How podcast became the lifeline for radio. Five makers about their switch

The story of podcasts in the Netherlands started around 2005 with a radio deejay. The then 17-year-old Domien Verschuuren was one of the first in the Netherlands to podcast on a regular basis. His show was called cooling cast, he made fifty episodes of it. The technique for offering audio in this way – an audio program that you can play at a time of your choosing and to which you can subscribe – was developed in America in the early nineties. The new medium was soon embraced in the Netherlands by radio makers, who experimented with it long before money could be made from it.

Now dozens of radio makers are working on podcasts. What does the new medium have to offer them?

In the early years it was like playing a radio pirate. Chris Bajema, now one of the most successful podcasters in the Netherlands, still vividly remembers it. „At that time I made for the VPRO program The evenings a weekly column that The Pod Guide was called. In it I showed what kind of podcasts were made, that was actually almost exclusively American. A lot of it was about barbecuing.” Podcasts were, especially compared to radio, still very experimental. “I remember a man who recorded sounds in New York and put them online.”

I was happy that I finally got rid of the pinching formats

Chris Bajema

Bajema decides to switch to podcasts in 2015. “I organized a crowdfunding campaign and then my own show started, Man with the microphone. In the beginning, it was very profitable for me financially. The kind of podcasts I make are very labour-intensive, but I was happy to finally get rid of the constricting formats that dictated how long something should take or what exactly my research assignment was. For me, that fact outweighed the amount of work I had to do.”

That also applies to another podcaster from the very beginning, Botte Jellema. He also worked at The evenings of the VPRO Radio, but at the time the program was broadcast on Radio 6, the first public channel to broadcast only via the internet. “No dog listened to that, you didn’t have apps and smartphones and fast wireless internet connections. We thought that offering The evenings if podcast might save our program.” He has no figures, but Jellema remembers that the number of listeners “increased enormously” after they started calling the radio program a podcast.

Messing around without format compulsion

Stopped at the end of 2015 The evenings and Jellema decided to start her own podcast together with friend and artist Ype Driessen, The Century of the Amateur. He also remembers the freedom of making audio without format pressure. “We just messed around a bit. And recorded with the cheapest possible recorder. If it didn’t work, at least it wouldn’t have cost anything. What we did was explore what was possible in audio, without taking into account the length of what we were making. I remember in the third episode I said that 400 people had listened. We are now, we are at episode 250, at 50,000 listeners per episode.” With the listeners came the revenue models. “Initially, it was financially unsuccessful,” Jellema recalls.

Both Bajema and Jellema are now affiliated with Dag en Nacht Media, a podcast publisher that was founded in 2016 by Tim de Gier and Anne Janssens. The two knew each other from the editors of magazine Free Netherlands. Janssens: „We were both very interested in the new medium of podcast. He wanted more listeners for his cycling podcast, The Red Lantern. And I wanted more Dutch podcasts, so we decided to set up our own publishing house. We wanted to create a network that would allow creators to monetize their podcasts. In the end we succeeded, with trial and error. Every new podcast we add to our portfolio brings its own group of listeners. We then encourage those listeners to listen to other podcasts as well.”

The corona pandemic gave the burgeoning podcast economy the final push. “We didn’t know what hit us. All ad revenues were lost. But then we saw that the listening figures skyrocketed and the advertisers all came back again. The greater financial scope gave us the opportunity to start financing podcasts differently. At first we did that through the back door, we looked for advertisements in podcasts. Now we can pay podcast makers in advance to work out plans and do research,” says Janssens.

In this way the medium matures slowly. Nevertheless, it will always emphatically continue to seek cooperation with the public and commercial radio broadcasters, since podcast and radio are, after all, closely related.

“I think it is a task of the public broadcasters to finance, as they call it in jargon, ‘narrative’ and therefore more expensive podcast series on social themes,” says Emmie Kollau. With her production company Aldus’ Productions she makes multimedia productions, including podcasts. As an example of a narrative, social podcast, she mentions their own series about ex-prisoners Outside the Walls. “But despite the increasing popularity of podcasts, very little money has still been reserved for this genre from the NPO and the broadcasters.” For a new production, The Ranchi Babies; a colonial legacy did we manage to work together with the NTR? The podcast is about the 37 babies who were born in 1950 on the steamship Ranchi, which hurriedly left Indonesia, which had just become independent, loaded with Dutchmen and KNIL soldiers.

Through such collaborations, radio and podcast can reinforce each other. Maartje Duin is someone who has extensive experience with this. She made the impressive series in 2020 Plantation of our ancestors, in which she investigates traces of the slavery past in her family. According to Duin, radio is ideally suited for broadcasting podcasts: “Many people do not yet have the podcast in their system properly. Radio is a very good addition to put them on the track of great programs, especially now that there is such a proliferation of podcasts. I’m glad the VPRO is broadcasting mine, sometimes in full, sometimes just one episode. After all, radio is a medium through which you can suddenly be surprised. Sometimes I think it’s a shame that people leave the radio.”

Podcasts are the rescue of radio

One of them is Pieter van der Wielen, who until recently hosted the interview program four times a week Never sleep again presented, between twelve and one in the morning on Radio 1. He recently switched to NRCwhere he has an interview podcast every Friday The hour presents. “I actually didn’t know if making podcasts was for me. Until a baker once told me that while he was throwing the loaves of bread in the oven early in the morning, he was watching the podcast of Never sleep again listened. Because the program was live, but it was also offered as a podcast. So then I thought, what’s the difference anyway? A long interview is a long interview.”

Podcasts are in a sense the salvation of radio, says Van der Wielen. “Podcasts are a gathering place for all the beautiful forms of radio that are in danger of disappearing. It is the domain of all those good makers who are getting less and less attention on the radio. A market has emerged in which all of this can be experienced again.” The flexible moment of broadcasting does not suit him as a maker too bad. “When NRC first polled me I wasn’t ready at all. But when I was increasingly attacked by bouts of fatigue, I thought: maybe working during the day is not so bad after all. So that I now belong to the podcast world has a big advantage for me. I can finally sleep again.”

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