Ever since I announced I was making a podcast, I've realized that podcasts confuse people. Lots of people. Of all ages. Some older folks say, "I must not be hip enough to understand them!" Some younger people say, "Podcast?" while giving me looks that say, "you must not be hip enough to know that's weird."
And then there are my brethren and sistren. These are the podcast addicts, also of all ages, who respond to the news that I'm making a podcast with, "I LOVE podcasts! Have you heard _____?" And we're off to the races.
I want to usher you into this cult.
I want you to understand what a podcast is, and not just because I want you to listen to the one I'm making. I want you to listen to lots of them. Why? Because podcasts are amazing. You can learn so much! You can laugh so hard! You can enter the minds and the worlds of people whose lives you can't imagine! They are so easy to find and access! Yes, I am a podcast evangelist!
So please, come in. Have some kool-aid. It's delicious.
What is a podcast
Podcasts are audio programs that you can listen to on-demand. (Yes, podcasts can have a video component, but let's ignore that for now.)
"On-demand" may be an annoying jargon-y phrase. What it means is this: you are in control of what you hear and when you hear it. The easiest way to make sense of this is to compare podcasts to regular radio. In the world of old-fashioned radio (which I dearly love, by the way), someone else chooses what programs will be heard and when they will be broadcast. If you happen to have your radio on when they play your favorite show, you hear it. Then it disappears into the ether. Listening to shows on the radio is kind of like a live performance of your favorite band -- you either catch it, or you don't.
Podcasts are more like albums. You acquire them (for free, by the way!), and then they're yours. You can listen to them once or ten million times. You can download them and keep them forever, or you can delete them after hearing the first ten seconds. You can listen to them through a computer, smartphone, iPod, iPad, or any other device that can access the internet.
And, like albums, you can pick them yourself. Podcasts are a way for listeners to connect directly to creators. This is huge. As much as I love radio, it still inevitably inserts someone -- or a committee of someones -- in between the creators and the listeners. It has to be that way. There are a gazillion people making podcasts, and only 24 hours in the radio day. Someone has to choose what will go on the air, and what won't.
But with podcasting, all of us become our own program directors. We can sample from the podcasting buffet and find shows we love, shows we hate, fascinating shows made by people we've never heard of, horrible shows made by people we've heard too much from, shows about every topic under the sun. Even shows dissecting other shows. There's a veritable cornucopia of audio out there for your hungry ears to feast upon. Check it out!
You may be wondering why they are called "podcasts." The word is a combination of "iPod" and "broadcast." Remember the ol' iPod? It was kind of like the middle sibling between the mp3 player and the smartphone. The first one was released in 2001 and it has now been discontinued by Apple. The creation of the iPod gave millions of people the ability to download and listen to digital audio files, which inspired thousands (now hundreds of thousands) of people to create content that could be heard on those devices. The big kahunas of TV and radio are called "broadcasters," so all of these little fish called themselves "podcasters." Kind of cute, eh?
How to listen to a podcast
There are multiple ways to listen to podcasts, so don't feel dumb if you listen to them one way and other person listens to them another way.
Here's my preferred method:
1) On my iPod and now my smartphone (which I just got a week ago), there is a little purple button that says "Podcasts." It looks like this:
2) When I click on it, I can see options like "featured," "top charts," and "search" at the bottom.
3) I click around down there and either peruse the menus, or if I know the title I'm looking for, I type it into the search bar.
4) Once I click on an individual show, I can either hit the purple button that says "SUBSCRIBE," or I can click on the cloud icon and download specific episodes. If I just download a specific episode, that's the end of it. I get that episode and nothing more. If I hit "subscribe," then every time this podcast is updated, new episodes will magically appear in my device, waiting for me to listen to them. I can choose various options for the subscription process on my device. (I'll spare you an explanation of those options for now.)
But there are other ways to find podcasts too.
You can go through the steps above on your computer, just by opening iTunes, going to the iTunes store, and then clicking the little podcast icon in the top left corner. It's the one highlighted in blue here in the picture to the right. To get that little icon to appear I had to click on the ellipsis first.
Once you click on that icon, you're in the Magical Land of Podcasts, and you can see all of the podcasts available on iTunes. (Including Learning Their Place as soon as the last few technical glitches get worked out!)
And you can also link directly to podcast subscription page through the websites of the people creating them. Like this one.
If you're still a fuzzy on the details or if you're just in the mood to laugh a little, check out this video of Ira Glass and his friend Mary, explaining how to subscribe to Serial, the record-breaking spin-off podcast of This American Life:
Some interesting additional links:
Here are some stats about podcasts, drawn from the Digiday article linked below:
- 27 million Americans listen to o an average of six podcasts each week
- 15 percent of Americans age 12 and older listened to podcasts each month in 2014, compared to 9 percent in 2008
- podcast listening has increased every year since 2008, with the exception of 2013
How is that kool-aid tasting? Good?