The geeks have inherited the airwaves
Podcasting isn't clever or cool - it's just plain nerdy
A lot of people think podcasting is really cool. They know that it's in some way connected with the internet, and they've heard that Ricky Gervais and Russell Brand are into it: ergo, it must be, like, down with the kids.
This is barmy. Podcasting is for geeks - created by geeks, listened to by geeks. Think about it. Don't you ever wonder why you no longer see anyone wearing a Marillion T-shirt? I'd bet good money that the reason for this is that the owners of said T-shirts are all too busy at home, messing around with their podcast software. (By the way, if you are a Marillion fan, and are unwilling to seek help for this distressing condition, I know of two prog-rock casts that you will like; I discovered them while I was rather childishly trying to back up my geek theory. One is called Rogues' Gallery, which goes out on the Dividing Line, an internet radio station; the other is at www.silhobbit.com.)
Look at the top 100 podcasts in the iTunes Store online, and you will see that, right now, no fewer than six of them have been brought to you by National Geographic magazine. (However, the BBC still reigns supreme, with 22 podcasts in the top 100, of which 20 are podcast versions of radio shows. My current favourite is the podcast version of From Our Own Correspondent.) It's perfectly acceptable to enjoy National Geographic up until the age of about nine; there was nothing I liked more as a nine-year-old than gawping at photographs of blue whales or the giraffe women of Burma. But as soon as I turned ten, I turned to more sophisticated reading matter such as, er, Look-in and Jackie. So who, I wonder, is downloading and listening to all these National Geographic podcasts? There can be only one answer to this: geeks.
But what kind of geeks? This past week, I listened to another National Geographic cast: Walks of a Lifetime, which is basically a series of city guides. I downloaded the latest instalment, a guide to Savannah, Georgia, narrated by Rudy Maxa.
I may be wrong, but I think anyone who'd want to listen to the likes of Maxa while walking in a city as beautiful as Savannah must be a bit deranged. What's wrong with listening to the whispering of the trees, and dipping quietly into a guidebook every now and again? Everything about the podcast set my teeth on edge, from the opening blast of Dallas-style theme music to the host's exhortation, as he wandered the city's premier shopping street, that it was time for us to dig out our credit cards.
But walking while listening is a big deal in Podcastland - and although Maxa got on my nerves, I'm not opposed to the idea in principle. I often used to walk through London listening to my tiny pocket radio; I've given it up only because, since the advent of digital, I've become impatient with crackly signals but don't yet own a portable digital. Look on the internet, and you will find all sorts of downloadable walks, many of them deliciously quirky. I recommend Robert Wright's (www.londonwalks.libsyn.com), especially his trot around Kensal Green Cemetery in north-west London, accompanied by Henry Vivian Neale, chief guide for the friends of the cemetery, who describes the life and times of a cross-dressing female surgeon buried there. It is so wonderfully atmospheric, you could be listening to it in Bridlington and it wouldn't matter.
Pick of the week
Classic Serial – The Cairo Trilogy
Starting 15 October, 3pm, Radio 4
Omar Sharif stars in Naguib Mahfouz’s family epic, recorded entirely on the streets of Cairo.
Book of the Week – The Blunkett Tapes
16-20 October, 9.45am, Radio 4Revelatory, or a giant snore?
You decide. Read by the author.
Keith Haring at the Baltic
In the 1980s, this graffiti maestro and social activist adorned the New York subway with an abundance of playful white-chalk graphics, winning him the attention of street commuters and art aficionados alike. As a disciple of the great pop-art icon Andy Warhol, Haring was devoted to reflecting vibrant New York street culture with public art displays. This exhibition of his earlier drawings traces the foundations of his designs, and the development of his now universally recognised style.
From 21 October to 7 January 2007, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead NE8. www.balticmill.com