November 29, 2023

The complete history of podcasts

From the RSS feed to the iPod to the success of Serial, dive into the fascinating history of podcasts and how they became such a global phenomenon.
November 29, 2023

The complete history of podcasts

From the RSS feed to the iPod to the success of Serial, dive into the fascinating history of podcasts and how they became such a global phenomenon.
November 29, 2023
Mina Son
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These days, you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has their own podcast. 

Podcasting is a several-billion dollar industry that has sold books and mattresses, united former Presidents and aging rock stars, and freed at least one person from prison. Shows range from household names like This American Life to niche podcasts like Living Beeing (which, as the name suggests, is all about beekeeping). Simply put, podcasting is huge.

But it wasn’t always. There was once a day when this esoteric form of “audio blogging” or “online radio” was only for the diehard early adopters. This article shares everything you need to know about podcasting history — along with some predictions for where the podcast industry is headed and how you can get in on the action by starting your own show.

The origins of podcasting

With some of the most popular podcasts garnering millions of podcast subscribers (the Joe Rogan Experience gets over 11 million listeners per episode), the world of podcasting is clearly pretty popular. But it didn’t start out that way.

When did podcasts start?

Before podcasts were invented at the turn of the 21st century, people had already been experimenting with video blogs and internet radio shows. But in 2003, software engineer Dave Winer developed an audio RSS feed for former The New York Times reporter and public radio host Christopher Lydon, who used this new RSS feed to offer audio content of notable interviews on his blog. 

Tapes of Lydon’s interviews made their way through BloggerCon in 2003. In 2004, Winer partnered up with former MTV VJ Adam Curry and created iPodder, a program that allowed people to download internet radio broadcasts and other audio content to their iPods. These broadcasts were soon called podcasts, named after the iPod MP3 player that played them.

iPodder.org screenshot from November 2004
iPodder.org screenshot from November 2004

By the end of 2004, the very first podcast hosting platform Libsyn (short for Liberated Syndication), came to life.

In 2005, Steve Jobs built podcast subscriptions into iTunes (now known as Apple Podcasts). At that point, podcasts stopped being a niche hobby for tech enthusiasts and started their path toward the mainstream.

When did podcasts become popular?

Although podcasts steadily gained popularity since 2004, one can make a case that podcasts didn’t really take off until the holy grail of true crime podcasts was launched: Serial. The podcast was the first show to reach five million unique downloads on iTunes. The total number of monthly podcast listeners in America went from 40 million in 2014 to 88 million five years later.

What was the first podcast?

Technically, Radio Open Source by Christopher Lydon was the first podcast, launched in 2003. However, the term “podcast” wasn’t coined yet. That term was coined by Guardian columnist Ben Hammersley and pioneered by Curry.

After iPodder was created, Curry made the first true podcast, The Daily Source Code, which was all about podcasting. It featured insights on Curry’s everyday life and events in the podcasting space, covered general news, and played music from the Podsafe Music Network. 

History of podcasts: A timeline

The origins of podcasting

2003

  • Dave Winer created the RSS podcast feed. 
  • The world’s first podcast, Radio Open Source, was released by Christopher Lydon.

2004

  • Dave Winer and Adam Curry created iPodder. 
  • The first podcasting network, Libsyn, was created.
  • The term “podcasting” was used for the first time by Ben Hammersley in The Guardian

2005 

  • Podcast is made word of the year by New Oxford American Dictionary.x
  • Apple iTunes 4.9 is released with native support for podcasts.
  • George W. Bush became the first president to deliver a weekly address as a podcast.
  • The world’s first podcasting book by Todd Cochrane, Podcasting: Do-It-Yourself Guide, was released.

Podcasting feature ad on the Apple homepage June 2005
Podcasting feature ad on the Apple homepage June 2005

2006

  • Steve Jobs demonstrates how to make a podcast using Apple’s audio editing software, GarageBand, in his keynote speech during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.
  • Ricky Gervais sets the Guinness World Record for most downloaded podcast in one month (over 260K downloads).

2011

2014

  • Popular NPR radio show This American Life launches in podcast format.
  • True crime podcast Serial premieres and listenership of podcasts triples over the next five years.

2015

  • Serial is the first podcast to win a Peabody Award.
  • Marc Maron interviews President Barack Obama on WTF with Marc Maron.

2017

  • Amazon Prime premiered the first television show based on a popular podcast, Lore, created by podcaster Aaron Mahnke.

2020

  • Joe Rogan announces a three-year licensing deal with Spotify, reportedly worth $200 million.

Serial homepage
Serial homepage

The rise of podcasts’ popularity

The beauty of podcasts is that there’s a show for just about every topic. Listeners can find podcasts for almost every niche passion or interest—like the Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period comedy podcast, which simply goes through Denzel Washington’s filmography in alphabetical order. Or Shezam, a podcast for female magicians. 

And with the rise in popularity comes the rise in advertising dollars. Today, creators are able to monetize their podcasts with podcast ads and affiliate marketing. This has resulted in podcasts with higher production value—and incentive for more people to create new podcasts.

Podcasting in recent years

Podcast statistics show that 41% of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month, and the podcast advertising market worldwide is expected to reach $3.46 billion in 2023. Those numbers show that podcasting has become a medium lots of brands are using to reach a diverse audience.

The future of podcasting

The number of podcast listeners is expected to reach 254.35 million by 2024. And according to Forbes, “private podcasting” may be the trend, leading to smaller, more intimate shows that are only available to those with a private invite.

Video podcasts are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to YouTube adding support for podcast playlists and, soon, RSS. In fact, YouTube is now the number one source for podcast discovery. Podcasters are increasingly adding video content to their audio-only shows.

Along with that, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more prevalent. Podcasts written and hosted entirely by generative AI now exist, for better or worse. High-profile podcasts like Believable: The Coco Berthmann Story are using custom AI voices as a stand-in for a character that couldn’t be interviewed. And thanks to tools like Descript, AI is being used by podcast creators in every stage of creating an episode — from pre-production to recording and editing.

Ready to start a podcast? Check out Descript

If you’re thinking of starting your own podcast, it’s important you have the right tools. 

Descript is an all-in-one podcasting solution that allows you to record, edit, and publish your podcast. It offers a number of powerful AI features to save you time so you can focus on being creative, including:

  • AI voice cloning to fix audio mistakes without having to re-record
  • Filler word removal to remove words like “um” and “you know” in a single click 
  • AI-generated podcast show notes and YouTube descriptions
  • Studio Sound to remove background noise and create professional-grade audio

The best part: Descript is incredibly user-friendly. If you know how to edit a Word document, you can edit your podcast using Descript. 

Take a free tour today and see why thousands of creators rely on Descript to produce their podcast.

History of podcasts FAQs

How did podcasts begin?

Podcasts began in 2003 when software developer Dave Winer created the first audio RSS feed. One year later, Christopher Lydon and Adam Curry later paired up to create the iPodder—the world’s first podcast listening device. 

Who invented podcasts?

Software developer Dave Winer is generally credited as the inventor of podcasting, thanks to his development of the first audio RSS feed. 

What was the first podcast in history?

The first show we’d recognize today as a podcast was Radio Open Source. It was created by Christopher Lydon, a former New York Times journalist, in 2003.  

How did podcasts become popular?

The reason why podcasts became so popular depends on who you ask. Some say the true crime show Serial was the reason why podcasting became mainstream; others think Apple’s support for podcasts in iTunes was the reason for its success.

Mina Son
Mina is a writer, video game narrative designer, and all-around word nerd. When not writing, she embarks on adventures with her husky, Moro.
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The complete history of podcasts

history of podcasts

These days, you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has their own podcast. 

Podcasting is a several-billion dollar industry that has sold books and mattresses, united former Presidents and aging rock stars, and freed at least one person from prison. Shows range from household names like This American Life to niche podcasts like Living Beeing (which, as the name suggests, is all about beekeeping). Simply put, podcasting is huge.

But it wasn’t always. There was once a day when this esoteric form of “audio blogging” or “online radio” was only for the diehard early adopters. This article shares everything you need to know about podcasting history — along with some predictions for where the podcast industry is headed and how you can get in on the action by starting your own show.

Transcribe. Edit. As easy as tapping your backspace key.
Create your podcast from start to finish with Descript.

The origins of podcasting

With some of the most popular podcasts garnering millions of podcast subscribers (the Joe Rogan Experience gets over 11 million listeners per episode), the world of podcasting is clearly pretty popular. But it didn’t start out that way.

When did podcasts start?

Before podcasts were invented at the turn of the 21st century, people had already been experimenting with video blogs and internet radio shows. But in 2003, software engineer Dave Winer developed an audio RSS feed for former The New York Times reporter and public radio host Christopher Lydon, who used this new RSS feed to offer audio content of notable interviews on his blog. 

Tapes of Lydon’s interviews made their way through BloggerCon in 2003. In 2004, Winer partnered up with former MTV VJ Adam Curry and created iPodder, a program that allowed people to download internet radio broadcasts and other audio content to their iPods. These broadcasts were soon called podcasts, named after the iPod MP3 player that played them.

iPodder.org screenshot from November 2004
iPodder.org screenshot from November 2004

By the end of 2004, the very first podcast hosting platform Libsyn (short for Liberated Syndication), came to life.

In 2005, Steve Jobs built podcast subscriptions into iTunes (now known as Apple Podcasts). At that point, podcasts stopped being a niche hobby for tech enthusiasts and started their path toward the mainstream.

When did podcasts become popular?

Although podcasts steadily gained popularity since 2004, one can make a case that podcasts didn’t really take off until the holy grail of true crime podcasts was launched: Serial. The podcast was the first show to reach five million unique downloads on iTunes. The total number of monthly podcast listeners in America went from 40 million in 2014 to 88 million five years later.

What was the first podcast?

Technically, Radio Open Source by Christopher Lydon was the first podcast, launched in 2003. However, the term “podcast” wasn’t coined yet. That term was coined by Guardian columnist Ben Hammersley and pioneered by Curry.

After iPodder was created, Curry made the first true podcast, The Daily Source Code, which was all about podcasting. It featured insights on Curry’s everyday life and events in the podcasting space, covered general news, and played music from the Podsafe Music Network. 

History of podcasts: A timeline

The origins of podcasting

2003

  • Dave Winer created the RSS podcast feed. 
  • The world’s first podcast, Radio Open Source, was released by Christopher Lydon.

2004

  • Dave Winer and Adam Curry created iPodder. 
  • The first podcasting network, Libsyn, was created.
  • The term “podcasting” was used for the first time by Ben Hammersley in The Guardian

2005 

  • Podcast is made word of the year by New Oxford American Dictionary.x
  • Apple iTunes 4.9 is released with native support for podcasts.
  • George W. Bush became the first president to deliver a weekly address as a podcast.
  • The world’s first podcasting book by Todd Cochrane, Podcasting: Do-It-Yourself Guide, was released.

Podcasting feature ad on the Apple homepage June 2005
Podcasting feature ad on the Apple homepage June 2005

2006

  • Steve Jobs demonstrates how to make a podcast using Apple’s audio editing software, GarageBand, in his keynote speech during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.
  • Ricky Gervais sets the Guinness World Record for most downloaded podcast in one month (over 260K downloads).

2011

2014

  • Popular NPR radio show This American Life launches in podcast format.
  • True crime podcast Serial premieres and listenership of podcasts triples over the next five years.

2015

  • Serial is the first podcast to win a Peabody Award.
  • Marc Maron interviews President Barack Obama on WTF with Marc Maron.

2017

  • Amazon Prime premiered the first television show based on a popular podcast, Lore, created by podcaster Aaron Mahnke.

2020

  • Joe Rogan announces a three-year licensing deal with Spotify, reportedly worth $200 million.

Serial homepage
Serial homepage

The rise of podcasts’ popularity

The beauty of podcasts is that there’s a show for just about every topic. Listeners can find podcasts for almost every niche passion or interest—like the Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period comedy podcast, which simply goes through Denzel Washington’s filmography in alphabetical order. Or Shezam, a podcast for female magicians. 

And with the rise in popularity comes the rise in advertising dollars. Today, creators are able to monetize their podcasts with podcast ads and affiliate marketing. This has resulted in podcasts with higher production value—and incentive for more people to create new podcasts.

Podcasting in recent years

Podcast statistics show that 41% of Americans have listened to a podcast in the past month, and the podcast advertising market worldwide is expected to reach $3.46 billion in 2023. Those numbers show that podcasting has become a medium lots of brands are using to reach a diverse audience.

The future of podcasting

The number of podcast listeners is expected to reach 254.35 million by 2024. And according to Forbes, “private podcasting” may be the trend, leading to smaller, more intimate shows that are only available to those with a private invite.

Video podcasts are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to YouTube adding support for podcast playlists and, soon, RSS. In fact, YouTube is now the number one source for podcast discovery. Podcasters are increasingly adding video content to their audio-only shows.

Along with that, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more prevalent. Podcasts written and hosted entirely by generative AI now exist, for better or worse. High-profile podcasts like Believable: The Coco Berthmann Story are using custom AI voices as a stand-in for a character that couldn’t be interviewed. And thanks to tools like Descript, AI is being used by podcast creators in every stage of creating an episode — from pre-production to recording and editing.

Ready to start a podcast? Check out Descript

If you’re thinking of starting your own podcast, it’s important you have the right tools. 

Descript is an all-in-one podcasting solution that allows you to record, edit, and publish your podcast. It offers a number of powerful AI features to save you time so you can focus on being creative, including:

  • AI voice cloning to fix audio mistakes without having to re-record
  • Filler word removal to remove words like “um” and “you know” in a single click 
  • AI-generated podcast show notes and YouTube descriptions
  • Studio Sound to remove background noise and create professional-grade audio

The best part: Descript is incredibly user-friendly. If you know how to edit a Word document, you can edit your podcast using Descript. 

Take a free tour today and see why thousands of creators rely on Descript to produce their podcast.

History of podcasts FAQs

How did podcasts begin?

Podcasts began in 2003 when software developer Dave Winer created the first audio RSS feed. One year later, Christopher Lydon and Adam Curry later paired up to create the iPodder—the world’s first podcast listening device. 

Who invented podcasts?

Software developer Dave Winer is generally credited as the inventor of podcasting, thanks to his development of the first audio RSS feed. 

What was the first podcast in history?

The first show we’d recognize today as a podcast was Radio Open Source. It was created by Christopher Lydon, a former New York Times journalist, in 2003.  

How did podcasts become popular?

The reason why podcasts became so popular depends on who you ask. Some say the true crime show Serial was the reason why podcasting became mainstream; others think Apple’s support for podcasts in iTunes was the reason for its success.

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