What is a Podcast?

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A podcast is an audio presentation that you can listen to on computer and smartphone platforms such as Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android. It's the internet's version of talk radio, with added perks like the ability to listen on your own timeframe rather than being forced to tune in at a certain day and time.

Podcasts are different from what you typically hear on the radio, similar to the way that YouTube videos are different from what you watch on television.

The term "podcast" comes from combining "iPod" and "broadcast". The iPod's ability to store music files (and thus any audio file) led to its use as an audio broadcast (podcast) player in the early days of the podcast. A podcast is defined by the ability to subscribe to the audio files rather than a particular platform.

How Podcasts Work

A podcast is a series of 'episodes' that are stored in the same type of audio files we use to store music on our laptop or smartphone. Similar to a television or talk radio show, a podcast is generally centered around a theme such as politics, sports, entertainment, horror, gaming, etc. Each 'episode' usually revolves around a subject within that theme. You can listen to individual episodes or you can subscribe to the podcast, which is usually free.

For example, Pod Saves America is a news podcast with a progressive take on political news. It is hosted by four people and the show frequently includes expert guests offering their opinions. Episodes tend to center on something political in nature such as healthcare or tax reform.

On the totally different end of the spectrum is Critical Role, a podcast hosted by Geek and Sundry that features voice actors going through a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Each episode is an adventure within that campaign, with longer adventures broken into multiple episodes.

The number of podcast episodes will vary depending upon who is producing the show.

What Makes a Podcast Different Than Talk Radio?

The obvious difference between a podcast an a talk radio series is the on-demand availability of the podcasts. However, many popular talk radio shows do release a podcast version of the show to reach the listeners that miss the regular showing.

A picture of a broadcast of Pod Save America
Pod Save America is one of the most popular podcasts online. Wikimedia Commons / Rhododendrites

So how else is a podcast different?

Well, there is only so much bandwidth available for radio broadcasts, so talk shows need to appeal to a broad audience to capture audiences in a specific amount of time. The same restriction doesn't apply to a podcast being distributed over the internet, so you'll see subjects with more limited appeal and podcasts that don't have the same type of budget.

This is one of the biggest benefits of podcasts. If you have interests, even if those interests are very niche, there's probably a podcast covering it. And better, you can listen at home, in the car or on the go because podcasts can travel with you in your smartphone.

How to Find and Listen to a Podcast

Now that we know what a podcast is, how do we find them? There are thousands of free podcasts online available through various hosting services. These services allow you to subscribe to a particular podcast and download it as each new episode becomes available, even alerting you to new episodes if you have the app on your phone.

If you own an iPhone or iPad, you already have an app dedicated to podcasts on the device. The Podcasts app, which you can find easily by using Spotlight Search, will let you search for different podcasts, stream specific episodes and subscribe to the podcast. There are also a number of great Podcast apps available for the iPhone and iPad.

There are many free podcast apps for Android as well. Any can help you make a fine first dip into the podcast pond.

Which Podcasts Should You Be Listening To?

The one thing we can't tell you is which podcast is perfect for you. There are thousands of free podcast downloads for almost any interest. Here is a look at the best Podcasts everyone is listening to right now.