A Guide To Podcasts

Posted on: 30 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Unsure about podcasts? Our step-by-step guide has all you need to know.

What Is A Podcast?

A podcast is an audio programme distributed via the internet. It is a digital-media file that uses portable media players and/or computers for playback.

The term podcast, like broadcast, can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is put together; the latter is also called podcasting.

“Podcast” fuses the words “iPod” and “broadcast” together. The Apple iPod being the brand of portable media player for which the first podcasting scripts were developed.

A podcast is different from a regular downloaded audio recording. For instance, a regular podcast subscriber would expect the audio recording to be automatically transferred to his/her computer (and portable media player, if available) once there is a new edition or episode of his/her subscribed programme available.

Very much like blogs, podcasts tend to have niche audiences, with material specifically aimed at a target audience.

This can range from business to technology, news to sport, comedy to entertainment or fashion to arts; whilst even the most obscure and random topics can also be found.

Podcasts can consist of sharp 10-minute commentaries but can also span to hour-long round-table discussions, because podcasters are not limited to airtime constraints like the broadcast media.

The Birth Of The Podcast

The ability to distribute audio and video files easily has been around since before the dawn of the internet. However, podcasting is different from other digital audio and video delivery; being able to automatically download to a user’s media playback device.

Podcasting’s origins are firmly rooted in web-radio. A combination of factors and technologies contributed to its eventual birth in 2003.

In 2003, Christopher Lydon, an American radio talk show host, started linking MP3 files of his interviews to his weblog – a website that focused on blogging and the 2004 US Presidential campaign coverage.

By the late 2004, detailed articles on podcasts became available online and in less than 12 months, the podcasting phenomenon exploded with more than two million hits generated for a “podcasting” Google search.

Less than a year later, the popularity of podcasts had spilled over into the mainstream. Apple integrated podcasts in its iTunes software and even President George W. Bush became a podcaster when his weekly radio addresses became downloadable audio files at the White House website.

Traditional broadcasters, seeing the vast potential of podcasting, also joined the bandwagon. The BBC started trials for different “radio” programmes as popular podcasts became a source of content for traditional radio programmes.

A California-based radio station even began to base its programming on broadcasting podcasts.

Three years later and because of the huge number of amateur podcasts floating around the net, sites that list podcast feeds became a vital resource in finding the kind of content that would interest different individuals.

Elsewhere, podcasting has also been picked up by some newspapers, who supply their readers with spoken versions of their content.

And although firm business models have yet to be established, podcasting represents a chance to bring additional revenue to a newspaper through advertising, subscription fees and licensing.

As the world of podcasting evolves, video podcasts are today’s most modern form, allowing user’s to download full video and audio of the show they wish to listen, and now watch, at their wish.

Podcasts Used In Education

Podcasting’s initial appeal was to allow individuals to distribute their own radio-style shows, but the system quickly became used in a wide variety of ways.

The distribution of school lessons, official and unofficial audio tours of museums, conference meeting alerts and updates, and by police departments to distribute public safety messages all joined the bandwagon.

Podcasting has become increasingly popular in education, with podcasts enabling students and teachers to download the podcast of the recorded lesson.

An absent student can download the podcast of the recorded lesson whilst teachers can record book discussions, vocabulary or foreign language lessons, international pen pal letters, music performance, interviews and debates.

Podcasts Reach The Guinness Book Of World Records

In February 2006, following London radio station LBC’s successful launch of the first premium-podcasting platform LBC Plus, there was widespread acceptance that podcasting had considerable commercial potential.

Comedian Ricky Gervais launched a new series of his popular podcast, The Ricky Gervais Show. The second series of the podcast was distributed through audible.co.uk and was the first major podcast to charge consumers to download the show at 95p per half-hour episode.

The first series of The Ricky Gervais Show podcast had been freely distributed and marketed through The Guardian newspaper’s website, and had become the world’s most successful podcast to date with an average of 295,000 downloads per episode, entering The Guinness Book of World Records. Even the new subscription format, The Ricky Gervais Show is regularly the most downloaded podcast on iTunes.

How To Use A Podcast

To make full use of a podcasts features, you will need a computer connected to the internet and the appropriate software – often referred to as a podcasting client or podcatcher.

The dominant podcatching client is Apple’s iTunes player. However, there are alternatives, including Windows Doppler, Linux Podget, Linux Podracer and the multiplatform Juice.

Many podcasts also allow users to directly download from their website, offering links to the audio files on offer.

Once downloaded, podcasts are most often listened to on an MP3 player, but they can also be heard on your computer.

If the podcast you are listening to is on offer on a daily, weekly or monthly basis you can also subscribe to the feed and when your computer is connected to the internet, your podcast will download automatically when it becomes available.

Most podcasts are free of charge but recently, some popular channels have started to include a small charge.

What To Do Now

  • Download Apple’s iTunes or software equivalent mentioned above.
  • Search the menu through thousands of podcasts.
  • Download the podcast of choice.
  • Listen to the podcast on your computer or transfer it to your MP3 player to listen to it away from your PC.
  • Subscribe to your favourite shows and channels.

Most radio stations now make their shows available to download as a podcast after they have been broadcast including BBC Radio 4’s Today show.


Apple’s iTunes:


Linux Podget:

Linux Podracer:



BBC Radio 2 Podcasts:

BBC Radio 4 Podcasts:

LBC Plus (for podcasts/ not radio):

The Ricky Gervais Show: The award winning and record breaking comedy podcast with Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington:

Futurewire: Investigating the latest technology discoveries:

Pod Quiz: A weekly 20 question quiz in a podcast:

Amateur Traveller: Travel stories in an excellent weekly podcast:

Film Spotting: Helping you sort the movie classics from the turkeys:

History On Air: Excellent accounts of important historical events:

HT Guys: Subscribe to the American podcast for tips on transforming your room into a mini-cinema:

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