Intro to Podcasting, Part 1: What is a Podcast?

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{Header image by NY Photographic and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.}

Note: as of July 2011, this article (and the remaining two parts) will be published as one article in the August 2011 issue of KC Stage Magazine (link no longer active).

I blame it on the IRS.

In 2008, I was fired from my job. Despite being able to type over 80 words per minute, being extremely organized, and having excellent computer skills, thanks to the economy tanking, I wasn’t able to find a full time job. (And I’m still looking, if you know of any administrative jobs open.)

I did start temping, and found myself a data transcriber for the tax season at the IRS. I ended up working the night shift — seven and a half hours of data entry in the dead of night. Usually I listened to online radio when I worked at other places, but the computer systems used by the IRS didn’t have access to the Internet (for obvious security reasons). So, I ended up buying myself an MP3 player. And after a short trial period to make sure it didn’t interfere with the job, I started listening to podcasts. And quickly become addicted — to the point where I’m even producing my own.

Photo by Circe Denyer and used under a Creative Commons Public Domain license, via PublicDomainPictures.net.

What is a podcast?

A podcast is basically an online audio program that you can download to your computer or other digital audio player. The word is a portmanteau of the words iPod and broadcasting. However, you don’t need an iPod to listen to podcasts. You don’t even need a regular MP3 player. You just need something that plays computer audio files, whether it’s your computer and a program such as Windows Media Player or QuickTime or your cell phone.

Podcasts started hitting the scene around 2004, according to HowStuffWorks.com, and chances are if you listen to any digital audio content, there’s a podcast out there for it. It differs from radio programs, though, in that the FFC doesn’t regulate it like radio content. And because it’s on an as-wanted basis (you download it when you want, you listen to it when you want), there is no typical time limits, formats, or even structures. You can find podcasts that are like radio programs, with music and/or talk (in fact, many radio programs do make the show available via podcast), to ones that are chapters in an original ongoing story, to ones that are tips on every possible topic from career guidance to how to grow your own garden.

It’s kind of like an audio version of blogging — where if you have an interest in it, there’s most likely a podcast out there for it. And just like blogging, almost anyone who wants to create a podcast can. Typically in MP3 format, there are also video podcasts out there that you can watch in video format as well. The podcasts themselves are free, although some of them do have commercials in order to help subsidize the costs to the podcaster of creating the content (although there are few, if any, podcasters that are able to make any kind of real money just out of podcasting).

You can listen to many podcasts (including mine) by going to the website of the podcast and downloading the audio file directly (and some even have the audio file embedded so you can listen directly from the internet). There are also RSS feeds for many podcasts that will let you know when a new audio file is available. But most likely, you’ll be subscribing via a podcasting directory/client. The most recognized of such service is probably iTunes, although that’s not the only one. Some online podcast directories include Podbean, Podcasts.com, Podcast411, and Podcast Alley.

However, most of the podcasts I listen to I’ve learned about from recommendations of other podcasts or on blogs I subscribe to. Once you get started on podcasting, you start seeing them available everywhere.

Be sure to read Part 2, “How to Create Your Own Podcast”, and then Part 3, “Podcast Recommendations”.