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Robin Williams star in Los Angeles
Image: Loren Javier

Was Robin Williams the first podcaster?

· By James Cridland · 2.2 minutes to read

An early investor in Audible, actor and comedian Robin Williams released a bi-weekly talk show from January 2000 for several years. And, while the word podcast emerged in 2004, it could be argued that Williams was podcasting before the term was invented.

Amazon made a strategic alliance with Audible in January 2000, and on May 31, 2000, was promoting the new Audible “Audio Downloads” store, including the show, titled RobinWilliams@audible.com.

As Audible founder and CEO, Don Katz, said in August 2014, remembering the comedian after his death:

“Robin appeared on all of the morning talk shows for Audible in early 2000 – on Entertainment Tonight, on Letterman and many other shows too. He would hold up the original Audible MobilePlayer we invented and talk about the future and his new Audible show. Dave and the other hosts—not unlike just about everyone else back then—tried to understand what in the world Robin was talking about.”

And, here he is, on the Charlie Rose show. Skip to 5'33" to hear him talk about his show on Audible.

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… and on a very, very old CNN page, a review of Robin Williams sitting down to explain it to a befuddled Jay Leno.

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Skip to 4'30" in the above for the Audible plug.

“It’s a different show [every week], made for the Web, for people to download, and you can load that on your computer, and from there load it to an MP3 player.”

Of course, that’s what the first podcast was, too: something you downloaded to your computer, then synched to your MP3 player. Except Williams wasn’t distributed via an RSS feed.

In an earlier version of this article, we also suggested that it wasn’t an automatic subscription. Guy Story, who led Audible’s technology at the time, corrects us: “It was possible to get automatic download of subscription content, such as the Robin Williams program. If your Audible MobilePlayer was sitting in its dock, the Audible desktop software would download the new episode and transfer it to the device. No RSS yet, but still pretty great.”

Every month, Robin Williams would produce a two-part interview; here, from 2000, is part one of his interview with David Crosby.

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The Robin Williams fansite contains a list of the shows. It notes that the interviews are no longer on Audible; and that they were re-released “on iTunes” for a short time afterwards.

They were produced by Blue Wolf Productions, Williams’s own production company.

Like paid Apple Podcasts subscriptions, the show wasn’t delivered using an RSS feed. Like Audible exclusive podcasts today, it wasn’t available for free. But, the show sounds identical in form to a normal celebrity-meets-celebrity podcast today. Was it a podcast? (And does it really matter if it was?)

James CridlandJames Cridland is the Editor of Podnews, a keynote speaker and consultant. He wrote his first podcast RSS feed in January 2005; and also launched the first live radio streaming app for mobile phones in the same year. He's worked in the audio industry since 1989.

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