A podcast is just like a radio show. A show host can record audio, invite guests for interviews, and ask people to call in, and have their questions or interviews recorded. The striking difference between a podcast and a radio show, though, is that a radio program is broadcasted, while a podcast is what is called a "narrowcast," because a listener has to download these into a media device or computer, whether manually or automatically, in order to listen.
There are different ways to listen or subscribe to a podcast. Some are more convenient than others.
Playing streaming audio - Some podcasters prefer to give listeners the option of listening to audio directly on their websites through streaming audio. Services like talkshoe.com let users even publish podcasts live, while listeners hear the audio as a stream. The advantage of this is that the listener needs no special software or subscription in order to listen.
Downloading MP3 files - You can manually download podcast episodes by saving MP3 files to your computer. You simply click the link to download the file, and the media file is saved on your hard drive. It's now up to you to transfer this to your media player or iPod. Or you can listen right on your computer.
Subscribing to a podcast feed - This is the best way to listen to a podcast, since episodes automatically arrive at your iTunes or other pod client when the host publishes it. To subscribe, you first need the podcast's feed URL. For instance, This Week in Tech at www.twit.tv gives listeners several options of listening: streaming audio, MP3 download, and RSS subscription. For convenience, we will focus on how to subscribe using iTunes. To subscribe via RSS:
1. Look for the orange RSS icon, and copy the link.
2. In iTunes, click the "Advanced" menu, and then "Subscribe to Podcast ..."
3. Key in or paste the RSS feed URL.
4. Click "Subscribe."
Once you are subscribed, iTunes will now fetch the RSS feed's XML file regularly to see if there are new podcast episodes. Whenever there are new episodes, iTunes will download these automatically, and will synchronize the audio files to your iPod the next time you plug in.
Podcast settings - You can configure how often iTunes will check your subscribed podcasts for new episodes. Under the Podcasts tab in iTunes preferences, you can change the frequency for checking new episodes, and you can define what the application does when there are new updates. You can set this to automatic, or you can set it to manual. When the setting says "Download Most Recent Episode," shows are downloaded automatically. When it says "Do Nothing" then you have to manually click the "Get" link to download each episode. Lastly, you can choose how many episodes to keep. You can keep all, or you can set a limit to the last few episodes, to save on space.
The first two options are best if you just want to listen to a one-off episode. But if you are a regular listener, you might want to subscribe, so you get episodes downloaded automatically as they are published. Podcasts are enjoyable, especially if you commute to and from work or school every day. These can be good alternatives to listening to talk radio. Some podcasts even feature music tracks.