rabble turns 10! Our story: Introducing RPN radio free radio

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On April 18, 2011, rabble.ca celebrated its 10th anniversary. Highlighting 10 important moments of rabble's history over the course of our 10th year, current and former contributors to rabble have been asked to share their highlights from their time with us. This monthly rabble history series tells Our Story.

We also know that many of you have your own highlights from rabble's 10 years, and we want to know what you think. Share how you'd like to see us grow in the comments section below.

As podcasts began taking the digital world by storm in late 2004, rabble.ca saw this as an ideal opportunity. Judy Rebick, rabble's founder, recalls the foresight that led to rabble's multimedia development as staff contemplated its growth in 2005.

"We had many discussions about how to expand rabble. A lot of people wanted a print edition but in our staff discussions we decided instead to go more into multimedia. It sounds obvious now, but in those early days, it was not yet clear how quickly the Internet would become so easily multimedia."

Wayne MacPhail, currently a member of rabble's board, proposed that rabble delve into podcasting and the rest of the board agreed. MacPhail volunteered to oversee the development of the rabble podcast network, which vastly expanded rabble's reach. Jane Will, rabble's then webmaster, remembers how the addition of podcasts greatly enhanced the rabble experience. "The launch of the podcast section of the site created a whole new way of experiencing rabble. It was a bit of a learning curve for us on the tech end of the site, but the enthusiastic pushing by Wayne finally made it a reality."

The rabble podcast network began with rabble radio. Deemed the "flagship show of rpn," rabble radio proudly launched as "a mix of political commentary, soundseeing tours, advice, movie reviews, a contest and music from new Canadian musicians. All produced by a country-wide cadre of volunteers." The pilot episode, released June 17, 2005 consisted of a talk with then rabble editor Sharon Fraser, a look at guerilla gardening, music and piece about babble. The success of the pilot let to a bi-weekly broadcast of rabble radio that addresses an eclectic set of issues and has diverse content that continues to this day.

Meagan Perry moved from CBC's As It Happens to join the rabble podcast network volunteer team in 2005, becoming executive producer in 2008. "Podcasting was like a great liberating force. All of a sudden you were able to hear all kinds of voices that had been ignored by mainstream media up to then, and people were coming to rabble.ca to hear them."

This all took place before the days of iTunes, as rabble's current publisher Kim Elliott explains. "Before iTunes became the 'it' platform for sharing podcasts, there was the rabble podcast network: 'New voices in your head. It's radio free radio.'" Implemented by the Annares Workers' Co-op and Charlotte Scott, rabble's foresight and willingness to embrace new technology was and continues to be a large part of rabble's success.

Close to 20 Canadian podcasts were initially offered on rpn. These included AfricaFiles: The Pulse, which brought news from Africa; Needs No Introduction, which continues to bring lectures and speakers to rabble.ca listeners; Podcast DIY, which taught new podcasters how to make their own show; and radio book lounge, interviewing authors of note. Those podcasts, along with Redeye and a news commentary podcast called I Read The News Today, Oh Boy! are still offered at the network today.

Matthew Adams, rabble's director of special products and co-host of I Read the News Today, Oh Boy!, remembers the early days when the future of podcasting was unclear and questionable. "The Globe and Mail had some editorial or article that said podcasts were some fad that would pass, now of course they and everyone else has them but we were early adapters and rabble radio has been a strong show from the start."

There are now over 36 podcasts offered on rabble, organized into rpn channels that include current affairs, social justice, arts and culture, environment and music. The network's popularity continues to grow. The Ruckus, rabble.ca's music podcast is approaching over 80,000 downloads, while rabble radio boasts over 200,000 individual program downloads, with subscriber numbers rising every week.

Bill Wittur, a new media consultant and occasional rabble contributor, notes that rabble has always demonstrated leadership in the realm of media. "rabble has always been in the lead when it comes to using new technologies and leveraging them for other users and the audience."

Looking back at rabble's trajectory, rpn has been an essential way to provide fresh perspectives on topics, address diverse issues and reach broader audiences.

Noreen Mae Ritsema is a former intern with rabble.ca and is the editor of the University of Manitoba Gradzette.

Further Reading

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