The iPod is dead, but the podcast lives on

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Pour one out for the iPod, the pretty little gadget of my teenage dreams. While Apple finally discontinued the last iPod model this week, the “pod” lives on in the digital audio medium we all love and are obsessed with.

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The iPod was never quite the format in which podcasts thrived (that would be the smartphone), but the moment podcasts began, the iPod was pretty much the only game in town. In 2004, the iPod controlled 60 percent of the total MP3 player market. It was the default option for listening to audio shows on the go, albeit inelegantly.

“It was a horrible experience,” said Leo Laporte, founder of the early digital audio outlet This week in Tech (TwiT) and radio show host The technical man† “You had to download it to your computer, connect your computer to your iPod via iTunes, copy it over your iPod, and then you could listen to it.”

But with the ubiquitous gadget, the name “podcast” seemed like a natural fit for the scrappy online audio shows that started popping up. So natural that two people claim to have merged “iPod” and “broadcast” separately. The first registered body is in a 2004 Guardian article by journalist and technologist Ben Hammersley floating around potential names for the medium (“GuerillaMedia” didn’t get it). That same year, digital audio pioneer Dannie Gregoire named one of his software programs “podcaster” and registered domain names with the word “podcast,” then popularized it with the help of former MTV VJ and early podcast host Adam Curry. Gregoire says he was not aware of Hammersley’s article before he came up with the name. “It’s an obvious word to come up with, given the technology,” he said. Hammersley did not respond to the request for comment.

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Anyway, it caught on. Not only did Apple let the word live despite potential trademark infringement, but it wholeheartedly embraced the medium by creating a podcast directory in iTunes in 2005. That same year, George W. Bush began releasing his presidential radio addresses in podcast form. The New Oxford American Dictionary took note of all the uproar and made “podcast” the word of the year in 2005.

Not everyone was thrilled. For years, Laporte fought — and lost — the battle to rename “podcasting” to “netcasting,” arguing that the word tied the form too closely to Apple. Time has proved him right and wrong. Yes, the iPod was a fleeting phase leading up to podcasting. But the word outgrew its namesake to the point where Apple is just part of the podcasting ecosystem and not even the dominant one. Spotify has taken the crown as the most widely used podcasting platform, and Apple’s podcast programming is minimal at best.

Yet the word is inevitable. A few years ago, Laporte gave in and eventually turned the TWiT Netcast network into the TWiT Podcast network. “That’s just language,” he said. “You can’t fight it.”

This story originally came in Hot PodThe edge‘s leading audio industry newsletter. You can subscribe here for more firsts, analysis and reporting.

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