What is a Podcast:
A podcast is essentially just on-demand radio. So, what a company like Netflix (or in the UK, iPlayer) does for tv and films, a podcast does for radio programs. The big difference, however, is that the majority of podcasts aren’t available to ever listen to live on the radio. The majority are pre-recorded and then released directly via platforms such as iTunes and are only ever available to listen to on-demand.
Just like your favourite TV program, a podcast is also released in individual episodes usually once a week or so. Some podcasts are released in seasons, and some are released regularly throughout the year. But because podcasts can be quite easy to record and release, some people just release podcasts whenever they feel like it!
One of the most fascinating things about podcasts, is that there are countless shows available on every subject imaginable and they can get quite specific. For example, if you want to know the history of the Easy Bake Oven, there is a podcast for you. If you want to hear Alec Baldwin interview Barbara Streisand about the communist government in Czechoslovakia, there is a podcast for you. If you want to hear about birding in India’s Nicobar Island, then there is a podcast for you. Nearly every niche is catered for in podcasting.
That being said, there are also plenty of podcasts that explore more general subjects such sports, beauty, pop culture, politics, news, and even podcasts that are intended to put you to sleep!
Does it cost money to listen to a podcast?
No. Podcasts are free to listen to. There are surely some that exist that require a subscription, but all of the podcasts I’ve ever listened to have been free. The podcasters can make money by airing advertisements on their show, just like on regular radio programs. Some podcasts also use sites such as Patreon where listeners can donate money to the host if they feel so inclined.
How long is a podcast:
Podcasts can be as short as a couple minutes, and as long as a couple of hours. Most podcasts I listen to are between 30-60 minutes.
Unlike TV and films that can require your full attention, a podcast can be listened to without requiring you to stare at a screen. I rarely sit down with a podcast and just listen like I would watch a film, but instead I listen to podcasts while I’m engaged with another activity; others I’ve spoken to seem to do the same. You can listen to a podcast while you: work, commute, go to the gym, make dinner, clean your bathroom, work in the garden, go to the grocery store, wait in a doctor’s office, put on your makeup, change a bike tyre, iron your clothes, take a bath, etc . . . Basically any time you would otherwise listen to music, or just zoned out, you could be listening to a podcast.
Also, because podcasts are audio only, the focus is on the content and not on what people look like, camera angles, etc. This allows both the podcast host and guests, as well as their listeners, to engage more fully into what is being said. And because the production level is so low, podcasts are easier and cheaper to produce, and are therefore podcasting is accessible for anyone curious about trying it. As a result, there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts you could listen to about anything that could possibly interest you.
Where do I start?
You can listen to a podcast on your computer, your phone, or through smart speakers such as Alexa (“Alexa, put on a podcast about true crime”). To listen via your computer you don’t need a special app. If you google a podcast you want to listen to, you should find a link to play it online via iTunes or , Spotify, or via the podcast’s website. On your mobile device, all iPhones come with a podcast app to listen through, and android users can download apps for their phones (though newer phones apparently now come with podcast apps). Here are some of the more popular podcast apps to search for:
Once you have downloaded an app it is easy: go to the search function in your app and search for what you want to hear! I wrote a blogpost last year about my favourite podcasts that you can read here, but if you just want a quick recommendation, go with This American Life. It is a podcast I’ve been listening to since the late nineties when it was only on the radio and it is absolutely brilliant. They have a great list of recommended episodes to start with that I have linked to here. Or check out Stuff You Should Know who have all sorts of interesting episodes to choose from. And because podcasts are so popular these days, your friends will surely be listening to some as well. Ask for recommendations on social media and you will likely get more suggestions than you’ll ever have time for!
Questions? Comments? Have a recommendation for a podcast, or perhaps you’re a podcaster wanting to recommend your own podcast? Please share below!
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