What is a Podcast? An Explanation in Plain English
“SIMPLY PUT, A PODCAST IS TALK RADIO, BUT ON DEMAND.”
WHAT'S AN EXAMPLE OF A POPULAR PODCAST?
BBC Radio 4 have a Podcast called ‘More or Less: Behind the Stats’, a radio show all about interesting economics and facts. Each podcast episode is a recording of a ‘More or Less’ radio episode, and they’re all organised into a series, called the More or Less podcast.
So, if you’re a fan of the radio show, you can subscribe to the More or Less podcast and episodes are delivered to you each week. That means you can listen to them any time, rather than be stuck to the radio at the same time each week.
IT'S FAR MORE THAN REPURPOSED RADIO
This isn’t a great answer to What is a podcast, though! Shows, now, tend to be completely original content, not just repurposing the radio.
Many escape the shackles of traditional radio formats to explore brilliantly original approaches and completely niche subjects. No matter what you’re into, you’ll find a show that suits you!
ARE PODCASTS AUDIO OR VIDEO?
Most Podcasts today are audio only, even though video podcasts do exist. Podcasting has really grown out of a need for background content. That means something that can entertain you, educate you or inspire you in the background of other boring or rote activities.
For example, one of the most common ways people listen is in the car. You can’t watch video there, of course, so audio content is great. In the same way, podcasts are great for listening at the gym, while you’re mowing the lawn, or on your journey to work. Any moment of wasted time can be a moment for audio!
“Most podcasts are audio only. People often listen in the car or at the gym.”
WHAT ARE PODCASTS NORMALLY LIKE?
When you listen to a podcast, you'll discover that they're really just the same as talk radio shows.
Any particular Podcast will be themed around a particular topic, about which they talk every week – e.g. triathlon racing or dog training. Then, each episode of that podcast will talk about something specific within that topic - nutrition tips for taking part in a triathlon, or how to stop your dog fighting with other dogs.
Each episode is normally run by one or two regular presenters, talking about that subject, and they'll often get outside guests on to contribute.
A lot of podcasts are really simple, just a few friends chatting about something that they're all into, but some are very professional, including theme music, sound effects, professional editing and more.
The more professional podcasts are great to listen to, but they take a lot more time and money to produce. The amateur shows, on the other hand, might have a few rough edges, but it means they can get it out, every single week, and grow a loyal following.
Most people listen to a bit of both, and it depends much more on what presenters you like, than the approach they take.
“A Podcast is a series, made up of lots of single podcast episodes.”
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PODCAST AND AN EPISODE?
A podcast is a series – it’s the entire show rather than any individual episode. Instead a podcast episode is one audio recording from that Podcast series, just like a TV show is made up of a whole series of episodes. The word ‘podcast’ refers to a series of audio files, while a ‘podcast episode’ is one audio file from that series.
So, think of ‘Friends’ as the series and ‘The One where they Got Married’ as the episode. In this case Friends is the equivalent of a podcast and ‘The One Where They Got Married’ is the Podcast Episode.
What's the Difference Between a Podcast and an Audio File?
If you're just a listener, you don't need to know this bit - It's just for prospective creators! If that's the case, go right to 'How to Listen to a Podcast.'
The most simple explanation is that an audio file and a podcast episode are technically the same. If you've downloaded a Podcast episode from a Podcast site, you've already discovered the fact that you're just downloading an audio file. The difference comes when you add the option to subscribe to that series of audio files.
So, if you use a Podcast hosting website to allow people to subscribe to your series of audio recordings, then you've suddenly turned them from simple audio files into a fully functioning podcast! They're still just audio files, but alongside the subscription, you can now call them a Podcast too.
The subscription aspect is done for you automatically if you use a good Podcast Hosting company, but you might want to know a little about how it works. It's run through a technology called RSS (that's the tricky bit…) and it's just a computer language that lets your Podcasting software talk to a Podcasting website.
Essentially, if you give your Podcasting software (such as iTunes) the web address of a Podcasting Website, it'll read the RSS feed and it'll be able to download all of the old episodes of that Podcast and download new ones as they're released.
So, when you use iTunes, or any other good podcast listening app, it'll keep track of all of your subscriptions via each Podcasts' RSS feed, and it'll automatically download new episodes as they're available. This is much easier than normal audio files where you would have to search them out on the web and download them yourself.
The big thing to remember is that an audio file on it's own is nothing more than that, just an audio file.
But, if you upload that audio file to a website and allow it to be subscribed to via an RSS feed then it's suddenly a Podcast. Easy!
Next, we're looking at How to Listen to a Podcast - let's move on!