di William Sutton
Speakers: Mark Worden, Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)
What does podcast mean? It’s not in my dictionary.
It’s not in the dictionary because it was invented recently, by putting together the words broadcast and iPod. Podcasts are digital recordings, broadcast through the internet, and mostly free. Some are like radio programmes, produced professionally, covering news, current affairs, education and drama. Others are recorded in bedrooms, presenting personal ideas, suggestions or diaries.
Are they easy to use?
Yes. Download individual recordings from websites, or “subscribe” to regular podcasts (often called RSS feeds), so that your computer receives them automatically. You will need an “aggregator” program, or podcatcher, such as iTunes, to manage subscriptions, but these are also free. You then listen to the recordings on your computer or download them to an MP3 player (see Speak Up June 2007).
I like radio and CDs. What’s the advantage?
With podcasts, you can listen to whatever you want whenever you want, without waiting for radio schedules or buying expensive CDs. For example, I’ve just signed up for a BBC radio podcast. If I miss the news, a new show making fun of current affairs appears in my iTunes every Friday. I can listen at my desk, in my car, or in bed. Initially many podcasts were like amateur radio shows, but other uses quickly emerged. Now the range is vast: from your favourite radio show to language lessons; from advice on cooking to self-help; from James Joyce’s Ulysses to the thoughts of Paris Hilton.
Are they popular?
Podcasts are growing phenomenally: a quarter of a million people downloaded every episode of British comedian Ricky Gervais’ show (though that figure dropped when he began charging). You can discover Celtic music, or learn how songs are recorded. Teachers can send lessons to absent students. You can collect Wikipedia articles, travellers’ tips, and audio tours for famous places. You can hear live music from festivals, big ideas from politicians and writers, and contrasting views on current events. It’s not just individuals producing the material: the mighty BBC offers free weekly podcasts on news, sport, science, music and comedy. Podcast programs may soon become search engines, building personalised schedules from an infinite number of podcast websites.
What about making your own podcast?
That’s easy, too. You record the material, upload it to an RSS website, and tell people about it. It’s easy to find advice on the technical aspects. All you need is a microphone, a broadband connection and a good idea. Paris Hilton, U2 and the BBC find it easy to attract listeners. But some hits are more surprising: Celtic Music News is always in the top ten, along with video podcasts, English Teaching in Japan, and cooking show Cibi Alterati. Now that everyone can reach a global audience, is the age of corporate broadcasting over?