Years later, appreciation for the vision and innovation of Max Headroom would become a 1 hour documentary and eventually an Internet love letter in the form a blog.

hqdefault 2 2010 - The Origin of Max Headroom

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If you ever wondered about the world of Max Headroom… a full hour of background. Enjoy.

social share 1024 0 2015 - Max Headroom: the definitive history of the 1980s digital icon

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This is a long read but worth it if you want to see an example of long format blogging with a passion for the past.

There Was an Attempt at Mainstreaming

Apple has done a lot of work to control the experience for the end user and deliver on the platform approach to design aesthetics. While iTunes added support for podcasts in 2005, it would take another 7 years for Apple to give the humble podcast a more prominent location in iOS.

defaultog png large 2005 - Apple Takes Podcasting Mainstream

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apple podcasts app 1419970307 2012 - Apple releases dedicated Podcasts app

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The slow and winding road to podcasting takes another turn.

Oddly enough, just a few years after I turned off blog comments and began a my own personal retreat from various platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc. there was a brief but ultimately failed attempt to start my own podcast.

PdLYwZbL 400x400 2015 - Unicorn Jockeys

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Looking back at the non-launch of the Unicorn Jockeys podcast.

From a personal perspective, my voice appeared in podcasts as far back as 2010 and 2011 but these were radio formats first (Marketplace on NPR) and podcasts second. I’d been listening for far longer by then and saw the challenges of wide open Internet platforms repeating the same history as Usenet before it. Yes. Internet trolls had arrived. So, the safe silo enclave club experience version of Internet platforms was destined to appear again. Perhaps the podcast could be that new experience.

Now and Soon and Eventualities

In a time where deplatforming is a thing, it’s natural to expect the balkanization and privatization to continue in a variety of Internet formats and the services to support those formats.

1year 2008 - Balkanize, Rinse, Repeat ad infinitum

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Back in 2008, it wasn’t uncommon to do your podcast listening in a web browser. Also, trolls were trolling, trolling, trolling, WHUT.

Last year, even podcasting became a private label option for Enterprise buyers that wanted the ease of audio message syndication but with a more secure experience that avoids the pitfalls of wide open Internet viewing or listening.

uStudio Logo 2018 - uStudio Enterprise Podcasting

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The jump to Enterprise for podcast technologies is not that shocking when considering the insular private internal only corporate email list cultures that demanded it.

When exclusivity of content and audience can be matched with an enabling technology, there are new market possibilities and funding will surely follow.

2019 - The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

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Fast forward a few years, and the newest exclusive channels may be more populous than the colossal juggernauts we think of today.

Podcast FeatureImage3 2019 - Investing in the Podcast Ecosystem

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The a16z perspective is usually thoughtful and this post is no exception. Plus, a16z has slowly built a reputation for hosting great podcast guests as well.

Maybe one day I’ll turn Fudge Sunday into an audio podcast and blow the dust off of the old Unicorn Jockeys website. Until then, thanks again for subscribing.

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