We love podcasts here at PolicyGenius, and we wanted to make sure that everybody who has read our suggestions knows how to listen to them. If you already know how to listen to podcasts, head over to our lists to get some awesome new shows streaming into your ear:
What the heck is a podcast?
Podcasts are a lot like radio shows, except, like everything since the invention of the internet, way more convenient. (There are video podcasts, too, but they aren’t as popular as audio podcasts.) In fact, the majority of popular podcasts are either recorded versions of radio shows or created by radio veterans. NPR, WNYC, and KCRW are three radio companies that have produced hundreds of episodes of podcasts.
Why is everyone talking about podcasts?
Blogs and internet news sources have had a bit of a field day with podcasts recently, mostly because of the huge success of Serial, a spin-off podcast from the long-running This American Life radio show. While most have claimed that podcasting is going through a renaissance or has come back from the dead, neither is true. Podcasting has slowly been gaining popularity since Apple gave podcasts a section in iTunes in 2005. There was never a dip in listeners, only a dip in media interest.
The fact that podcast listening is now at its highest levels is due to a number of factors, with perhaps the most important being smartphones. Before smartphones, downloading and listening to podcasts was a pain. You had to download them on your computer, connect your iPod or other MP3 player, and load them up. Now, you can get new episodes automatically downloaded to your iPhone or Android device. It’s never been easier to listen to podcasts, so a lot more people are listening to them.
If it’s so easy, how come I don’t know how to listen to podcasts?
For a long time, podcasts were really nerdy things. If you wanted to listen to them in anything other than iTunes, it was a pain. With smartphone apps, however, it’s a lot easier to get started.
The most popular podcast app (and the easiest way to get started) is appropriately named "Podcasts." It’s built by Apple and is now automatically installed on iPhones and iPads with iOS 8. If you’re looking for a low-friction way to get started with podcasts, it’s hard to beat an app that’s free and pre-installed. However, it’s not nearly the best podcast app - reviews state that it constantly crashes, freezes, fails to download new episodes, and randomly stops playing in the middle of episodes.
Our favorite alternative to Podcasts is Overcast. Overcast is free with a one-time in-app purchase of $4.99 for premium features. Why is it our favorite? It’s simple and clean enough for people who just want to listen to their podcasts, but has enough nerdy, under-the-hood features for people who want to dig deeper and customize their listening experience. Marco Arment, the developer of Overcast, made the app free so that every iPhone user had a stable alternative to Apple’s Podcasts, and we appreciate that logic.
Other awesome podcast apps include Downcast ($2.99), Pocket Casts ($4.99, also available for Android), Instacast (free with multiple in-app purchases to unlock features), and Castro ($3.99). All of them have their own unique features. If you find you really enjoy podcasts but don’t like the app you’re using, we suggest trying out new apps to find the one that’s best for you.
Pocket Casts ($3.99) is cross platform with both Android and iPhone apps. It’s one of the only podcast apps that sync across both platforms, so if you happen to have an iPhone and an Android device (a tablet, perhaps), Pocket Casts is the clear choice.
BeyondPod ($6.99) is another popular podcast app. It has a seven day full-featured free trial. Another popular choice is Stitcher (free), which also lets you listen to live radio stations.
At your computer:
While most people listen to podcasts on the go, sometimes you want to listen to a show at your computer. For most people, iTunes is still the desktop audio player of choice (and if you have ever had an iPod or if you own a Mac, it’s probably already installed on your computer). Some smartphone apps have desktop counterparts, like Downcast, or web interfaces, like Overcast. Most podcasts also have their episodes available to stream online, either on their own websites or on Soundcloud.
Ok, I have this app… now what?
Add podcasts! Most podcast apps have a built-in directory, so all have you to do is search for the name of the show you’re looking for and hit "subscribe" (or "add" or "download" or whatever language your chosen app uses). Some apps even have recommendation engines that will suggest new shows to you based on what you already listen to.
You should also check out our blog posts 21 podcasts to make you smarter, 9 podcasts to make you healthier, and 9 best podcasts about money and find podcasts from those lists to listen to.