Podcasts and Internet Radio

from the August 2006 Actrix Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

You may have heard the word "podcasting" and wondered what it was all about. Perhaps you dismissed it as just one more new Internet fad thingy that only kids will ever understand. Well, it is pretty recent, but it certainly isn't just for kids and geeks.

Podcasting is the latest Internet trend to deliver the power of mass communication into the hands of any average Joe or Josephine who has a computer, a microphone, and a hankering to be heard. Podcasts are inexpensive to create, free to distribute, and virtually censorship free. Whether you want to create your own, or just get in touch with what people all around the world are doing and saying outside mainstream media, podcasting offers something for everyone.

You do need a little bit of tech-savvy to create and publish a podcast, so we'll just stick to finding and enjoying them for the here and now.

What is podcasting?

Podcasts are recorded files (mainly audio, sometimes video) typically created by amateurs and uploaded to the Internet. They're usually episodic and are designed to be downloaded and played at the listener's leisure.

The most common types of podcasts are news stories, opinions, interviews, discussions, musical performances and personal blogs. They range in quality from tacky and self-indulgent through to slick, artful, professional and thought-provoking.

The term "podcasting" is derived from the words iPod, and broadcasting, though you certainly don't have to have an iPod to play them. Any portable media player should be able to do the job, and if you don't have one of those, your computer will have built in software, such as Windows Media Player, that will handle them fine.

Podcatchers

Podcatchers are programs that let you  browse a list of available podcasts you can subscribe to or just preview. They can be set to download all the latest episodes that interest you while you do other things online.

The most popular and well-supported podcatcher is iTunes (a free 35 Megabyte download from www.itunes.com). If you can handle a big download, this is the one to go for. Even though the iTunes music service isn't yet available in New Zealand, you can still use the program for listening to podcasts and Internet radio. It's also good for playing other sound files, and ripping them to mp3, and when the iTunes music service does become available here, you'll be all ready to go.

Other popular podcatchers that might suit those looking for a smaller download include PodSpider (14 Megs – www.podspider.com $14.99 U.S.) or Juice (6.3 Megs – http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net - Free).

What's out there?

Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular all around the world as well as right here in New Zealand, and many are advertised on web sites. To subscribe, find and click the button on the page that applies to your podcatcher. If there isn't one there (and most support iTunes) look for other information about how to subscribe or enjoy a one-time listen.

New Zealand

The Voicebooth – www.thevoicebooth.com – has lots of New Zealand content and a wide range of categories such as news, interviews, music and lifestyle entertainment. It has served up more than 250,000 podcasts since it launched last August. Just go to the podcasts page and click one that interests you. The site will open iTunes and automatically subscribe you.

The Radio New Zealand website (http://www.radionz.co.nz/) has a podcast section and about 10,000 episodes are downloaded there everyday. Simply click the individual shows (such as Saturday Morning with Kim Hill, or Insight, and listen to them online, or you can drag and drop the shows into your Podcatcher in order to subscribe more permanently.

International:

Here are a couple of other gems from elsewhere around the world.

Skepticality: An entertaining regular podcast that explores rational thought, critical thinking, science, and the de-bunking of the supernatural and pseudoscience: http://www.skepticality.com/.

Nobody Likes Onions: An entertainment and comedy podcast covering topics ranging from technology to toothpaste. "It's like taking a cold shower in sarcasm!" http://www.nobodylikesonions.com/nlo/.

This Week in Tech: Keeps you up to date on all the latest news in global technology. http://thisweekintech.com/.

The Sounds In My Head: A weekly music show featuring songs and bands you might have missed. http://www.thesoundsinmyhead.com/ (iTunes only)

You can also go to podcasting directory sites, and there are thousands of these. Some of the more popular are:

Every Podcast: http://www.everypodcast.com/
Podcast Net: http://www.podcast.net/
Podcast Alley: www.podcastalley.com
The Podcast Directory: www.podcastdirectory.com

Internet Radio

Another way to get audio content from the web is via Internet radio. Most major radio stations in New Zealand and around the world also broadcast over the Internet simultaneously. Internet radio is designed to be listened to live. It is streamed rather than offered for download, and can’t be saved for later listening.

The advantage of Internet radio, of course, is that it comes to you across the Internet, and you don’t have to worry about all the hassles of shortwave reception to hear broadcasts by stations overseas.

New Zealand stations that stream their content include all the main ones. The Radio New Zealand site (www.radionz.co.nz) for example will let you choose to listen live to their various stations (Concert FM, National Radio, Parliament) or download individual shows as podcasts.

You could use Google to find the web site any station here or overseas, and then look for a button or link on the site that mentions streaming or listening live. If you click the link, the site will automatically open the default media player installed on your PC and streaming will begin.

Lots of online directories exist that will point you to available stations. These include:

Internet Radio Index: http://www.internetradioindex.com/i-probe/ip_radio.html
PC Magazine: http://www.pcmag.com/category2/0,1874,29102,00.asp.

You can also find international radio stations using the built in radio feature of iTunes. Simply click the genre that interests you and then double click any of the various stations that are displayed. iTunes has a wide range of genres ranging from classical to classic rock, punk and alternative, and more stations than you could shake your mouse at. Many of these stations can only be heard over the Internet.