Friday, March 05, 2021

Guest Post: The Intimacy of Audio

This post is a guest post by Scott Monty, who offers executive coaching, advisory, and speaking services through Scott Monty Strategies. Thank you, Scott, for participating in the Media Diet conversation!

"Daddy, tell me a story."

It's a refrain repeated in many languages all over the world—a timeless routine that signals the winding down of the bedtime routine. It happens in our house, even after our kids have been old enough to read on their own.

What's the first story you remember?

Odds are it's a fairy tale or a nursery rhyme, or perhaps a Dr. Seuss book.

Whatever personal reminiscence springs to the forefront of your brain ("mileage will vary," as we used to say in the auto business), I'll guarantee you one thing: it's a story you heard. That is, it's a story that someone once told you or read to you.

And it might not have been relegated to bedtime, either. Perhaps it was around a campfire, over a Sunday dinner, or at a family gathering, where the same yarns are repeated year after year.

The stories we tell define who we are. We develop a culture based on the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and our culture is formed via a certain collective memory.

The Thaayorre of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia, are historically an oral people, passing down their traditions via the spoken language. And they believe intellect and memory reside in the ear.

So it makes perfect sense that our strongest memories of early stories are from what we heard rather than what we read.

The ancient poet Homer is believed to have been blind and unable to write even something as simple as his own name. Yet he composed "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," foundational poems in the Western canon. Those two epic poems were first shared orally, suggesting that considerable portions of the 27,803 lines were memorized by rhapsodists who performed them regularly.

The main liturgical rite of the Catholic mass for centuries was sung in Gregorian chant. Before congregants were able to read widely, the religion assured its survival by sharing the oral tradition that is so intertwined with the image of Benedictine monks. Even today, post-Vatican II, there are still some vestiges left of those chants.


“Language is the armory of the human mind and at once contains the trophies of its past and the weapons of its future conquests.”—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1817


Beyond singing, though, how powerful the spoken word is. While the printing press gets credit for a revolution of religion, industry, and education, humans have thrived on language to carry our traditions along.

Historians might bristle at the notion of a historical record sustained solely viva voce, with something as loose and malleable as language, but the inescapable fact is we are an oral—and aural—people.

That is bolstered by the latest trends and supporting technologies. When Steve Jobs debuted the iPod in 2001, he said you could have "1,000 songs in your pocket." That appealed to our love of music and all that is audio.

Fast forward to the present day, when Edison Research’s Infinite Dial study tells us more than one out of three Americans listen to podcasts, 62 percent of us over the age of 12 use some sort of audio assistant, and podcasts reach more than 100 million Americans every month.

Audio news such as Joe Rogan’s podcast going exclusive with Spotify for $100 million, and Amazon pushing into the local podcast market (where we rely on local news, sports, weather, and advertising), and the rise of social audio apps such as Clubhouse are additional signs that audio is booming.

Whether it’s asking Siri a question, telling Alexa to add something to a shopping list, or dictating a voice-to-text reply, we're using our voices to speak to our digital companions, not just each other.

The oral (and aural) tradition is alive and well.


“The gift of a common tongue is a priceless inheritance and it may well some day become the foundation of a common citizenship.”—Winston Churchill, 1943


This wide-open medium stands before us, easily conquered with microphones and hosting services that are affordable and accessible. It's like a modern-day Gold Rush, with prospectors storming the general stores for supplies and heading into the wilderness to mine a vein.

Similar to the California Gold Rush that burst into the national consciousness in 1849 and peaked by 1852, we might stand on the edge of a podcasting rush. How long before we become oversaturated with audio content?

With podcast familiarity at more than 70 percent (again, according to Edison Research), it's the perfect opportunity for brands to create content for the medium.

Stories work because they affect us at a deeply personal level. And yes, we can craft words on a printed page to tell a story, but we run the risk of a speed reader or hyper-scroller who breezes past an important point we're trying to make.

But audio? With audio, we have a chance to arrest their attention. To say the same thing to everyone and to have everyone hear it the same. To form a common bond through the same language.

The Most Intimate Form of Communication

What has always struck me is how personal podcasts are. Whether we're listening at our desks, on a walk, while we're gardening, or while we commute, it's a medium in which someone is speaking directly into our ears.

That is a level of intimacy that isn't afforded by other media.

Podcasting content speaks directly to us, just as we do to our children when we tell them bedtime stories.

It's entirely possible that our future oral tradition will include the phrase, "Alexa, tell me a story."


Scott Monty is a 15-year veteran of podcasting and a strategic communications advisor, after serving as Ford Motor Company's first executive responsible for digital communications and social media. He writes the Timeless & Timely newsletter, where the past enlightens the present.

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