TECHNOLOGY: Podcasts

With a 35 mile one way drive to work everyday, I spend a lot of time in my car.  Most drive-time radio in both the morning and afternoon is pretty banal, so I am very glad that I have my iPod in my car so that I can listen to podcasts.  For those of you that haven’t heard of those, a podcast is an audio file released on the internet.  This audio file is often a radio show that is put on the show’s webpage after broadcast on the radio or it can be original content only for internet listeners. 

I use three methods to listen to podcasts.  The first is from a show’s website.  Many radio shows or podcasters put their shows on their webpage.  Typically, a Flash player is embedded on a webpage so that the audio can be played directly from the browser.

Next is through iTunes.  The iTunes store includes podcasts.  So, if the podcast has been registered with Apple, you can search for it by title.  Once you find it, there will be a “Subscribe” button near the podcast title name.  The subscription will put the the podcast into the “Podcasts” section of your iTunes.  After that, each time you open iTunes, it will search your subscriptions for new episodes of each podcast in your library.  When it finds one, it will download the new episode to your library.  Once those are done, you will need to sync your iPod to get the new episodes on your iPod.

The final method for getting access to my podcasts is a RSS aggregator.  An RSS aggregator is a tool that brings blogs, podcasts, vodcasts (video podcasts) all together into one place so that you don’t have to click all over the web.  (I’ll write more about this in a future posting.)  The aggregator I use is Google Reader.  You’ll need a Google account to use this.  On a podcaster’s webpage, there will be a link titled “Subscribe” or “RSS” or a clickable icon like this:

RSS Icon

Sometimes these links will take you to a page that list a lot of aggregators including Google.  Click on Google link to subscribe. Other times, it will take you to a text page that is basically unreadable.  Copy the URL (at the top of your browser).  In Google Reader, there is a a button near the top of the page labeled “Add a Subscription”.  Click this button and paste the URL into the box and click “Add”.  You should then see the podcast in the “Subscriptions” section of the left hand menu.  As with iTunes, whenever a new episode is released, Google Reader will display it for you.

So with all that as prelude, we come to the main point of this post where I can recommend some of my favorite podcasts.

Slate Daily Podcast – A couple of years ago, the webzine Slate.com started podcasting by reading one of their new articles each day.  But the true fun started when they brought together John Dickerson, Emily Bazelon and David Plotz on a Friday to discuss the politics of the week and recorded it.  The Slate Political Gabfest was born.   With the same three people discussing politics every week, it’s a bit more intimate than the typical political roundtable on TV.  The three of them are obviously friends and very witty to boot.  The success of the Political Gabfest has spawned a host of other “gabfests” on Slate.  The Cultural Gabfest, the Double X Gabfest (women’s issues), Hang Up and Listen (sports), and Big Money Gabfests (business) all follow the same formula.  If you subscribe to only one podcast, this is the one.  Released once a day.

NPR’s Planet Money – This podcast from NPR is released twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays).  This is a great podcast about business, economics and money.  They often take the headlines about business and go further to explore what lies underneath them.  The most prominent example of this is their investigation of “toxic assets”.  In order to understand what a toxic asset really is, the podcasting team used their own money ($1,000) to buy a share of a mortgage backed asset to see how it was done and track it as it dies.  They have set up a web page that tracks the status of their asset.  This is great educational information. 

NYT’s Book Review Podcast – Of course, there has to be a podcast about books for me.  I subscribe to the print edition of the Sunday New York Times.  One of the primary reasons for that is to receive the weekly book review section.  I always feel smarter after having read those reviews.  The book review podcast is a supplement to the printed book review where the editor of the Book Review, Sam Tanenhaus, interviews various authors and reviewers, gets information about the publishing business and looks for interesting stories in the best sellers lists.  Released once a week on Fridays.

Studio 360 – Kurt Andersen talks about art and creativity on his radio show that is also released as a podcast every Friday.  Movies, theater, television and various types of art are discussed every week. 

Radiolab – Science with a twist.  Radiolab is a mix of podcasts of their radio show on WNYC and internet-only “shorts” released in between their regular episodes.    They explore questions about science by illustrating them with personal stories.  Together with a unique editing style, this podcast knows how to reach your emotions as they show how science affects each and every one of us daily.

In a future blog post, I’ll list some of my favorite blog and vodcasts to follow.  Are there any other podcasters out there with good shows that I am missing?

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