So, you’ve been hearing about podcasting, you’ve seen the new buttons in iTunes, but you haven’t gotten around to trying it yet, right? Well, Slate wants to make it as easy as possible for you to sample this new medium. Starting today, you can listen to some of your favorite Slate features while you’re commuting or working out or sitting in a tedious meeting (make sure the boss can’t see your earbuds).
Slate will offer regular weekday podcasts of one or more of our articles read aloud (mostly by me, Slate’s resident radio guy). Think of this as books on tape—only without the books and without the tape.
Starting today, you can subscribe to our podcasting feed with just a few clicks in iTunes 4.9 or later, or you can enter our podcasting URL—http://www.slate.com/podcast/—manually in other programs. And if none of that means much to you, click here for a step-by-step guide to downloading Slate audio programs onto your iPod (or any other MP3 player). [Update, Nov. 14, 2005: We now also offer a daily Explainer podcast; click here to learn more.]
If you’re new to podcasting, you’re probably wondering whether it’s just the latest geeky Internet doodad that will soon seem like old news. Of course it is. In less than a year, podcasting has transformed countless living rooms, bedrooms, and, on occasion, bathrooms into radio studios. Bloggers have discovered the heady pleasure—previously known only by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Father Coughlin—of pontificating into a microphone and beaming their thoughts into the world’s eager eardrums.
Radio pros are also a bit breathless about podcasting at the moment. They realize that people who never hear their programs on the air can now listen whenever they want.
But once the hoopla dies down, once the blowhards with nothing to say move on to their next vanity project, and the boring radio shows languish un-downloaded, I think we’re going to be left with a new and revolutionary medium.
None of the individual elements of podcasting (iPods, MP3 files, RSS feeds) is especially new. But the clever folks who combined these elements created something bigger: an audio system that marries portability (a must in radio) with the TiVo-like ability to time-shift programs you don’t want to miss. Reception also isn’t an issue with prerecorded programs—you can listen just as easily in a subway or basement as you can outside. The only thing podcasting doesn’t offer is live breaking news, but hardware makers are already building MP3 players that include radio tuners. Problem solved.
Actually, podcasting is better than TiVo, because the shows are pre-recorded for you. It takes just a few seconds to download an hour of audio (download speeds vary according to file size and connection type, of course). In fact, I think the more apt analogy might be evolution of computers. For nearly 100 years, we’ve been listening to what I’ll call “mainframe radio,” a centralized system in which programming choices are made by a few and sent out to a large number of “dumb” terminals—our radios. Now podcasting offers “personal radio,” broadcasting’s equivalent of the independent, customizable PC.
I knew podcasting was something exciting when I, a 20-year radio veteran, noticed that I rarely listened to live radio anymore. My iPod fills itself all day long with programs I enjoy, and when I’m ready to listen, I don’t have to hope there’s something interesting on the air. I know there’s something interesting in my pocket.
For a sampling of the kind of programming available in podcast format, check out PublicRadioFan.com. This updated list of professional radio shows available as podcasts grows by the week. (Click here to read how you can record radio shows that don’t yet provide podcasts.)
I hope and suspect audio blogs and repurposed radio shows are just podcasting’s opening act. Professionals and talented amateurs alike see tremendous potential in a medium that allows us to reach niche audiences and carries virtually no threat of interference from the FCC.
I also think podcasting is far more exciting than satellite radio (although this seems to be a minority opinion at the moment). For all the hype, satellite radio is just “mainframe radio” with a much higher antenna. Although it carries more channels than you’ll find on the FM dial, they’re still all programmed by someone else.
As phone companies roll out high-speed cellular service, I suspect we’ll soon see wireless-Internet-enabled car stereos that can play and record streaming online radio stations from all over the world, as well as download podcasts while parked. When that happens, we’ll look back on satellite radio as a quaint transitional technology—something like the wire recorders that briefly preceded reel-to-reel tape.
So, if you decide to give podcasting a try, please include Slate’snew daily feed in your audio menu. If things go well with Phase I, we hope to bring you other interesting audio feeds in the future.
Oh, and don’t forget to listen to Slate’s writers and editors on NPR’s Day to Day.