“As the first modern mass medium, radio made America into a land of listeners,” Tom Lewis pointed out (1992, p.26). With ears and imagination, people embraced a new world. Radio is of immediacy, providing infectious information by voice. It targets general public as the audience, not demanding high literacy level and restricted geographic scope. Meanwhile, the medium has linear real-time audio flow. In general, radio is efficient in communication.

Radio was “a godlike presence” during the initial period. The subliminal depths of radio are charged with the resonating, with inherent power to turn the psyche and society into a single echo chamber (McLuhan, 1994, p.331).

To look at the history of broadcasting is to study the beginnings of both the technology and impact to people’s lives and eventually to society. Any communicative innovation is inseparable from the technical level to support development, so is radio. Although radio was epochal, the related technology had already developed over years. Physicists James Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic radiation; Marconi, Fessenden, and DeForest are main inventors of wireless communication. In Christmas of 1906, Reginald Fessenden’s voice was the first listeners heard as his public transmission of human voice, though that fact is arguable by professionals. On November 2, 1920, Frank Conrad started the first commercial radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh (Lewis, 1992, p.26).

Radio is of great significance, not only to media revolution, but also to the society, because its development is always accompanied by historic events. In World War I, US Navy ships were equipped with radio. After the war, commercial interests appeared and radio came on the scene to the general public. By the end of the 1920s, half of American families had a radio. Radio grew at a phenomenal rate, becoming an integral part of America. Then radio played an important role in Great Depression and World War II.

Radio brought social effects, and even itself is a loudspeaker to expand effects among the mass audience. For multitudes of people, radio was a primary source of information and entertainment at the second and third decades of the twentieth century. The most famous examples were “fireside chat” in political perspective and “War of the Worlds” in social perspective. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats” helped him push legislation through Congress. Orson Welles produced “War of the Worlds” in 1928, causing mass hysteria. Moreover, commercialization of radio gave advertisers access to the audience at home. The effect of radio declined when television came into modern life, so someone proclaimed radio would disappear sooner or later.

Although there is an existing argument that radio will be replaced by following media and end in demise, until today, when television has been threatened by the Internet, radio still plays great significance. For instance, the emergency radio keeps informative during natural disasters; people listen to traffic channel when driving on road. Moreover, with the development of Mobile Internet and mobile devices (i.e. smartphone), radio makes a great series of revolutions to fit the contemporary communication. Many radio stations produced APP on the mobile market and installed APP on the screen of automobiles. As a result, listeners have easy access to portable devices instead of traditional clumsy receivers. Besides, the most revolutionary change, in my view, is podcast.

The term “podcast” origins from “iPod” and “broadcast”. Serial, the blockbuster podcast, stands for its successful transformation (Threadgill, 2015). Radio takes advantage of this trend to adapt to the Information Age, competing with new media. National Public Radio produced news podcast, Up First, offering a digest of the day’s news stories. While a new mobile application called 60dB, co-founded by former NPR reporter Steve Henn and two longtime Netflix executives, Steve McLendon and John Ciancutti, aims to offer personalized radio service focused on short-form audio content (Doctor, 2017).

As an emerging media technology, podcast subversively changes audience from passive recipients to active participants, enabling them to freely select programs and individually produce programs. It is an on-demand digital audio, based on ultra-personal design, possessing the shared feature. Podcast tries to foster a democratic atmosphere as well as shape social culture. Podcast makes audience consider politics, economy, technology, and culture in the audio immersion, making contributions to the society. For instance, “The Giant Pool of Money”, an episode of podcast, talks about what the housing crisis has to do with the turmoil on Wall Street.

It is clear that emergent online-social-mobile communication technologies influence both media and audience revolutionarily. Mobile media and social media use more advanced technology to attract the audience, like big data analyzing, recommendation algorithm, and AR/VR. Audience or users change media habits in return. For instance, a growing number of people are using social media as a key news source (Hutchinson, 2017). Media are becoming mobile-focused, which exactly gives podcast an opportunity to develop. The following step of podcast may be toward the popular wearable networked devices. The latest technology can use the voice interaction system, embedded speech recognition system, and AI system to extend social function, distinguishing the usage scenarios from other mobile devices. Take iWatch for example, it can include podcast as a common service.

From a Hauberian standpoint and my personal standpoint, the online-social-mobile media means we can freely express individual opinions, whether by characters or by voice. We can have access to various ideas, which assist us judging things objectively, but at the same time, we are easily disrupted by fake information, easily influenced by opinion leaders. Specific, podcast provides general public with an opportunity to be a “we media”, magnifying their voice. The seemingly free and fair revolution directly impacts on social movements. However, it is unreasonable to identify social movements by communicative tools, for instance, Iranian election protests known as Twitter Revolution, because the virtual society based on social media neglects the intense game existing in the real world. Attributing social movements to communicative technology simplifies the historical roots and social context related to the movement, which is also de-politicized. The weak connection of decentralized social media conflicts with high participation and high risk of social movements, which suggests that people exaggerate the role of social media.

Evidently, media innovate from time to time. One of the motivations supporting the modern Internet era is the “hacker-geek” culture. Curiosity and execution, the most crucial cores of the culture, drive the change of social media and mobile media. Both the content and technology of podcast have been improved due to the creativity.

The acknowledged conceptualization of “networked” media has transformed over time, from professional communication in web portal era to the UGC model in Web 2.0 era, from media convergence era to Mobile Internet era. Now, it tends to make a dramatic change in the field of artificial intelligence, also implying the future of podcast.


By Shaobo Zhang, BU Mass Communication: Communication Studies Master’s Student,



Doctor, K. (n.d.). So what kind of a show does podcasting have in store for us.    Retrieved November 6, 2017, from  oZ31tPqIFeuDzyAjB800ppWOXvQ&v=1&r=http%3a%2f%2fwww.niemanlab. org%2f20162fso-what-kind-of-a-show-does-podcasting-have-instoreforus%2f&p=DevEx,5069.1

Hutchinson, A. (2017, September 08). Social Media Influence Rising, According to New Pew Research Study. Retrieved November 7, 2017, from rising-according-new-pew-research-study

Lewis, T. (1992). ” A Godlike Presence”: The Impact of Radio on the 1920s and 1930s.     OAH Magazine of History, 6(4), 26-33.

McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT press. Chicago

Threadgill, T. (n.d.). Post-‘Serial,’ podcasts enter ‘golden age’. Retrieved November 7, 2017, from  golden-age/30646529/


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