Podcasting's evolution and growth are only beginning

Greg Young and Tom Meyers sat in Bryant Park with a couple of microphones one unseasonably warm mid-January weekday afternoon and recorded a bonus episode of their New York City history podcast, The Bowery Boys, for those most loyal of their listeners who send the show small monthly donations.

"I don't know if anybody's going to find this interesting," Tom said into his mic.

After 251 episodes and nearly 11 years, The Bowery Boys — as Greg and Tom call themselves after a famous 19th century gang but mostly because they lived in that neighborhood when they recorded their first episode in the summer of 2007 — now receive 400,000 downloads a month and enough advertising dollars to work on this weekly podcast full-time.

"We didn't start it to be a business," Tom said.

Two Midwesterners by birth who moved to this city 25 years ago, Greg and Tom started podcasting when Greg bought a new laptop that came with the audio program GarageBand.

"I came over one night with a bottle of wine and I was like, 'Hey, Tom, why don't we record a show?'" Greg said.

The Bowery Boys recorded their first episode on a home karaoke mic and soon submitted their first few eps to Apple's iTunes, which had only recently given us the word "podcast," derived from the company's now-defunct iPod.

"Somebody liked it there," Tom said. "They featured us on the home page and suddenly we had a lot of listeners."

"There were a handful of history podcasts," Greg said. "Period. Of any kind of history."

A decade later, and The Bowery Boys' (and the Fox 5 Podcast Network's) contribution to the medium represents a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the more than a quarter million podcasts in circulation on any and every niche subject one can imagine. Podcasts about keeping pet fish, podcasts about Harry Potter, podcasts for kids, 244 episodes of a podcast about cigars: The podcast marketplace has specialized and grown exponentially since The Bowery Boys launches a decade ago.

"The commercialization of the medium is just beginning," said Ron Simon, the television and radio curator at the Paley Center for Media. But Simon also believes the commercialization of the pod need not result in the demise of another medium — namely radio.

And Nielsen numbers support that theory. Broadcast radio continues to grow, reaching more Americans weekly than any other medium. And that includes 92 percent of those between the ages 18 and 34, the age bracket supposedly spending the most time listening to podcasts.

"When everybody had to explain how podcasts work to their parents, that was a moment when the market for podcasting exploded," Tom said. "And I think advertisers — big advertisers — got really interested."

According to Edison Media Research, the average podcast listener is young, wealthy, educated, employed full-time, both using social media and following brands on it, subscribing to on-demand video services and nearly always completing the episode to which they start to listen — creating an appetizing opportunity for advertisers and an intimate bond between hosts like Tom and Greg and their listeners.

"We come out on Fridays, you know, and when we skip a week, we're not there on a Friday, people are wondering where we are and if everything is OK," Tom said.

Check out Another Think Coming with Mac King