Journal of American History: Podcast State of the Field

Robert Cassanello (he/him/his) Discussion

Greetings all, I want to alert everyone that the Journal of American History published a state of the field piece at the link below. It is not a long piece, however it mostly concentrates on the most popular podcasts, there is some attempt to categorize them. I would like to see one of these academic pieces not centralize popularity in their analysis of podcasts and their worth to academic dialog. The point of podcasts at the beginning was that it was a media format anyone had access to (dare I say democratized?) and now it apes radio, only the number of subscribers matter. I fear at some point this will take us to a place where podcasts will be little different from radio if we are not already there. 

[Liz Covart, History Podcasts: An Overview of the Field, Journal of American History, Volume 109, Issue 1, June 2022, Pages 220–229]

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Robert, I agree with all your points but offer this as a palliative (not because you don't know this but I think it needs saying): Podcasts that pursue advertisers pursue listeners and their metric is popularity (within their format). This is to say that some will become shallow mass market things, many will try to balance historians' professionalism with that popularity, and many will (like my own Alabama History Podcast) will be "producer oriented" and not care about popularity because they're a labor of love. The internet provides such a low barrier to entry that those of us who are analogous to the old pirate radio stations will have better reach even if our media-production quality isn't top-of-the-line.

Regards (and keep up the good work),

Marty Olliff, History, Troy Univ. Dothan Campus (AL)

As if on cue, this showed up on the LSE blog this morning:

Mark Carrigan, "Academics Should Embrace Lo-Fi Podcasting," LSE Impact Blog, July 13, 2022,….

Carrigan argues in favor of more personal "self-publication" of podcasts by academics without regard for using tricks-of-the-radio-trade to garner audience numbers.


Martin, thanks for pointing to this. Right on point I think. I like the introduction of the term "Lo-Fi podcasting," I think what I am nostalgic about is that point in time (first podcast boom?) when it was all Lo-Fi podcasting. To me Serial marks that shift (second podcast boom?). I remember at the time I was teaching a podcast class lamenting the arrival of Serial because I was predicting a migration of professional radio and TV people into the podcast space. I think internally, when Yelena and I conceived of the reviews program for this network we wanted to create a space for the review of Lo-Fi podcasts. We of course did not have that term but I know that was my intent, so I purposely avoided the podcasts mentioned in the "History Podcasts: An Overview of the Field" for the ones that were Lo-Fi because I believed they would be ignored by mainstream scholar review outlets. To be fair, they all are not. I am in debt to this essay for nothing else than to give me a new vocabulary.

Great thread here. Mack Hagood also writes about the lo-fi vs. hi-fi academic podcast debate in a recent edited collection chapter (OA). The terminology seems to be picking up speed.

While lo-fi aesthetics in podcasting, particularly academic podcasting, has a rich history with tons of great content and voices behind it, I'd also caution against an either/or mentality of positioning "hi-fi" podcasts as "using tricks-of-the-radio-trade to garner audience numbers". Hagood's argument in this chapter is more align to my own thoughts on academic podcast aesthetics where the form (just like traditional academic writing or any other form of scholarly work) can take on many shapes and that shape - the genre, narrative, style - depends on what the scholar aims to communicate. For example, I study podcasts and sound culture so weaving in sound clips and other aesthetic elements that relate to what I am trying to communicate is simply taking advantage of the affordances offered to me through podcasting as a form of scholarly communication. 'Lo-fi' or 'hi-fi', podcasting will always be different from radio and as someone engaged in the study of sound scholarship, it's great to see the form being taken up by more and more scholars every day regardless of the style and audience they choose to engage with.

p.s. in relation to the radio mentions, don't forget the rich and continued history of community/campus radio in this conversation too. Academic podcasting is indebted to both blogging and campus radio for helping shape podcast cultures and potentials within the academy.

collection mentioned -- Hoyt, E., & Morris, J.W. (2021). Saving New Sounds: Podcast Preservation and Historiography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press., doi:10.1353/book.85111.

Great reply, Stacey, and thanks for the Hoyt and Morris citation.

I can't speak for Robert, of course, but I inferred from his post that he warns against raising the barriers to entry into podcasting by raising the "floor of acceptability" in audio production to professional radio standards. I didn't infer from him, nor mean to imply myself, that podcasters should avoid doing anything they want with their products, including adding what you rightly call aesthetic elements or even going whole-hog on production quality.

What i also inferred from Robert is the warning to potential podcastsers to not let their minimal abilities to achieve hi-fi quality stop them from beginning their podcasts.

Another potential problem I see with an overly high floor of acceptability is the hardening of the distribution and recognition infrastructure in favor of hi-fi podcasts that garner large audiences. I suspect this will occur as distributors figure out how to monetize podcasting and they cut costs by not hosting little non-professional podcasts (like mine, quite frankly).

At the moment, your reply leads me to add one more classification of podcasts to the dichotomy of lo-fi and hi-fi -- micro-podcasts -- that hardly rise to the complexity and expense of lo-fi. Again, my Alabama History Podcast is an example of this: I'm the entire staff, I replaced my old pocket recorder with Zoom recording of interviews, I use Audacity editing, and the Alabama Historical Assn. pays ca. $170/year for SoundCloud storage. My editing takes out vocal tics and stupid things that I say, adds a pre-recorded lead in and lead out, and I do minimal show notes. I began these in 2012 to fill a gap in captured knowledge about those who won Alabama Historical Association awards for books, articles, historical society work, and connecting academic with avocational historians.

I hope that podcasting will always have room for hi-fi productions like Ben Franklin's World, for your work, but also for productions like mine.

Thanks for this opportunity.


Marty, I think you summarize how I feel here on these two issues. I would like us to think about the possibility of us and others from this network presenting at a future conference. I notice now each year there is a podcast panel at the American Historical Association and The Organization of American Historians Conferences. Years ago it was tough getting people out for those panels. I think there is a kernel in this discussion here we could explore and now there is an audience for this topic. That or the special issue of a journal.

Robert, I'm interested in such a panel and would be happy to participate. My email is if you care to touch base that way.

You can find the Alabama History Podcast on our "home base" of Soundcloud at that syndicates to most podcast distributors.



Hi Robert and Martin,

I would also be interested in participating. My podcasts, Working Historians and Passion and Practicality, are most definitely lo-fi!