All the Hits on WYOU
With podcasting, anyone can become a digital DJ
What happens when bloggers get iPods? In a word, podcasts: homemade "radio" programs that people put on their website for others to download and listen to on digital music devices or computers.
The phenomenon is growing quickly--mainly because, as a rule, these mostly amateur programs don't charge for their eclectic viewpoints and music options. Between 4 million and 6 million listeners in the United States have already tapped into podcasts, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Programs like the Daily Source Code, hosted by ex-MTV VJ Adam Curry, claim tens of thousands of listeners. And there are already sites that list more than 4,000 regular podcasts that can be listened to on any device that plays MP3 files, not just on Apple's iPods.
To get started, all a would-be Don Imus needs is a computer, a microphone, and the software to post the recording online. Audacity ( audacity.sourceforge.net ) is one of several free software programs for making podcasts. And services such as Liberated Syndication ( libsyn.com ) will host your show for as little as $5 a month. The audience hunts down podcasts via software like iPodder ( ipodder.org ), which lets listeners scan directories and subscribe to shows. The software then periodically downloads new programs for later playback on a portable digital music player.
To listen to podcasts, we used iPodder and tapped shows listed at directories like Podcast Alley ( podcastalley.com ). Programs that play offbeat music--Brazilian samba, bluegrass, independent record labels--are popular. There also are talk shows about wine, software programming, hockey, gay life in Chicago, and political rants from the left and the right.
Peanuts in a pod. Indeed, the attraction of many of the amateur shows is their goofy Wayne's World charm. One example is the Dawn and Drew Show, a rambling, giggling discussion hosted by a Wisconsin couple that ranges from jokes about friends' sexual proclivities to ruminations about Charlie Brown's bald pate. One day Dawn may serenade listeners with her attempts to play the jaw harp. The next, Drew may ponder Dawn's living will.
Podcasting is not just for amateurs. The Sci Fi Channel has made some recordings to promote the cable channel's Battlestar Galactica series. And several radio stations are experimenting with the format, offering free recordings of their regular shows. Virgin Radio in the United Kingdom serves up programs such as the Pete & Geoff Breakfast Show, while BBC Radio now offers about 20 of its programs for download. But these are very much works in progress. Virgin Radio, for example, cuts all the music out of the Pete & Geoff Show to avoid copyright issues, a concern amateur podcasts have thus far dodged.
The homegrown programs are also unfettered by professional standards. Miscues are common. And expletives are frequent, too: FCC obscenity rules don't yet cover podcasts, in case you want to release your inner Howard Stern.
This story appears in the May 2, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.