Guest Column: What’s a podcast?

MEEKER I From streaming services like Netflix to social platforms like Facebook, or hybrids like YouTube and Twitch, the era of digital media consumption is in full swing, and it is defined mainly by a simple concept, choice.

At the fresh age of 26, I may still be accurately considered a whippersnapper to many readers, but I do still remember a time when TV shows were only available at a given time of day or week. You couldn’t just fire up one of an array of high-definition screens and start binge watching virtually anything you wanted. No, you had to wait for your content, and it came in short bursts.

Even during the process of watching a show there was extra waiting involved. Every time your program was interrupted by commercial messages you had to sit through them, like some kind of neanderthal. At least you could run to the fridge and grab a snack…

The millennial generation, often described as “digital-natives” were quick to reject this paradigm as soon as an opportunity presented itself. That opportunity came first with websites like YouTube in the ‘wild-west’ days of the internet, and was soon capitalized on by big money corporate interests via platforms like Netflix, Hulu and most recently Disney+, to name just a few.

What these services represent is again, choice. Don’t want to be locked into a two-year contract? Don’t be. Want to watch an entire season of The Office in one sitting? Do it. Don’t like watching commercials? What even is a commercial? Prefer to watch when it works for your schedule? The future is now. What you want to see, when you want to see it. This freedom to choose defines modern media consumption, albeit making us all slightly less patient. But hey! Who needs patience, right?

So you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with podcasts? For that matter, what the heck even is a podcast? Well, I’m getting there. I know, I’m making you wait. What is this, the early 2000s? I want my explanation now! For your effort to trudge through my obnoxious ramblings, you deserve it, so here it is.

The discussion of choice in the first portion of this article revolves specifically around television, and how services that offered freedom of choice quickly disrupted the traditional TV business model.

But let’s not forget the tube’s predecessor, radio. Though “The Buggles” may have convinced a generation that video did indeed kill the radio star, the radio broadcast industry as a whole has managed to stick around, even into the age of smartphones, high speed internet, and self-driving cars. Statistically, it is still one of the most common forms of media consumption in the country.

Much like traditional television, terrestrial AM/FM radio doesn’t offer a lot of choice. You can’t access your favorite radio talk show whenever you like, you have to tune in at a specific time. Well what if you’re busy then? Guess you’ll miss it. What if you are listening, and then you hear a bunch of varmints raiding your prize-winning garden? You can’t pause the show to run outside and show the critters whose in charge, can you?

Or can you? 

I’m here to tell you that you can, and you can do it right from your smartphone, tablet, computer, or smart speaker. How, you ask? The answer is with podcasts, which is a fancy way of saying a radio program you can listen to whenever you want.

But wait, there’s more! That’s right, you can have all this freedom of choice for the low low price of zero dollars and zero cents. The freedom to listen to your favorite radio program whenever it is convenient for you, to pause it, rewind it, or even play it at double speed, if you’re one of those people. 

If you’re worried about using your cell phone plan’s data, don’t sweat it! You can always download the show to your phone while you’re connected to wifi, and then listen to it on the go, no cellular data required.

In addition to having on-demand access to many of the radio programs you already enjoy, you can discover an entire universe of new programs about every subject under the sun. Some recent estimates claim that there are currently more than 30 million podcast episodes available to download, for free, just waiting there for you like a giant pile of unopened presents. No longer is radio content limited by your geographical location, now you can listen to podcasts from all over the world with a simple search.

Still not convinced? Or perhaps just confused? Well, I understand. Translating a concept like podcasts into print format can be…tedious, but there is still a way for you to solidify this information into applicable knowledge. Go and listen to a podcast, or two, or three…

For anyone with a smartphone or tablet, accessing podcasts is pretty simple. For Apple iOS users (people with iPhones, Ipads, etc) your device came with a built-in podcast app. It’s called “Apple Podcasts.” If you use an Android device, or just prefer to use something besides Apple Podcasts, there are many excellent and free choices. 

I recommend apps like Google Podcasts, Stitcher and Overcast. You can find and install any of these podcast-listening apps in the Google Play store, or in the Apple App store.

Once you have determined which app you want to use, just open it up, and do a search. Have a favorite radio show host you already enjoy? Chances are their show is available in podcast format. Perhaps you’d like to learn more about World War I, maybe you want to hear from fellow classic car gearheads, or would get enjoyment from listening to fellow knitting enthusiasts talk about the best…knitting….techniques? I don’t know, to each their own.

Whatever you’re into, there is a podcast about it, in fact there are probably multiple podcasts about it. Just do some searches, and try listening to a few until you find something you like. If you’re not sure what to look for, just check the top charts, or ask that crazy podcast evangelist friend you know for recommendations.

You could even hop onto the old internet machine and search “podcasts about _______” and get an idea of which shows people your in-group like best. Who knows, it may become your favorite way to consume audio content.

As for a specific recommendation well, here’s some shameless self-promotion. Every week at the HT we summarize the week’s news highlights and put them into a 3-5 minute podcast for your listening enjoyment. That means in 3-5 minutes you can get a full rundown of what’s being reported on in the paper. Better yet, you can get the information while you cook, exercise, drive, or even chase those darned varmints away from your county fair-winning harvest.

To find our podcast, just search Rio Blanco County News in a podcast app, and look for the HT logo. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to click “subscribe,” so that next week when another podcast episode comes out, you’ll get a notification that the latest news highlights from the Herald Times are ready and waiting for you, whenever you prefer to listen to them.

Want more recommendations? Have questions about using the podcast apps? I’m happy to answer questions and help however I can, just send me an email and I’ll do my best to help. Now get out there and enjoy the golden age of audio, the future is now and all that content is right at your fingertips…