Can podcasts challenge radio for sports journalism supremacy?
By Max Fossey
Before moving to Vancouver in January 2020, Nanaimo native Chris Faber says he never expected his hockey-oriented podcast to get as big as it has.
Faber, a contributor to the Canucks Army website and co-host of the Canucks Conversation podcast, credits his mother with instilling a love of hockey in him. When he was a teenager, she would drop him off at BCHL games on Friday nights to watch the Nanaimo Clippers in action.
Soon, Faber was recording podcasts on his Yeti microphone and editing them on his laptop.
It was at the age of 22, while working at a mill in Nanaimo, that Faber says he got addicted to the medium. “I started listening to podcasts quite a bit at the mill,” he says. “It got me through the 10-hour shifts that we had to do.”
Today, the 26-year-old BCIT Radio Arts student has listeners for Canucks Conversation from all over the world, a sponsor, and a growing audience for the show: now in its third year, the podcast has between 7,000 and 8,000 listeners a month, according to Faber.
The rise of podcasting has been a trend for many years now. But in the sports world, until recently, radio was the go-to medium for many sports nuts on the run. With Canucks Conversation and similar podcasts grabbing a greater and greater audience share, is this about to change?
Faber’s co-host on Canucks Conversation is David Quadrelli. Quadrelli says that he became a Canucks fan listening to games on the radio with his Italian grandfather, who moved to Canada when Vancouver was just an NHL expansion team. “That was how he learned English,” says Quadrelli, “listening to radio.”
Faber and Quadrelli have turned their passion for hockey into a profession—and for those looking for novel ways into the media business, pursuing those passions on podcasts is a popular option, according to Satiar Shah, a host on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver.
“The only way you get better on air is by doing it repeatedly,” says Shah. “It’s like anything in life: the more you do it, the better you get at it and the more confident you get. You learn the craft and start mastering that craft.”
Hannah McGregor, a publishing instructor at SFU with an expertise in podcasts, credits the ubiquity of the smart-phone with the rise in podcasting. “The fact that we all carry devices around us now that have data and internet on them—a portable listening device, plus portable internet connection—is really just perfect for podcasting,” she says.
The other key factor explaining podcast’s rise, says McGregor, is the low barrier to making them: all you need is an idea and a microphone. “There is some skill involved in it, and some learning curve, but compared to making a TV show it is significantly easier,” she says.
While McGregor acknowledges the threat podcasting poses to radio, she thinks that radio still has certain competitive advantages. “Radio is capable of reporting on things that are happening right now,” says McGregor. “Whereas podcasting has a tendency to be a bit belated.”
Shah agrees, noting that, as a host, he is able to get live news content as is happens.
“If you’re tuned into a podcast,” he notes, “you’re tuning into the reaction, based on what happened earlier today or the day before. Or somebody is looking ahead. Radio has the advantage where everything is immediate,” Shah says. “If something happens, like a trade, we’re on air and we’re talking about it, breaking it down right away.”
Still, while radio remains his medium of choice, Shah acknowledges that podcasts present significant competition to what he does. “You can choose to listen to podcasts and listen to live radio, if that’s what you want to do,” he says. “There is a competition, but I do believe both can coexist.”
Ultimately, says Shah, sports radio hosts have to be attuned to the needs of their audience. Radio, unlike podcasts, is a highly interactive medium—with listeners calling in or texting as you’re on air. And that presents unique challenges.
“With live shows, you really have to have that energy high at all times,” he notes. “You need to hit those big topics, make sure you play the hits and are on top of the really important daily topics—and making them into interactive things [where] people can chime in, live.”
For a timeline on the history of podcasts, click here.