Audio works: Guest article by Indira Rangarajan

Monday 11 March, 2019


Indira Rangarajan is the National Programming Head of Indian network Radio Mirchi's second frequency, Mirchi Love


In 2014, when our airwaves were full of Yo Yo Honey Singh urging us to drink his four bottles of Vodka and RJs cracking their PJs, I stumbled upon a show called Serial

This was an investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig, narrating a nonfiction story over multiple episodes. The series was co-created and co-produced by Koenig and Julie Snyder and developed by This American Life.

It was the story of Adnan Syed - a young teenager accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in the early months of 1999. Serial attempted to investigate this decade-old crime in a narrative style that drew me in from the first minute. Sitting in India, thousands of miles away, I joined other amateur sleuths in a rabbit hole of conversations on Reddit threads. Here was something in pure audio that was so immersive that it held my attention for hours at a stretch without the support of any crutches – no songs, no gimmicky sound effects, no exaggerated drama. By 2018, this podcast had been downloaded more than 175 million times.

Last year when we were all grappling with and discussing the import of #MeToo in our society, I listened to a Radio Lab story about sexual harassment. It was a collaborative effort of Radio-lab podcasters with Kaitlin Prest who earlier in her mini-series called ‘No’ explored her personal struggle to understand and communicate sexual consent. They then together explored this topic over 3 parts talking about the blurring lines of consent. You are unlikely to find a more nuanced and thoughtful piece on sexual consent anywhere else.

Working with audio in mainstream media is tough. We were often told no one listens to audio, people want video. There’s just too much noise, too much clutter and too many click-baity pieces of content vying for attention. Shrinking attention spans was an excuse we often use to make shorter, snappier links and even shorter songs. Even storytelling shows on Radio are designed for an audience that won’t spend more than five minutes on any piece. We are told, again and again, audio doesn’t work (whatever that means).

The success of Serial and several other podcasts flies in the face of that logic.  All it needs is a platform that allows that audio to breathe and move. That allows for pauses which otherwise get chopped off in this hyperbolic, sensory overloaded world. Podcasts are not interview links just stitched up together. They are an immersive experience and offer something mainstream broadcast media can’t give – time. Time to talk, to deep dive into conversations and topics, to explore nuances that 30 second soundbytes can never do.

Podcasting in India is still at a very nascent stage but given our tradition of oral storytelling, I can only see it explode in our consciousness very soon. It's indeed a very exciting time to be in audio.

Country India
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