ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Before the iPod, the word podcast might have been met with a furrowed brow: What’s that? Is it a noun or a verb?
Since then, podcasts have become a small but thriving part of popular culture – and a noun and a verb at the same time.
Experts estimate that 39 million people listened to a podcast in September of this year – the highest number on record – and that approximately 1 billion people have subscribed to a podcast on iTunes.
Mainly audio, but sometimes audiovisual, podcasts are downloadable programs that people can stream on mobile devices, often for free from iTunes, and other download sites like Sticher and SoundCloud as well.
This week, a live Albuquerque audience will help create a podcast being created right here in Duke City. The brave-enough will get on the Guild Cinema stage at 7 p.m. Thursday and tell true and personal stories about sex that fit within the theme: “When Life was Like Porn.”
Their stories could become material for a podcast devoted to racy, often sexual tales called “Risk!” which is downloadable for free and produced in New York by podcaster Kevin Allison.
“It’s a new age,” said Michael V. Marcotte, a former public radio director who teaches in the University of New Mexico’s Department of Communication and Journalism. “There’s a strong cadre of audio producers who, before podcasts, pretty much had FM and independent productions. Now you have that whole new branch on that tree.”
Stats also show that podcast listeners tend to be public radio fans and more affluent than consumers of other forms of media, according to Marcotte.
Getting aboard the podcast train requires a recording device, a posting platform, and something to say. Podcasts can be original material or uploads from TV shows like “Frontline” or radio shows like “This American Life.”
Although most podcasts stand alone, the multi-part podcast “Serial” tweaks the form, with each episode, about 40 minutes long, building on the one before it. From the same team that produces “This American Life,” it focuses on former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig investigating a 1999 murder case.
Like radio, podcasting offers the additional perk of invisibility so people who have a wider array of physical characteristics that might not be TV-friendly can participate.
Allison, 44, hosts live shows around the country. A former comedy troupe member from Cincinnati now based in Queens, N.Y., he has included a storyteller from the Southeast who confided the awkwardness of bumping into her father in an online sex chat room; another storyteller detailed an assignation with a stranger that involved him tying a shoe to his genitals.
Allison makes a living from “Risk!” from ad revenue, ticket sales to the live storytelling shows, and storytelling training classes he offers in person and by phone or Skype, he said.
He’s already gotten about a dozen pitches via email from local potential over-sharers of their own sex-related experiences. If he reads something he likes, he’ll ask for an audio sample. “If it has a lot of possibility, I’ll cast them in the show,” he said. “I’ll give them a ton of notes: ‘How did you really feel?’ ‘Maybe you’re sweeping something under the carpet.’ I become like a therapist in the way that I poke at people to think deeper.”
One submission is from Hunter Riley, 25, who manages the Nob Hill sex toy shop Self Serve. She’s hoping to share a story from college she’s told publicly before, about a sexual experience gone awry, in which dish soap plays a part.
She was nervous the first time she told it, she said, but also very happy to unload. “It was like therapy to tell that story out loud,” she said.
Dawn Schary of Albuquerque is another hopeful. “I’ve always been really comfortable talking about my sex life,” the 34-year-old stand-up comedian said. She’s waiting to hear if she’ll be chosen. If she is, she’ll prepare beforehand. “I’ll probably write it on a computer, trying to, like, flesh out these things and see what I want to eliminate, just like a paper.” She might go on stage with a list of bullet points, but “if everyone really laughs at one point, I might elaborate a little more.”
She realizes her mother and father will hear some of her adventures for the first time, and given the night’s provocative theme, they might need a little prepping. “I’d tell my parents: ‘This was my crazy phase; I made it out alive, and I shared it with everybody in Albuquerque.'”