What is a podcast?

Podcast hero.
Irina Popova Street /

Podcasts have gained popularity in the last decade, but they’ve been around much longer than that. Sometimes it seems like everyone on the planet has a podcast. What is the story behind this form of audio entertainment?

A brief history of podcasts

The concept of podcasts was devised in 2000 by Tristan Louis and Dave Winer. The idea was to allow people to attach sound and video files to RSS feeds. Winer was also the author of the RSS format and podcasts were included in version 0.92 of RSS.

The first podcast is considered to be IT conversations by Dough Kaye. It started in 2003 and ran until 2012. Two years after its inception, Apple added podcasts to iTunes. This played a huge role in the eventual popularity of podcasts.

iTunes Logo Hero - August 2020

Previously, you needed a separate “podcatcher” app to download podcasts. iTunes made the process much easier. The addition of reviews made iTunes the de facto home of podcasts for many years. To this day, podcasters still ask listeners to leave reviews on Apple Podcasts as it helps increase the popularity of the show.

Beyond iTunes, Apple can also be held responsible for the term “podcast” itself. “Podcast” is a combination of “iPod” and “streaming”. iPods were some of the first devices that could download podcasts onto mobile devices, thanks to iTunes. The term was coined by Ben Hammersky to The Guardian.

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What is a podcast?

“Podcast” may seem like a strange name, but it is actually a very simple concept. A podcast is simply an audio program, such as a talk show or audio skit, uploaded to an RSS feed.

The idea is very similar to radio shows, but with one big difference. Podcasts can be listened to on demand. The show is recorded and then uploaded to a hosting service. You can then listen to the show on your phone or computer whenever you want.

Spotify Podcast Ratings

Since most podcasts are uploaded to feeds for free, you can listen to them in any app that can read those feeds. All you need is the link to the podcast feed. This makes podcasts much more accessible than music and video streaming services. (However, some podcasts are now “exclusive” and only available on platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts.)

The colloquial definition of podcasts has evolved beyond audio-on-demand shows. Some podcasts are recorded live, some also have video versions or are only available as video. “Podcast” is now its own genre of entertainment, essentially a modern take on talk shows.

The “average” podcast has a couple of hosts talking about one topic. Episodes are typically 30-60 minutes long and are released weekly. Podcast topics can range from rewatching old TV shows, recaps of a sports team’s games, politics, video games, technology, and just about anything else you can imagine.

How to listen to a podcast

Find podcasts in Pocket Casts

Now you may be wondering how to listen to these audio experiences. The good news is that getting started with podcasts has never been easier. All you need is a device with Internet access.

There are some popular methods for listening to podcasts. iTunes Podcasts became Apple Podcasts, which is included on iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers. Spotify and Google Podcasts are two other popular options for podcasts.

One of the best things about podcasts is that you can listen the majority of them with any application you want. There are more options than Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Pocket Casts is a great podcast player for iPhone and Android. Stitcher is another popular provider.

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However, and this is a big “however”, not all podcasts are available on any old podcast app. Some podcasts are exclusive to the platforms. For example, Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” is only available on Spotify. “Hooked” is a true crime podcast only available on Apple Podcasts.

If you are looking for a specific podcast, you may want to check first if it is exclusive to any platform. Once you have your podcast app, it’s just a matter of subscribing to podcasts. It is the same idea as subscribing to a YouTube channel. Search for a show title or browse the categories and tap the “Subscribe” button.

Once subscribed, you will get new episodes when they are released. You can also listen to the back catalog of episodes. Listening to a podcast is basically like listening to music. You can pause, fast-forward, rewind, and generally adjust the playback speed. You don’t need to listen to the entire episodes in one sitting, you can enjoy them on your own time.

RELATED: How to subscribe to podcasts on Spotify

What started as an addition to RSS has become one of the main types of media people consume: movies, TV shows, music, books, and podcasts. They have changed a lot over the years, but the general concept remains the same. Go out and listen to people talk.

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