Some of the best radio programs going today aren't on the radio.
It's an interesting aspect to the tech world that sometimes a trend is like a wave moving through the ocean, hitting different places at different times. I'd been noticing more and more podcasts lately, and listening to them more often, but when I mentioned podcasting to my editor, he said he thought it was passť -- last year's trend. He's probably right, but since I'm writing the column, you're going to hear about podcasts this week.
There are now podcasts -- audio-only, or video -- on an enormous variety of topics. They run the gamut from casual home-brewed productions to slickly-produced professional shows.
A "podcast," in its simplest form, is an audio or video file made available on the web, usually on a regular basis, with new episodes announced by means of an RSS feed so that the user can set up his computer, phone, or tablet to automatically download each new episode. You don't have to subscribe, however, to listen to individual episodes.
Most podcasts are free, including some that are advertiser-supported, but others require a subscription fee.
The term "podcast" comes from the iPod. Many people use their iPods or other MP3 players to listen to the podcasts they download. You don't have to have an MP3 player, however; you can just listen directly from your computer. Some people prefer the terms "netcast," or "webcast," which are more accurate and not tied to a particular piece of hardware, but "podcast" appears to have won that battle.
Some traditional radio shows are also available as podcasts. I used to listen to National Public Radio's comedy quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on the radio after I got home from church. But when my church changed its service times a few years back, I didn't always get home in time. So I started listening on my computer, where NPR makes the show available as a podcast.
In many cases, if you simply want to check out a podcast or if you're only interested in a particular episode, you can listen by clicking on a player embedded on the podcast's web site. But if there's a podcast to which you listen regularly, you can easily set up software to automatically download each week's episode. If you have an iPod, iPhone or iPad, the simplest way to do this is through your iTunes software. But if you're using some other format, you may need to download software. Search for "podcast software" and you should find plenty of options. I recently started using WinAmp as my podcast subscription software. WinAmp (winamp.com) has been around for ages as a free media player for your computer, but seems to be getting renewed attention recently as a way of managing your podcasts. There are also stand-alone programs like Juice which download podcasts for you.
When you set up a new subscription in WinAmp, there's a form that requires you to enter the feed address for the podcast. Here's how to find it.
When you go to the web site for a podcast, you can look for a link entitled "feed" or "RSS" or "subscribe," which may be accompanied by a little square RSS icon, usually (but not always) orange. You want to right-click on this link, choose "copy link location" (or whatever terminology your browser uses), and then paste this address into your software's subscription form. It's easier than it sounds.
Some publishers have made the process even simpler by creating dedicated iPhone/iPad or Android apps for their podcasts. Install the app, and you're automatically subscribed to that podcast.
You can find plenty of podcasts online. Try typing some subject in which you're interested, along with the word "podcast," into a search engine and see what you come up with. For example, "comedy podcast" or "food podcast" or "Bible podcast." You'll find everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here's some of what I listen to regularly:
* The "Judge John Hodgman" podcast (www.maximumfun.org/shows/judge-john-hodg...) features comic author and frequent "Daily Show" contributor John Hodgman ruling in his wry fashion on tongue-in-cheek disputes between friends or married couples. One couple, for example, argued about whether the built-in dispenser at their kitchen sink was for dishwashing liquid or hand soap.
* From the same producers, "The Sound of Young America" (www.maximumfun.org/shows/sound-young-ame...) is a pop-culture interview podcast hosted by Jesse Thorn, who also serves as the host and "bailiff" for the Hodgman podcast. The show airs on public radio in some parts of the country.
* The Daily Audio Bible podcast (dailyaudiobible.com), based in Spring Hill, features a daily Bible reading to which you can subscribe, delivered in warm and welcoming tones by Brian Hardin, taking the listener through the Bible in a year's time. There's also a children's version, various foreign language versions, and a version focusing only on the book of Proverbs.
* I used to be a big fan of "Cheap Seats," on ESPN Classic, in which hosts Randy and Jason Sklar would make fun of classic sports clips from the ESPN library, much in the style of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." "Cheap Seats" may be long gone, but if you enjoy Randy and Jason's comedy you can catch them on "Sklarbro Country" (www.earwolf.com/show/sklarbro-country).
* Regular readers of this column will also know that I follow Leo Laporte and his colleagues at This Week In Tech (twit.tv), a sort of free-standing network of podcasts that can be downloaded or watched live online.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.