What Is Podcasting?

Podcasting is a simple technology that lets you subscribe to audio broadcasts via the Internet. Those broadcasts - which are really just audio files - are downloaded to your computer automatically, and then, if you wish, sent to your handheld audio player. All of it can be set up to work in the background, on a schedule, or you can select podcasts to download manually.

What Does This Mean for You?

It means you can take your favorite shows with you when you commute, or just listen to them on your computer at your leisure. And although the word 'podcasting' is derived from the words 'broadcasting' and 'iPod,' you don't need an iPod to take advantage of podcasting. Most any portable audio player will work. If you don't have a portable player, you can listen to podcasts directly on your computer. A portable player, though, lets you listen to podcasts anywhere -- on the train, in your car or on an airplane.

What Do I Need To Get Started?

First, you'll need an Internet connection to download your podcasts. Then all you need is software to listen to them. You might also want a portable audio player, like an iPod, so you can listen when you're not near your computer.

Software

By far the most popular way to take advantage of podcasting is through the use of Apple's iTunes software. The newest versions have podcasting capabilities built right in and are available for both Windows and Mac. Using iTunes, you can search through a huge directory of available podcasts, and subscribe to them easily. If a podcast is not listed in the directory, you can add it manually:
Copy the URL for the podcast you would like to subscribe to.
Under the 'Advanced' menu in iTunes, select 'Subscribe to Podcast.' Paste the URL into this window, then click OK.

Another popular program is iPodder, which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. iPodder is a free, open source program that allows you aggregate podcasts in much the same way iTunes does.

Hardware

Although the most popular device for listening to podcasts is the iPod, any portable audio player should work. And if you don't have a portable player, you can listen to podcasts using the audio player on your computer. You can use iTunes for Windows and the Mac, or choose from any number of other programs like Winamp, MusicMatch or Windows Media Player.

How Much Does It Cost?

Podcasts are almost always free. Many public radio stations make podcasts available to their listeners as a public service, and as a way to draw support for the station. In addition to podcasts from your local public radio station, some nationally-syndicated public radio shows are available as podcasts.