Introduction to Podcasts

person listening to podcastIntroduction
I sat down to write an article on becoming a podcaster – what you need to know if you’re just starting out. Before my text editor had finished launching, though, I realized that some of my friends out there may still be wondering what the heck a podcast is and how do you listen to one. This article, therefore, is for youz, uh, you. Sorry, I’m from New England.

What is a podcast?

So, what is a podcast? It’s basically what you hear on the radio – pure audio. It could be music, talk, or a combination of both. It could be about a particular topic, such as finances or sports (Go Bruins!). It could be scripted, like my own show: It’s About Time. It could be ad-hoc, uh, like my other show: MOD Love.

Shameless plugs aside, there are thousands, nay tens of thousands of podcasts out there right now and the number is growing. But why, if we still have radio?

Well, the problem with radio… ok, one of the problems with radio… (sigh) one of the many problems with radio… is that you have to be where a radio is and, if you’re not near one when your favorite talk show, or news report, or music feature is played, you miss it. And when you are near one it’s often playing something you don’t want to listen to – whiny DJs, overplayed music, loud commercials – you know what I mean. A podcast is like a radio, but you select only the parts you want to listen to and you get to listen to them whenever you want. Neat, huh?

How do I listen?

Podcasts are stored out on websites all over the Internet in the same format as music files, so if you’ve ever played an MP3 file before, you have everything you need to play a podcast. Of course, companies and enterprising individuals have made it even easier.

If you use iTunes or own an Apple device (iPod, iPad, or iPhone) you have a pretty sweet deal. You see, iTunes can show you thousands of podcasts up on the iTunes Music Store. Just go to the store and either click on Podcasts to browse all thats available, by category if you wish, or search the specific podcast you’re looking for. If you’re on an iDevice, the Podcast app gives you the same ability, just in a smaller package. Once you find a podcast you like, you can click Subscribe and your computer or iDevice will download new episodes whenever one is available. Automatic. Ain’t technology grand? And it’s even better, because they’re all free!

If you’re not using iTunes, though, it’s still pretty easy. Android phones and tablets don’t ship with a built-in podcast app, so you’ll need to go to the Google app store and find one. I’d recommend this site for suggestions. There are quite a few – some simple and free and others more fully featured but with a small purchase price. How to subscribe to a podcast varies from app to app, so it’s rather difficult to say exactly what steps to use. Some have a search feature that will show you everything that’s listed in iTunes. Others require you to enter a link commonly referred to as an RSS feed. Go for simple at first.

How do I find something good?

Well, as mentioned earlier, iTunes has a powerful ability to search based on all sorts of criteria as well as a browse function to just see: what’s new and noteworthy, what many other people are listening to, etc. Some of the other podcast directories, such as Stitcher.com, Spreaker.com, and Tunein.com, also have search features and most allow you to play a show or episode directly from their site with no special podcast software at all. If that’s still not helping you find just what you’re looking for, check the websites for the various media outlets you prefer. Most of them have not only their own podcasts but they review podcasts from time to time that they think their followers will like. So, if you’re an NPR fan, be sure to check out both their own large library of podcast (such as replays of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me) as well as what podcasts they’ve reviewed.

Conclusion

There are many, many podcasts out there. Some really good. Many not so good. But it’s a rapidly growing ecosystem with a low barrier to entry. There are often times when we want some form of mental stimulation but we can’t sit still in front of a computer. We’re stuck doing long commutes or we’re trying not to be distracted by the sweaty guy on the treadmill at the gym. Popping in a pair of ear buds and playing something we enjoy has never been easier. Heck, we can even learn a new language with podcasts. I got pretty good with Spanish that way. So skip the radio and fire up a podcast. There’s a whole world of content out there just waiting for you.

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