The Power of Podcasting: Telling stories through sound

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Book author
  1. Siobhan McHugh
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Podcasting is hailed for its intimacy and authenticity in an age of mistrust and disinformation. But while it is relatively easy to make a podcast, it is much harder to make a great one. In The Power of Podcasting, award-winning podcast producer and leading international audio scholar Siobhán McHugh provides a unique blend of practical insights into, and critical analysis of, the invisible art of audio storytelling. Packed with case studies, history, tips and techniques from the author’s four decades of experience, this original book brings together a wealth of knowledge to introduce you to the seductive world of sound. Engagingly written, The Power of Podcasting operates at various levels: as a cultural survey of podcasting as a new medium, a 'creative confessional' of insider stories from makers, an introduction to the theory of audio narrative and a homage to audio storytellers old and new.


In 1981, when I produced my first audio documentary, In a Strange Land, about the then-small community of immigrants in Ireland, I was spellbound when it went to air, imagining people listening to it all over the country. For that one half-hour, we shared a common experience. Podcasting has removed the limitations of listening at a certain time and place, but it engenders much the same sense of community that radio did. This book is dedicated first and foremost to people who love making, discussing and listening to podcasts.

The book was not my idea: I would not have dared to imagine taking on such a task as writing what has become a sort of cultural survey of the podcasting universe. The suggestion came from Phillipa McGuinness, former publisher at NewSouth, who identified the growing interest in podcasting as a new medium and pop-culture phenomenon. I am grateful to her and to the entire team at NewSouth, especially my astute and rigorous editor, Emma Driver; tireless publisher, Harriet McInerney; and excellent project manager, Sophia Oravecz. I am also indebted to my wonderful agent, Jane Novak, for her unstinting encouragement and assistance.

I am honoured to be part of a community of passionate audio storytellers who support and encourage each other. I particularly wish to thank contributors Patrick Abboud, Olya Booyar, Mark Dapin, Kim Fox, Audrey Gillan, Alan Hall, Eleanor McDowall, Clare McGinn, Margo Neale, Julie Shapiro and Sophie Townsend. I am indebted also to my friends and colleagues at The Age for allowing me to expose our ups and downs along the way while making Phoebe’s Fall, Wrong Skin and The Last Voyage of the Pong Su – Richard Baker, Tom McKendrick, Michael Bachelard, Rachael Dexter, Kate Cole-Adams, Greg Muller and all the team – thank you! I am also eternally grateful to the community of critics, scholars and producers who have built RadioDoc Review into the rich resource it is today, and a repository of criticism of the crafted audio storytelling form. To audio friends who have given me valuable critical feedback over the years, even (especially) when it hurt, I also say thank you: Jane Ulman, Sharon Davis, Masako Fukui, Jane Norris, Claudia Taranto, John Biewen, Fiona Martin and more.

As an academic, I have mulled over themes such as the affective power of voice, the aesthetics of audio storytelling and the intersubjective dynamics of the interview relationship before. Parts of this book have appeared in ‘The Aerobic Art of Interviewing’, Asia Pacific Media Educator, vol. 1, no. 18, 2007, pp. 147–54. I thank Bill Reynolds for editorial assistance in developing the analysis initially published as ‘The Narrative Podcast as Digital Literary Journalism: Conceptualizing S-Town’, Literary Journalism Studies, vol. 13, nos 1–2, 2021.

I wish to thank both universities with which I am affiliated, the University of Wollongong and the University of Sydney, for their support. This book is being published under the auspices of the University of Sydney, where I am developing a Hub for Innovation in Podcasting: a one-stop centre that aims to research, teach, produce and commission podcasts, and expand podcasting studies internationally. I welcome inquiries in that regard.

Finally, this book could not have happened without the unwavering support of my husband, Chris, who has put up with me wandering around the house with earphones in for years, as I listen to podcasts I am working on or evaluating or just appreciating. I dedicate this book to him and to my sons, Declan and Conor, and Alba, a recent member of the family. As in podcasting, the personal is always the most powerful.​
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