The First Podcast


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How did an IP squabble lead to the first podcast? And why did Jenny Attiyeh quit radio and TV to create her own show on the Web? Well, it all began with the third international Open Source Content Management (OSCOM) conference at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in the spring of 2003. Dave Winer, the creative genius and enfant terrible of the blogosphere, was invited to give the keynote address to a couple hundred OS CMS developers from all over the world. As the architect of several Web standards like XML-RPC, SOAP, and RSS, Winer garnered enormous respect from his developer audience.

I was one of the organizers of the conference, videotaped all the major presentations, and got to know Winer pretty well along the way. Working with Professor Charles Nesson, the founding director of the Berkman Center, gave

One of those brilliancies was Christopher Lydon, a longtime television and radio personality from the Boston area. Chris did a long stint as television anchor for the ten o'clock news on WGBH Channel 2. After a failed run for mayor of Boston, Lydon switched to radio and created The Connection at Boston University radio station WBUR. One of the early talk shows syndicated widely across the country, The Connection was the sparkplug in a fund-raising drive that raised WBUR from a $5 million a year operation to $25 million per year.

At that point Lydon locked horns with WBUR management over the rights to his content, specifically long-term rights to his shows playing over the Internet. A close reading of his contract by the station manager, Jane Christo, and Boston University president, John Silber, showed that as a WBUR employee Lydon had no rights to his work, and he was summarily fired.

Winer organized the first BloggerCon at Harvard in the summer of 2003, and got Lydon involved in the great debates between journalists and bloggers. Lydon had been one of the guys in the back of the bus writing for the New York Times in presidential elections from Kennedy to Carter. Winer urged Lydon to write a blog to restart his career. Lydon said his gift was a radio voice, not merely a skillful pen, and Winer suggested that Lydon come to my lab in Cambridge, the former NewMedia Lab, to see if there was a way we could create an audio blog. We investigated a bunch of portable recorders, audio editing software, and compression tools, and taught Lydon to use them all.

After 25 years of being surrounded by the cream of broadcast engineers in state-of-the-art studios, Lydon was alone with his recorder, a laptop editor, and tools to upload audio to a media server. He self-produced more than 50 interviews, posting a text description to the blog at Harvard that Winer built for him, with an audio link to my media server at skyBuilders.com. We described the new technology on the Web site BlogAudio.org. In November, one year before the elections, Lydon launched Blogging of the President, a site with audio, to document the influence of blogging on the presidential campaign.

Another of the BloggerCon attendees who visited my lab was Adam Curry, a top host during MTV's early years. On his daily commutes, he lamented his inability to listen to his favorite talk shows (like Lydon's), and wrote some software to automatically download archived shows from the Web into his iPod. He, Winer, and others extended RSS feeds to include audio attachments. Now iPod owners could use blog aggregation software to fill up their portable recorders every day. Thus began the explosive phenomenon of podcasting.

In the meantime Lydon's combination of Internet and radio caught the attention of Minnesota Public Radio, themselves pioneers in adding Internet support to their radio shows. They offered to bring Lydon back on the air with a new national radio show, appropriately dubbed Open Source.

As Lydon describes the birth of his new blog, "Winer says the first podcast in human history was the interview I recorded with him in July, 2003 and posted on Bob Doyle's server at skyBuilders.com. It was the stream of subsequent RSS-fed interviews on my blog that landed in Adam Curry's iPod in Europe and fired the imagination that launched iPodder." The happy ending is that Lydon is now in complete control of his intellectual property and the role model for Jenny Attiyeh's ThoughtCast and thousands of other budding podcasts.