February 3, 2019

Starting a podcast? This might be the year.

Posted by Laura Guertin

Podcast listening has increased in all age categories, but it has increased the most among younger adults. Now, 29% of Americans between the ages of 18-34 listen to podcasts at least a few times a week (up from 16% in December 2017). A year ago, 47% of adults between 18 and 34 said they never listened to podcasts, compared to 18% today. — 2019 CBS News Poll

Everywhere I turn, I’m seeing an article or promotion for a new or existing podcast. There’s also an increasing buzz about who is producing and using podcasts for professional, educational, and/or personal reasons. On January 27, CBS Sunday Morning did an entire story on podcasts. You can read the story from The Golden Age of Podcasts and view the segment below.

CBS also conducted a poll on the popularity of podcasts, showing that “most Americans now listen to podcasts, and the percentage who do has risen considerably over just the past year.” In the Edison Research Podcast Consumer 2018 report, their findings also show an increase in monthly podcast listeners and an increase of listening to podcasts in vehicles. And if you need more data, see this figure from the Pew Research Center’s Audio and Podcasting Fact Sheet (July 12, 2018):

But it isn’t just the average audience that is increasing their active listening time. A January 2019 article on Discover Pods declares that 2019 will be the year of the podcast in higher education, where “colleges and universities will come to consider podcasts as part of the platform by which they share their research and expertise with an audience outside of academia. Additionally, higher education institutions will use podcasts as a teaching tool in the classroom.” The Academic Minute is just one example of academic research conducted at colleges and universities across the globe.

If this increase in number of podcast listeners is moving you closer to your desire to create a science-themed podcast, I would recommend starting with this Career Feature from Nature on the crowded market of podcasts:

One of the best tips in the article: “Scientists who want to start a podcast should have a unique niche in mind… such as knowledge of an under-covered field or an unusual format such as science comedy.” There are also recommendations of generating a podcast in a language besides English, considering technical vs. non-technical audiences, realizing that most science podcasts do not make money, and that sound quality absolutely matters.

Another article to read that is referenced in the Nature piece is the MacKenzie (2019) article in Royal Society Open Science, titled Science podcasts: analysis of global production and output from 2004 to 2018. Note this figure from the article, showing a breakdown of science disciplines represented in the science podcasts examined for the study, as well as the target audiences. MacKenzie comments on the lack of chemistry podcasts, but clearly, the Earth sciences are represented by even fewer podcasts!

What are the scope and aims of science podcasts? (a) The proportion of science podcasts dedicated to various scientific topics. (b) The target audiences of science podcasts. From MacKenzie (2019).


What do AGU members listen to?

When posed the following question on Twitter, the AGU community and others certainly came through!

There was quite a range of podcasts, including: The Story Collider, Gravity Assist (by NASA), exocast, This is Rocket Science, The Titanium PhysicistsStrange New Worlds, Don’t Panic Geocast, Spacepod, Sawbones, Hidden BrainOlogies, Palaeocast, Common Descent, Embedded – Coal Stories, Think 100% (on climate change), Weather Geeks, This Week in Microbiology, In Defense of PlantsRadiolabScience…sort of, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Science Solved It, Undiscovered, and Science Vs (phew!). Other science-themed podcasts have been compiled on the Time Scavengers website. Some fun ones were mentioned, like the Dr. Who podcast Radio Free Skaro. And there are plenty more out there, such as…


So how about it… do you have have an answer to the question:

Ask your colleagues, friends and family what they would say – you might be surprised, and worst-case scenario, you’ll be introduced to some new and exciting narratives! May they serve as inspiration for the podcast series you are looking to start.


And one final shout-out to AGU’s very own podcast…