I love listening to stories, and I bet if your reading this article, you do too. When I’m in the car, I often listen to my favorite programs on KERA 90.1 or slip an audiobook into the CD player. But there are times when the news is too depressing, or I don’t want to listen to a short snippet of a 14 hour-long story. That’s why I’ve become a big fan of podcasts, which can be downloaded to my iPhone and listened to anywhere at anytime. I listen to podcasts in the car, on long walks, doing the dishes, or at bed time. If you’re not familiar with podcasts, keep reading for an introduction to this relatively new and exciting format.
The easiest way to explain podcasts is they are audio magazines that you can subscribe, download and listen to using a computer, smartphone or tablet. Some podcasts run for just a few episodes, while others are ongoing productions. Some of the most popular podcast series run like television seasons, with a dozen or more episodes released over a brief period of time, then the creators take a break. Time-length of a podcast typically run from 15 minutes to two hours, although most are between 30 to 60 minutes.
Because podcasts are super simple to produce, you’ll find them on nearly any topic. As podcasts are not distributed over the airwaves, they don’t follow FCC standards and practices to follow. Most professionally produced podcasts though will provide a warning at the beginning of a show if it’s content is intended for mature audiences. Some of today’s most popular podcasts are simply downloadable versions of radio shows like This American Life and TED Radio Hour. As for originally-produced podcasts, we’re reaching a point where most can be lumped into one of five basic format types:
Round-table Talk Show
A group of panelists gather around a microphone to talk about a topic or two every show. The basis for many podcasts, the online news site Slate.com offers several professionally produced round-table shows that I recommend checking out.
The Slate Culture Gabfest discusses and offers social critiques of new movies, television, books and other cultural artifacts.
Mom and Dad are Fighting take on the topic of raising kids by offering expert advice and plenty of parent triumphs and fails.
Slate’s Double X covers women and gender issues in politics, entertainment and society.
Who doesn’t like to listen to smart, funny or interesting people talk about themselves? Similar to television and radio shows like Fresh Air or Jimmy Kimmel Live, these podcasts feature interviews with authors, actors and directors often promoting a new book, television show, or idea.
WTF with Marc Maron features interviews with professionals in the entertainment industry. Asking complex philosophical questions, he uncovers surprising and often touching reactions from his guests.
The Art of Manliness will make any guy a better man with interview of experts covering philosophy, fitness and self-reliance.
Another Round covers everything from race, gender and pop culture to squirrels, mangoes, and bad jokes, all in one boozy show.
In-depth Topic Show
Like listening to a non-fiction audiobook, but only shorter. These podcasts have the luxury of practicing long-form journalism by taking a deep-dive into a specific topic. If you really, really like a topic such as history, sports, technology or books, these types of podcasts will certainly scratch that itch to know more.
Stuff You Should Know gets to the bottom of odd questions, like how Twinkies work and if zombies exist. A unique dose of education and entertainment.
Reply All is a show about the internet. And trained rats, time travel, celebrity dogs, lovelorn phone scammers, angry flower children, workplace iguanas, and more.
You Must Remember This explores the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.
Myths & Legends brings you folklore that has shaped our world. Some are incredibly popular stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories that might be new to you, but are definitely worth a listen.
Short Stories and Radio Plays
Sometimes you want to laugh, get scared or fall asleep. These podcasts, like a well-produced audiobooks, can take you out of your every day life and thrust you into the sounds of a completely different world.
Welcome to Night Vale combines the quaint small town living found in A Prairie Home Companion with the horror sensibilities of Stephen King.
The Truth is a "movie for the ears" that puts you in the middle of the story.
Sleep with Me is designed to help you fall asleep with very creative stories that your mind will have a difficult time following after a while.
This format is where podcasts are making their mark in today’s culture. The first season of Serial, produced in 2014, followes the true crime investigation of murder victim Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old student and her accused ex-boyfriend Adnan Masud Syed. In just 12 months, the first episode was downloaded more than 68 million times! Since then, other documentary podcasts have made big waves with the general public.
S-Town - is the hottest podcast today and co-produced by This American Life. The podcast’s host is invited by a local crank to visit his small town in Alabama, and quickly finds himself investigating murder, duplicity and a treasure hunt.
Missing Richard Simmons tries to figure out why the famous (and very accessible) fitness guru suddenly dropped out of sight two years ago. The deeper the host digs, the stranger the story gets.
How to Start Listening to Podcasts
Getting started all depends on the type of device you want to use to listen to podcasts - computer, smartphone or tablet. If you’re a Mac/iOS user, most podcasts can be found searching the iTunes store. For PC users, point yourself to Stitcher.com, which lets you listen to episodes through your web browser. Popular apps for mobile devices include Stitcher (Android / iOS), PodBean (Android / iOS), Player FM (Android), and iCatcher! (iOS). All these apps allow you to subscriber, download and listen to podcasts offline.
I recommend downloading podcasts rather than streaming, as your audio won’t cut out if you lose connection with the Internet. Don’t forget to set your app up so it deletes audio files off your device once you finished listening to it, or otherwise you’ll quickly run out of space.
Next time I’ll introduce you to the production side of podcasting, and how you can make your own audio file using equipment available at the South Irving Library.