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Ava Nielsen was enjoying one of her favorite podcasts when she had to stop and hit replay to confirm that her ears weren't deceiving her.

"It's a podcast with three guys who are just funny," Nielsen said. "They reacted to a comment from a listener who was a grandmother, and [they] sounded stunned she knew how to hear a podcast.

"That's ageism, to be surprised that older people are technologically capable," said Nielsen, a 69-year-old Maple Grove retiree who happens to be a grandmother herself.

"I love technology. And I love podcasts."

It's true that older Americans have been slower to embrace this relatively new form of content. But podcast listening is growing fastest among the older cohort.

"The term 'podcasting' dates back to when you had to download to your iPod, connect it, and fret about how much storage you had on your device. That used to scare people off. Now they just press play on their smartphones," said Leigh Jacobs, co-founder of NuVoodoo, a research and marketing agency that works with radio and podcast companies.

Jacobs said that programmers and advertisers have not traditionally played to older audiences, but podcasters can and do, with content targeting their health, financial and lifestyle interests.

"Podcasts can be for the few, not the many. The average number of downloads [for a podcast] is 27," Jacobs said. "It's about niches. Podcasters can grab and own a niche. A small but loyal audience can take them a long way."

Podcasting expanded during the pandemic, when the locked-down and the homebound searched out new forms of entertainment. Ownership of voice-activated smart speakers jumped by 22% between 2020 and 2021, making it a snap to call up a podcast.

Some who are captivated by podcasts want to do more than listen; a growing number of people are crafting their own audio content. While top-rated podcasts feature sophisticated storytelling and sound design, Jacobs quips that "a guy in his basement with an internet connection, a laptop and some equipment from Best Buy" can upload original podcasts to a potential worldwide audience.

Several national podcast producers are based in the Twin Cities. Hubbard Radio's PodMN mobile app ( aggregates a list of local podcasts with Minnesota content, hosts or themes.

"There's over a thousand podcasts that we've populated in the app. We were surprised at how many there are. On some big podcast apps, local ones get lost or buried. We built the app in early 2020 to shine a light on what's relevant to this area," said Jeremy Sinon, vice president of digital strategy for Hubbard Radio.

While the locally owned broadcasting company features its own programs on PodMN, it also links to podcasts created by competitors and individual producers, in categories such as sports, news, true crime, comedy and more.

"Podcasts come in all shapes and sizes. Some are daily, some are released weekly or monthly. They can be any length, short or long. It can be a business startup or a hobby," Sinon said. "There's no right way to do it. As with all things, cream rises and the best will have staying power."

Ava Nielsen starts her day with coffee and a news podcast, then listens on and off throughout the day while she drives, does chores and takes walks. She subscribes to about a dozen podcasts, including one with content about "Outlander," her favorite prestige television show.

"I love that podcasts are portable. Anything I'm interested in, there's a podcast about it. And I hear viewpoints that are different from mine," she said. "It's a good way to keep my mind engaged. I want to keep learning."