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“Tourette’s syndrome led to the creation of podcasting” - Adam Curry

Podcasting creator believes his neurological condition was the reason behind his greatest success

Adam Curry is a media personality, entrepreneur and podcasting pioneer. He has had a fascinating career over the past 35 years with his big break coming in 1987 when he landed a VJ role on MTV hosting shows such as Top 20 Video Countdown.

However, his biggest success in life was in the world of podcasting. Nicknamed “The Podfather” Curry, along with his friend Dave Winer, developed the technology now used by millions on a daily basis.

Diagnosed with Tourette’s as a child he views his condition not as a disability but as a gift that gives him his own unique “Super Powers” that enabled his biggest success in life.

Tourette’s diagnosis

Born in Arlington, Virginia in 1964 Curry and his family emigrated to The Netherlands in the early 1970s. Shortly after this move, he began experiencing severe motor tics such as violent head shaking. His father also had Tourette’s and would refer to his own tics as ‘gidgets’. After noticing similar tics in his son he sent him for a formal diagnosis when he was seven years old.

In October 2020, Curry appeared on the Tourette’s podcast to discuss his experiences of living with the condition. He prefers to be open about his Tourette’s and likes to always have a sense of humour about it to make him and others around him feel comfortable. Over the past decade, he has documented his most prominent tics as well as his Tourette’s “SuperPowers”.

His tics include neck twitching, rapid blinking and tightly squeezing his eyelids shut. He describes his favourite superpower as his rapid response time to catching a falling item such as a glass.

Early Media Career

His media career began on Dutch Radio aged just 19. Radio initially appealed to him as he could allow his motor tics to flow freely with the audience being completely unaware. He did have slight anxiety upon landing the MTV job concerned that his tics would suddenly be visible to millions of viewers worldwide. However, his work mainly involved brief 2 minutes slots between music videos and suppression meant his tics were never massively apparent on-screen.

He once had the privilege of interviewing Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. He found himself rewatching the interview and obsessing over the visibility of his tics rather than the standard of rapport he had created with the rock legend.

Nowadays though he feels the energy involved in tic suppression is simply not worth it. Preferring instead to “Just let it out and be you!”

Origins of Podcasting

Podcasts are a part of everyday life for many with around one-third of the UK and US population listening to at least one annually. Estimates suggest there have been over 2 million podcasts created with more than 48 million episodes. 850,000 podcasts are believed to be currently active across all platforms with 150,000 newly created since the start of the global pandemic in 2020. The average listener spends over 6 hours per week listening to their favourite podcasts subscribing to around 7 different shows.

'Podfather' Adam Curry on the Joe Rogan Experience in March 2020 discussing the origins of Podcasting

However, back in 2000 podcasting was simply an idea in the mind of Adam Curry. Opening your phone to a reef of notifications from Twitter, Instagram or iTunes is now part of our daily routine. Connecting your wireless AirPods to your iPhone and streaming the latest musings of your favourite content creator via a 5G connection as you pass the time on your daily commute is a world far removed from the internet experience of two decades ago.

Anyone born after the turn of the century will never truly understand the level of first world problems experienced by web enthusiasts back in the early days of the internet. The crossover from dial-up to broadband offered one key advantage though – it was always on! So gone were the days of your irate mother screaming at you:

“Can you stop tying up the house phone with that interweb thingy? I’m waiting on a call from your Gran.”

Whilst broadband download speeds were initially around 10 times faster than dial-up by today’s standards they were still relatively slow. The average household wifi may now boast a download capacity of 50 to 100 megabytes per second. Back in the early 2000s this was generally as low as only a few hundred kilobytes per second.

So unlike today where you can freely stream audio and video content from Netflix or Spotify without interruption or download an hour long podcast in a matter of seconds. The same task 20 years ago would have taken at least 2 or 3 hours (on a good day!). Streaming audio without any interruption was an absolute non-starter. Music lovers will remember the frustration of having to wait up to half an hour to fully download a song 4 minutes long. The equivalent of a movie lover having to queue for over 12 hours to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster at their local Odeon.

It was this frustration over audio download speeds that led Adam Curry to develop the concept of podcasting. He approached his friend and software developer Dave Winer in October 2000. Internet blogging was on the rise at the time and, amongst other achievements, Dave had developed the original RSS feed technology for websites.

RSS feeds have declined in popularity over the past decade with Google Chrome for example removing them from their browser back in 2013. However, they were initially a revolution for website users and owners allowing you to ‘subscribe’ to a site and be automatically notified whenever new content was added. New content would be presented in an aggregator feed replacing the need to manually troll your favourite sites on a daily basis for the latest updates. However, the technology was only designed at that stage to monitor text-based content.

The term ‘podcast’ still didn’t exist but many blogs had seen a rise in ‘audioblogging’. Adam approached Dave to see if his RSS technology could be expanded to also

capture new audio content.

Dave Winer and Adam Curry at the Gnomedex 5.0 technology conference in 2005

Also if new content was discovered could it be automatically downloaded and only inform the user once this process was complete. With the advent of ‘Always-on’ broadband internet, this process could now work on auto-pilot in the background and end the frustrating wait of several hours for new content to download.

The first time the user was made aware of any new content it was already downloaded and ready to play instantly.

Several developments of this technology went back and forth amongst software developers worldwide over the next couple of years. Dave Winer eventually included this new audio capturing feature in the RSS 0.92 release in October 2002.

Meeting with Steve Jobs

Over the next few years, Curry worked with several software developers trying to build an app that would act as the ideal audio capture platform. iPodder was developed in 2004 (later renamed Juice) which was an app that allowed the transfer of internet radio broadcasts onto the early versions of the iPod.

Steve Jobs discussing the integration of podcasting into iTunes at the D3:All Things Digital conference in 2005

In 2005 Curry was invited to a meeting with Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Jobs said he wanted to incorporate podcasting into iTunes at the next version release. Curry had steadily been building a podcast directory and gave this full list to Jobs for use in the launch. Podcasting was included in the iTunes version 4.9 release in June 2005.

This native incorporation of podcasting into iTunes was when the true rise of the medium emerged. ‘Podcast’ was declared word of the year for 2005 by the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Comedian Ricky Gervais set a podcasting world record in 2006 with his first series of The Ricky Gervais Show achieving over 250,000 downloads per month.

Apple podcasts now host over half a million active shows in more than 100 languages in 170 countries. Other podcasting platforms such as Spotify boast around 28 million listeners each month with the company currently estimating a rise to 43 million by the end of 2025.

To think all this stemmed from the vision of an ex-DJ with Tourette’s Syndrome frustrated at the download speed of new audio content.

Tourette’s Syndrome led to the invention of podcasting

During Curry’s appearance on the Tourette’s podcast in October 2020 he spoke openly about his experiences of living with the condition. Particularly how it has contributed to his successes in life and his resultant “Super Powers”.

In software programming terms he describes his Tourette’s as “A feature and not a bug”. The hyperfocus he experiences from it allows him to concentrate intensely on the activities he loves most and positively channel all his excess energy. He also finds his tics disappear completely when hyperfocused and in the zone.

He has a massive aptitude for visualising systems which has been particularly invaluable throughout his work in computer coding. He is able to identify system patterns and finds himself analysing everything from all available angles.

He insists that were it not for his Tourette’s syndrome podcasting may never have been created.

“I can now with great certainty say that Tourette’s syndrome led to the creation of podcasting. It was my ability to visualise an RSS feed with an iPod and some kind of way to point to a media file. A script that could download it and only notifying the person that something was ready to play when it was downloaded and synced to the iPod. I think part of my ‘feature’ was the ability to visualise all that.”

“I think we can safely say that Tourette’s started podcasting.”


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