Man with cropped hair and dark sunglasses holds speakers on his shoulders while wearing headphones around his neck

A podcast is audio on demand that you can download or play directly from the internet – whenever you’re ready to listen. They are usually free and there’s more than likely a podcast on your favourite topic. This is your guide to finding, sorting and listening to podcasts like a pro.

The Podcast explained

When the iPod emerged in 2001, it blew most digital music players out of the water with its quality and capacity for millions of songs. But it wasn’t long before some people moved on from music to creating full programs that were distributed around the internet. And so, these programs were dubbed podcasts.

Of course, podcasts weren’t the first audio on demand. Talking books had been around for years on CDs and cassettes. The self-help industry was founded on audio programs that were distributed in the same way.

Podcasts emerged at a time when file-sharing platforms were in the ascendency. We had just graduated from 27k to 54k modems and we wanted to download as much ‘shared’ music and programs as we could. While the courts managed to get most of us to start paying for music, podcasts didn’t have anybody fighting in their corner, so they remained free.

In 2014, Serial put podcasting on the map with one of the most listened to and talked about podcasts of all time. Surprisingly, the creators of serial were aiming for an audio book style of program, rather than a podcast. Even more surprisingly, after the bump of interest that Serial created, the trendline for podcast listeners returned to its slow and steady climb.

Podcasts can be consumed as individual episodes, or you can subscribe to a series. When you subscribe, new episodes can be downloaded to your podcast device automatically when they are released. This can lead to an abundance of podcasts building up in your device which has the potential to become a little bit overwhelming if not managed carefully.

Choose your podcast device

The majority of podcast listening is done on smartphones, with headphones, in the home. While you can listen to them anywhere at any time – on public transport, in the car and while exercising is particularly popular – statistics show that the home is where we pod most often.

You can also use a tablet, computer, digital assistant (smart speaker), smart TV and probably an internet connected fridge to listen to podcasts.

Podcast on iPhone/iPad/iWatch – apple users, you were podcasts chosen ones. Apple created the podcasts wing of the iTunes store in 2005 and it has remained the dominant home for podcasts ever since. That may all be about to change with Google’s declaration that it plans to double podcast listening worldwide. Watch this space!

The iPhone comes pre-loaded with Apple’s ‘Podcasts’ app. It has four buttons across the bottom – Listen Now, Library, Browse and Search. If you are looking for a particular podcast, or you have a topic in mind, start with Search. That’s where you can search Apple Podcasts to your heart’s content. If you’re open to suggestions, start with Browse. This will give you some highlights from Apple Podcasts, along with charts, categories and featured providers.

Here’s a guide to Apple’s podcasts app that will explain how to sync your podcasts across devices.

Of course, you might like to try a third-party podcast app. More details below…

Podcast on Android phone/tablet/watch – you are in the minority of a minority. About 20% of the population listen to podcasts and most of them do it on iPhones. But as mentioned above, Google is about to change all that. In the meantime, the Google Play Music app gives you access to podcasts in much the same way that Apple does. The only catch is that podcast makers need to have a US account to upload their podcast – so you won’t find many Australian podcasts on there.

The Google Play Music app doesn’t appear to be anybody’s favourite podcasting app at this point in time, but if you prefer not to download a third-party app for podcasting, it’s a good start. Here’s a guide to listening to podcasts with Google Play Music.

Podcast on Smart Speakers– Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple Homepod are freeing podcasts from headphones – enabling you to listen to podcasts with family and friends. While the take-up of these new devices is rapid, the change to our listening habits are not. It appears that even when we’re listening to podcasts at home, we like to take the audio with us from room to room and headphones make that a bit easier.

Listening to podcasts on smart speakers at the moment is a bit like the good ol’ days where you’ve got to do a bit of work to make the magic happen. Alexa appears to have the most support articles with a variety of options for listening.

Other podcasting apps

There are plenty of alternatives when it comes to podcasting apps. Most of them offer a bunch more features than the pre-loaded apps on your smartphone, such as variable listening speed, the ability to jump forward or back more than 15 seconds at a time and an improved user experience generally.

With so many apps available for both Apple and Android devices, we’ve listed just a few to get you started.

Pocket Casts – is the favoured app of many podcast listeners and it’s not hard to see why. One of its smart features removes the silence in podcast episodes so that you can finish listening faster, while another raises the volume of voices while reducing the background noise. It’s so good that the biggest international names in podcasting – WNYC, WBEZ Chicago, NPR, and This American Life – pooled their money together to buy Pocket Casts.

In fact, it’s so good that people actually pay for it! Pocket Casts is a $5.99 in Australia and they’ve promised that the experience so many have grown to love won’t change with their new owners.

Spotify – If you’re already using Spotify to listen to music, you won’t find an easier way to dabble in the world of podcasts. You’ll find the Podcast option in Your Library, or you can just use the search box. You won’t find every podcast on Spotify, apparently they are adding them as podcast makers request that they be featured – and they’re a bit behind.

You can stream full podcast series or single episodes. And you can add both to your favourites.

Other apps you might like to try:
Castbox
Radiopublic
Podbean

Choose your style

Now that you know how to listen to podcasts on a variety of devices and apps, you’ll quickly find your podcasting style. Are you a completist? Will you listen with dedication to every single episode of a very small number of podcasts?

Or are you a bower bird? Collecting podcast episodes wherever you go, dipping in and out of a series with glee?

Either way, you’ll probably find it necessary to manage the number of podcasts in your chosen device or app. It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees! But listen wide and listen long. One thing’s for sure – you won’t run out of audio on demand any time soon.

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