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BEACON Senior News

What is a podcast?

Jul 26, 2021 12:02PM ● By Adam Cochran
icon images for Apple podcasts, Google podcasts and Stitcher

Weird Al Yankovic once explained that he releases a new album every 3-5 years so that every album is a comeback album. Like Weird Al’s music, every time podcasting is discovered by another generation, it becomes new again.

The audio and video delivery process known as podcasting has been around since 2000, but it experienced its latest resurgence in 2014 when NPR began producing exclusive podcasts and promoting them along with their regular radio programming.

Podcasting is a delivery platform for audio and video content. If you listen to NPR on the weekend, you likely hear content that is developed primarily for a podcast audience. Radiolab, Science Friday, Ted Radio Hour, Planet Money, etc. are all shows that have more podcast listeners than radio listeners.

The internet as a media distribution platform began with blogging. Online services allowed anyone to set up an easy-to-edit website called a “blog” where a person could write personal commentary, local news articles, original literary content and more.

But blogs were more than just websites—they contained code that allowed readers to “subscribe” and receive updates whenever new content was added. This syndication process is referred to as RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and it’s the fundamental delivery vehicle for podcasts.

Most people think of podcasts as topical radio-show-style programs that they listen to with their phone or computer’s media player, but a podcast can be any audio or video file. What makes it a podcast is that it is distributed automatically via RSS syndication so that listeners can subscribe and hear the most current episodes.

Like a blog, anyone can create a podcast. There are no official rules or regulatory agencies over podcasting.

Unlike radio shows, podcasts are typically developed for a targeted micro audience rather than a general macro audience. There are podcasts about woodworking but there are also podcasts specifically about using a scroll saw. Likewise, there are podcasts about dentistry, xeriscaping, taco trucks, salmon fishing and virtually any other hobby or lifestyle imaginable.

Podcasts are free to subscribe to. Some may offer premium subscriptions, but the purpose of a podcast is to distribute information or cover a topic that needs more exposure. Producers of podcasts occasionally make money from advertisers, but most podcast creators do it out of love for the featured topic.

While video podcasts are gaining popularity, it’s unlikely they’ll ever be as popular as their audio counterparts. Video requires more time and energy to both create and consume. Audio podcasts are popular among commuters and office workers who listen passively. Video podcasts can be more informative and offer a richer media experience, but if commuting, you might hit the car in front of you if the episode is too engaging.

The most common way to listen to podcasts is via a podcast app, such as the podcast app on your iPhone, Google Podcasts on your Android device, Spotify, TuneIn and Stitcher. Each of these free apps allows you to sample and subscribe to any of the thousands of podcasts available.

Popular podcasts to get you started

• Rabbit Hole: a podcast produced by the New York Times about how the internet impacts our lives.

• StartUp: The debut podcast for Gimlet Media. Each season covers the real-time development of a business startup.

• Start With This: A podcast designed to prompt creativity. Each episode ends with two assignments to spur creativity.

• RadioLab: Produced by WNYC public radio, this is probably the highest production podcast available. I highly recommend the episode about how Native Americans became a symbol for sportsmanship in American football.

 Serial: If you like true crime documentaries, this is the podcast for you.

Send your technology questions to Adam at [email protected]