Get Tuned In to Podcasts
by Nolan Crabb
Jefferson City, Missouri

I'm sure I date myself here, but if someone had used the word "podcast" when I was a kid, I would have assumed it referred to the efforts of some exotic plant to repopulate itself. The 1970s of my youth have long since given way to today's Internet era, and the word podcasting has nothing to do with plants.

Podcasting is a process that allows for the recording of audio files for publication to the Internet. To listen to podcasts, you acquire free software to capture the audio files on your computer. Once on your hard drive, you can listen to the files or transfer them to a portable audio player such as an iPod. It is Apple's iPod player, in fact, from which podcasting derives its name.

Somewhat similar to the VCR, which allows for the programming of favorite channels to record specific broadcasts, podcast software searches Web sites you select. If the software finds a new episode of a podcast, it automatically saves the episode to your computer. Using the podcast software, you can tell your PC to search at 3 a.m. for example, and when a new podcast episode is found, it will be downloaded for you to play back later.

A podcast can be on any subject you might imagine. Let's say you take an exotic vacation and record an audio journal of your travels. You can convert your recordings to MP3 files, publish them to your Web address, and share the address with prospective listeners. Podcasts can even be sent to cell phones using something called the RSSP, which stands for Real Simple Syndication Protocol. Sighted users, for example, often use RSSP technology to have stock quotes sent to their cell phones every half hour.

In order to receive and listen to a podcast, you'll need two pieces of software--a pod catcher, also known as an aggregator, and a player. The pod catcher is the software that searches the various podcasting channels you select and downloads new podcasts to your computer. The latest version of a popular pod catcher program called iPodder is ultra-simple to set up and accessible without any tweaking to JAWS and Window-Eyes. The latest version is iPodder 2.1. You probably already have a player on your computer that will allow you to listen to podcasts. Players, such as Winamp and Windows Media Player, will play the podcasts you download. If you're a Book Port or Book Courier user, you may opt to transfer podcast files from your computer to your portable player.

You may be thinking this sounds rather involved compared to turning on the radio, but podcasting is rather different. Podcasts are targeted to audiences with specific interests. You can listen to podcasts on everything from Catholicism to setting up a wireless computer network in your house. The hardest part is choosing which channels to monitor and record. There are literally thousands of podcasting channels on the Internet, which vary in terms of the quality of their content. Although most are labors of love done by volunteer podcasters, some are produced professionally by such organizations as the British Broadcasting Company and the Canadian Broadcasting Company. In short, podcasting is as close to the heady days of 1920s radio as we'll ever hope to get. Back then, anyone with some time and desire could broadcast, and for a brief time, broadcasting in America was a rough-and-tumble experience where individuals and corporations battled for the same frequencies and fought to get air time. Today's podcasters aren't fighting for space as their radio pioneer counterparts did nearly a century ago, but the variety of things to hear is astounding, and the flavor of podcasting is as rich and diverse as our culture.

When venturing into the wild world of podcasts, you need to drop your radio mindset. Since podcasts are largely done by individuals, programs range from absolutely terrific in terms of the information provided to unbelievably bizarre, and podcasters tend to come and go without notice. Still, if you want news headlines, regional weather reports, technology updates, how-to help, and much, much more, then become a podcast listener.


Download iPodder 2.1 by visiting this site and start searching for podcasts.

Download the free Winamp player from this site to listen to podcasts.

Visit this site to learn about an excellent podcast from the American Printing House for the Blind.

This site probably has the largest listing of podcasters anywhere. It's broken into genres for easier searching. At the time of this writing, Podcast Alley boasts 5,000 podcast listings.

This is another podcast directory.

Check here for additional podcast listings.

Since Apple Computer's iPod helped spur the podcast phenomenon, it seems appropriate to include Apple's directory of podcast listings.

This is a small site that focuses on blind podcasters. You can download the iPodder software here, but at the time of this writing, the site doesn't include the latest version, which is more accessible to blind users than its predecessors. This site also links you to an e-mail list of blind podcasters, where you can learn about new podcasts and even get information about how to become a podcaster.