A bunch of guys — particularly, white guys — starting a podcast has long been a running joke online. But now, in quarantine, with little else to do but to talk (and talk and talk and talk), it’s quickly becoming as much of a truism as a meme. I didn’t believe this to be fact — heretofore just laughing along at the joke with everyone else — until I was ordering podcast equipment myself and noticed that some of Amazon’s most popular podcasting kits were quickly selling out and among the ecommerce giant’s current best sellers, alongside hand sanitizer and soap. (And yes, yes, I’m podcaster, too, and I fully acknowledge that I’m contributing to the problem.)
My old school friend Stuart is one of the guys making a run on podcast gear. Earlier in the week, he called me to say that he’d spent the last of his most recent paycheck on a needlessly expensive mixer and microphones he didn’t know how to set up. He didn’t know what he was going to call his podcast either (though he was contemplating Quarancast), but he was positive it would center around reviewing old James Bond movies and Doctor Who episodes as well as involve very little planning. “I was thinking of making it the way Joe Rogan does,” he explains.
He’s gonna have some fierce competition, because over the past two weeks, dozens of podcasts born out of quarantine and semi-enforced isolation have been uploaded to SoundCloud (the most popular amateur podcast hosting platform), and it’s likely that the longer quarantine continues, even more of them will emerge. “We started our podcast because since the virus has canceled school, all of our friends haven’t been able to leave the house; so they just play video games all day,” says Adam Lemieux, a high school student from Alberta who, since quarantine, started a hockey show called The Blackout Podcast. “We thought we could [make] a podcast to give people we know an escape from all the bad things that are happening right now. It gives them an hour or so of entertainment where they can laugh and have a good time.”
Currently, he and his co-hosts record episodes every day — again, not so much as a marketing strategy or a way to climb up the Apple Podcasts charts, but rather to provide people stuck at home with a familiar human connection.
Meanwhile, for Ryan Broderick, a reporter at BuzzFeed News and the creator of the popular Garbage Day newsletter, being in quarantine felt like the perfect time to start a (yet to be named) podcast, both as a way of filling time and to manage his anxieties about the virus’ impact. He suspects this is the motivation for most of his budding podcast brethren. “At worst, no one listens, but because a podcast is like an actual product, you’ll have this weird time capsule,” he tells me. “We’re living through a very strange time in history. So it feels right to document that.”
Like Lemieux, he adds that the nature of the pandemic has meant that podcasts have become the most fitting medium for communication — a way of maintaining human connection away from apocalyptic liveblogs and overwhelming Twitter timelines, and without the more advanced tech necessary to set up a functioning Twitch stream. “COVID-19 is very quickly changing my entire outlook on my future, not to get too heavy here. So for the moment, a fun podcast with my friend about memes seems like the best thing to do,” Broderick says.
And as we’re all too aware of at the moment, there are a lot of worse things in the world than that.