Wednesday, March 7, 2007


I have to say I LOVE podcasts for free audio content. As someone who spends a lot of time driving around by myself, podcasts ensure that I have a great variety of things to listen to.

What do you need to listen to podcasts?
  • A computer with a broadband internet connection
  • Podcast client software
If you want to listen to podcasts on your computer, that's probably all you need. If you have a Windows computer with XP, you probably already have Windows Media Player. That will play MP3 files. And some of the podcast client software has players built in, e.g., iTunes.

But what's also great about podcasts is, you can copy them onto MP3 players and take them with you. We'll talk a bit about MP3 players later.

Podcast client software

Podcasts are really nothing more than audio files embedded in RSS feeds. If you don't understand RSS feeds this explanation isn't going to help much. We will talk about RSS in a future posting - promise! But for now, you just need to know that like any RSS feed, you need to subscribe to it and you also need software that will go out to the internet and check when new content is available and download it to your computer. That's what differentiates a podcast from just downloading audio content. You subscribe and future content is downloaded automatically.

There are lots of options for free podcast client software. There's a long list available on Podcasting News. But I have to say, my favorite hands down is iTunes. You can download a copy of the software for free. It works on both Windows and Macs. Podcasts work on iPods and other MP3 players.

You can use the iTunes store to browse or search for podcasts of interest. If you find something you like on iTunes, you can generally just click on the Subscribe button and get the latest as well as a list of earlier programs from which you can select any you'd like to download and listen to in the future. My mother has macular degeneration and listens to a lot of audio content instead of reading. So, I download a number of podcasts for her every week on my computer, copy them onto a flash drive and then onto her computer. All she has to do is click on the file and it plays on her computer with Windows Media Player.

MP3 Players

For my own use, I copy the podcasts onto an MP3 player. I have both flavors - Windows and an iPod Nano. While the Nano works really seamlessly with iTunes (you just drag files onto the iPod icon in iTunes), my SanDisk works with iTunes MP3 podcast files as well. There's just an extra step. I have to open Windows Explorer to copy files from my computer to MP3 player.

There are a lot of different non-iPod MP3 players out there. I don't have any specific recommendations. I think it's probably best to go into a store with a lot of different models and take a look at the controls and the feel and decide what features are important to you. Do you want to watch video, listen to the radio, record? But do keep in mind a couple of differences.
  • Music bought from iTunes will only play on iPods (and your computer).
  • Music bought from other online stores will not play on iPods.
  • Downloaded audiobooks from services like Overdrive and Netlibrary will not play on iPods.
  • MP3s without copy protection should play on any MP3 device.
Podcast content

There is a lot of new content being produced as podcasts all the time. I suspect there really is something for just about everyone out there. I'll share just a few of my favorites.

Radio programming - I'm an avid radio listener who doesn't have time to catch all my favorite programs so I'm thrilled that many are available as podcasts:
Technology - as you might expect, there are a lot of good tech-related podcasts
The above three are all part of the TWiT netcast network. Leo Laporte is a Tech TV alum. Other former Tech TV folks have gone on form Revision 3. You'll hear about their video podcasts later.
Library-related - I expect I'll be adding to this list but many are rather inconsistent at present.
Searching for more content? If you're using iTunes, searching iTunes' directory is probably the easiest way to find more content that can be easily subscribed to. But, if you want to go beyond that, there area other podcast directories available. You can easily find them with a Google search. What I tend to do is go to the websites of the content producers, e.g., or or or They will often have links to and lists of available podcasts. Many are set up so you can subscribe via iTunes by just clicking on a link and being taken to their iTunes page to subscribe. I suspect this is a smoother process if you're using a Mac. Somehow, iTunes can never be found on my computer so I have to go through several warning popup windows to complete the process. But I eventually get there.

Feel free to send me your favorite podcasts and I'll list them in a future posting.

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