Serial. WTF with Marc Maron. 99% Invisible. Welcome to Night Vale. Homecoming. These and hundreds of other great shows have critics declaring we’re in a “Golden Age” podcasting; a moment where the choice for quality digital audio abounds, and where new voices and listeners connect daily through earbuds, car stereos, home speakers or office computers. Podcasting is just over 10 years old, but it has been nothing short of an explosion of cultural and sonic creativity: there are millions of episodes in more than 100 languages. But this exciting new media form is shockingly vulnerable; podcast feeds end abruptly, cease to be maintained, or simply aren’t saved and archived properly.
PodcastRE (short for Podcast Research) aims to avoid this fate for podcasts by preserving podcasts and presenting an interface for researching them. We believe that what today’s podcasters are producing will have value in the future, not just for its content, but for what it tells us about audio’s longer history, about who has the right to communicate and by what means. We may be in a “Golden Age” of podcasts but if we’re not making efforts to preserve and analyze these resources now, we’ll find ourselves in the same dilemma many radio, film or television historians now find themselves: writing, researching and thinking about a past they can’t fully see or hear.
PodcastRE contains links and metadata records to over 5 million individual audio files, from thousands of different podcast feeds. The database began in 2014, but it has podcasts dating back to 2007 (with older stuff surfacing every day). Our search engine lets you search by show title, episode title, or keyword and display the results by grid or list. Or, use the visualization and analytics tools to dig further into the data. You can stream audio files if the podcast is still available online from its original feed and we have over 5000 interactive audio transcripts for different shows in our database, all of which is searchable from the general search bar. We also preserve original files for all the podcasts in our database for researcher access.
We have a tiered account structure (General Users and Researchers) that allows the general public and researchers to search and research hundreds of thousands of podcast episodes. All users can freely search the database, analyze the metadata and stream audio provided the original feed is still available online. For researchers at educational institutions who require greater access to the database (i.e. access to original audio files, access to a historical podcast no longer available online, etc.), a Researcher Account can be requested, if your project falls under fair use/fair dealing. For researcher access, click on the user icon in the top right corner of the home page and then click on “Request an Account”. Please use a .edu or institutional email if you have one.
Please note that we are in the process of assessing our current systems and upgrading backend workflows and infrastructure. Certain features, including Researcher Accounts, have been inconsistently available. We are working to update these features and to introduce new ones to PodcastRE as well. Stay tuned for more info!
This project was started by Dr. Jeremy Morris in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin Madison. The site was built under the guidance of Computer Media Specialist Peter Sengstock and with design and technical contributions from Samuel Hansen, Luke Salamone, Zheng Zheng, Avichal Rakesh, Ying Li, and Keyi Cui. Additional content curation and feature development from Andrew Bottomley, Jessie Nixon and Sean Owczarek. Transcripts appear courtesy of the no longer operational AudioSear.ch (thanks and good luck to Anne Wootton and her crew). Eric Hoyt and Susan Noh lead the development of the analytics and visualizations tools that the database provides.
In 2023, we began a project to assess PodcastRE's current functionality and to work toward improving its overall stability and reliability. Ben Pettis is working on updating front- and back-end components of the PodcastRE website. Thank you to the National Endowment for the Humanities for their generous support of this project.
The database is a collaboration between the Department of Communication Arts, the Instructional Media Center and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Libraries – the former providing space, storage and technical assistance with the site, the latter offering consultation services regarding the site’s metadata and preservation components. We would also like to thank the project’s advisory board for their on-going input and advice regarding the site: Dr. Tanya Clement at the University of Texas at Austin School of Information, Dr. Jonathan Sterne at McGill University, and former Earwolf and Midroll media CEO Adam Sachs.
PodcastRE is made possible in part by a Digital Humanities Advancement grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.
Support for this research is also provided by the UW2020 Discovery Initiative, from the University of Wisconsin - Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education with funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.