What is a Podcast?

Listen at your convenience and be entertained and educated

A podcast is an audio show or presentation that you can listen to on desktop and mobile platforms, including Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android. It's the internet's version of talk radio, with the added perk of being able to listen on your own time, 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 how YouTube videos are different from what you watch on television.

The term "podcast" comes from a combination of "iPod" and "broadcast." The iPod's ability to store audio files led to an interest in creating independent, on-demand radio shows or "podcasts."

How Podcasts Work

A podcast is a series of episodes that are stored in the same type of audio files that 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, or gaming. Each episode usually revolves around a subject within that theme. You can listen to individual episodes or subscribe to the podcast, which is often free.

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

On the other 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, and longer adventures are broken into multiple episodes.

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

What Makes a Podcast Different Than Talk Radio?

The biggest difference between podcasts and talk radio has to do with on-demand availability. Unlike radio, podcasts are not beholden to a live broadcast schedule; listeners tune in at their pleasure. However, many popular talk radio shows release podcast versions of their shows to reach listeners who missed the regular showing.

Broadcast of Pod Save America.
Wikimedia Commons / Rhododendrites

So how else is a podcast different?

There's only so much bandwidth available for radio broadcasts, so talk shows need to appeal to a broader audience. The same restriction doesn't apply to podcasts distributed over the internet, so podcasts can include subjects with more limited appeal.

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 on 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 available through various hosting services. These services allow you to subscribe to a particular podcast and download new episodes as they become available, and they even alert you to new episodes.

If you own an iPad, you already have an app dedicated to podcasts. The Podcasts app, which you can find by using Spotlight Search, will let you search for different podcasts, stream specific episodes, and subscribe. There are also several 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 good 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.

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