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Podcast 101, part 1

Q:
One of my internet radio shows just started calling itself a podcast. What’s the difference?

A:
Internet radio shows will “air live” at a certain time. If you miss that time, the website may or may not have an archived version. Podcasts are available at any time through archives and are attached to an RSS feed to alert subscribers when a new episode is available, in the same way we have the Worldstart RSS feed and the Worldstart Newsletter Reader. As much as I hate the overworked phrase, podcasts really are the next phase in the evolution of internet talk and radio shows.

While we’re talking about them, let’s go over some basic info. Usually in .mp3 format, podcasts range from short 5 minute shows to 1.5 hour shows. Dialup folks may want to check the size of a podcast before starting the download. There are shows on just about any subject you could imagine, including music and movie reviews, various occupations and hobbies, religion and philosophy, politics, social groups, serial fiction, audio blogs, and just plain funny talk shows. Most of the directories have a search engine and some form of rating system to tell you if a podcast is work safe or family friendly.

Any computer or .mp3 player (sometimes available in our Cool Gadgets section) can play a podcast, not just iPods. Don’t get some of the folks around here started on that topic! :) I’ve also heard them called webcasts, ‘casts, and netcasts by people who want to stress that these shows were available for a year before iTunes (Apple’s iPod music store/library) had a podcast directory.

Whatever term you prefer, the shows can be downloaded from the author’s website or a podcast directory, then played on your computer or transferred to your .mp3 player. I plug my .mp3 player into my car using a standard cassette audio adapter (or an FM transmitter, also sometimes available in our Cool Gadgets [1] section) and listen to photography- and writing-related shows on my way to and from work.

Most shows are free. To date, I haven’t seen any that weren’t, but it’s only a matter of time before some start charging akin to a magazine subscription. The main directories* that I’ve used are: Podcast Alley, Odeo, Podcast Pickle, and iTunes Podcast Directory. My system has had various annoying little problems with the last two versions of iTunes that I downloaded, but that could just be my PC setup.

Come back tomorrow for a little behind-the-scenes of how podcasts work.

~ Chris Fisher

* Worldstart is not affiliated with these websites and cannot offer support for their use.