Olliff on Lindgren and Loviglio, 'The Routledge Companion to Radio and Podcast Studies'
Mia Lindgren, Jason Loviglio, eds. The Routledge Companion to Radio and Podcast Studies. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2022. 482 pp. $260.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-367-43263-8.
Reviewed by Martin T. Olliff (Troy University) Published on H-Podcast (March, 2023) Commissioned by Robert Cassanello (he/him/his) (University of Central Florida)
Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58527
Each book in the Routledge Companion series provides a valuable look into the state of the field it covers at the time of its publication. As scholars of media, and particularly as coeditors of Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Studies, Lindgren (University of Tasmania) and Loviglio (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) are particularly well situated to make a significant contribution to that Routledge Companion tradition.
Herding fifty-eight authors and forty-six chapters into a single volume is a daunting task, especially when, as the editors note, they began in 2018 "to make a companion to radio studies" that soon turned into a volume on both radio and podcasting. They intermingled the essays on radio and podcasting, culled from 130 submissions, and arranged them in broad categories to emphasize "soundwork" and to "decentre—without ignoring—technological categorization, in favour of cultural forms and practices"(p. 1)
The editors created five broad categories for the essays: "Understanding Radio and Podcasting" (a total of six essays, two on podcasting and another on podcasting and radio equally); "Histories" (ten radio essays); "Formats, Genres, and Aesthetics" (twelve essays, four on podcasting); "Radio and Podcast Publics" (eight essays, one on podcasting); and "Markets, Platforms, and Technologies (nine essays, three on podcasting). Because this review is commissioned by H-Podcast, I will emphasize the podcasting essays without ignoring those that analyze radio.
The audience for this volume is media studies scholars, especially those comfortable with international coverage. The essay authors assume, of course, that readers have a reasonably thorough knowledge of the history of radio and podcasting in addition to experience in the discipline of media studies. Most of the essays reflect this in their focus on theory rather than description and in their discipline-specific language.
After the well-done introduction, the collection opens with Michele Hilmes's "But Is It Radio? New Forms and Voices in the Audio Private Sphere," which sets the parameters of the book's overall analytical direction by comparing radio and podcasting. Tiziano Bonini extends Hilmes's argument in the second chapter, "Podcasting as a Hybrid Cultural Form Between Old and New Media." But early practitioners in the field should begin with chapter 4, "Radio and Sound Studies: How We Got Here," by Susan Douglas, which is, obviously, a literature review. They should then follow up with chapter 5, Britta Jorgensen and Mia Lindgren's "'Pause and Reflect': Practice-as-Research Methods in Radio and Podcast Studies."
For the readers of H-Podcast, Richard Berry's "What is a Podcast? Mapping the Technical, Cultural, and Sonic Boundaries Between Radio and Podcasting," chapter 40, is the most significant essay. He implicitly asks the critical question, Is it time for podcast studies to be independent of radio studies? He notes that "although there are inherent differences [between radio and podcast studies], a clear familial line is present," but "a podcast is not a synonym for a radio program" (p. 399). Podcasts, he claims, quoting Martin Spinelli and Lance Dann, are not "merely an extension of radio" because they offer "different qualities and experiences" (p 400). He argues that such qualities and experiences make podcasts distinct from radio and thus subject to their own discipline.
Dario Llinares expands Berry's arguments in chapter 41, "'Podcast Studies' and Its Techno-Social Discourses," by adding podcast-specific technology back into the analytical mix more than any other essayist. He is not a technological determinist but a social-constructionist who stresses how cultural and political factors influence a society's incorporation of a new technology. More than the other authors, Llinares centers RSS technology as the linchpin that distinguishes podcasts from radio. Indeed, RSS allows podcast audiences to curate their individual listening experience rather than being subject to the top-down, communal listening experience of broadcast radio.
This ability to curate a playlist rather than depend on broadcasters' choices makes podcasts as different from radio as radio is from television. Editors Lindgren and Loviglio as well as most of their authors have elided that distinction in favor of examining the similarities of the media, especially through the emphasis on soundscape and storytelling.
These two emphases obscure two other important shapers of the contours of podcast production—the vast array of podcasts and, relatedly, the low barriers to entry into the field. Because the editors concentrate on storytelling, many of their authors analyze storytelling podcasts, paying particular attention to those that resemble Serial, the 2014 "breakout success (produced by the This American Life team) that sealed the trend" (p. 11). Serial comes directly from radio, so the emphasis on it and its sound-alikes skew the reality of the podcast world and, because of the Routledge Companion's potential influence on the field, threaten to establish a canon of podcasting that does not reflect the medium's variety.
Low barriers to entry make podcasting a producer-driven rather than a consumer-driven genre, similar to blogging or website publishing. Indeed, the editors err by comparing podcasting, which is not well developed as an institution yet, with products and styles of radio, which is a mature industry, at least in the United States. Authors pay scant attention to the corporatization of radio by the Radio Act of 1927 and the Federal Communications Act of 1934, laws that have no parallel in the "Wild West" of podcasting. By decentering both technology and the different business models of radio and podcasting, the editors limit legitimate comparison in favor of only those things radio and podcasting have in common.
The editors set themselves the task of examining radio and podcasting "to emphasize continuities and ruptures in form and content, delivery and reception, production cultures and aesthetics," and the Routledge Companion series exhibits the state of the field (p. 1). Objections aside, the editors and authors have done their jobs and done them well. This is a valuable work that will spur consideration of the field of radio and podcast studies.
Back to Richard Berry's implied question, Should podcast studies be its own discipline? No one in this volume answers that question, and isn't that missing answer, in itself, the state of the field at this moment?
. Spinelli and Dan, Podcasting: The Audio Media Revolution (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 3.
Citation: Martin T. Olliff. Review of Lindgren, Mia; Loviglio, Jason, eds., The Routledge Companion to Radio and Podcast Studies. H-Podcast, H-Net Reviews. March, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58527This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.