Imagine listening to network news or a fantasy football show without your radio. You can, with podcasts. These are radio-like programs you download from the Web. You can listen to them whenever and wherever you wish.
Podcast was named the "Word of the Year" in 2005 by New Oxford American Dictionary. Nonetheless, many people haven't a clue about podcasts. The dictionary defines podcast as a "digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player."The word podcast is a contraction of iPod and broadcast. Podcasts were originally downloaded to iPods. Today, the name is a misnomer. You don't need an iPod, or any other music player. You can listen to a podcast on your computer. And the programs aren't broadcast.
Podcasts are typically MP3 files. Technically, they are like music files. You can listen to them on the computer. They can be transferred to and played on virtually any music player. Or, they can be burned to a CD.
File sizes are generally small, even for programs with long running times. It usually takes less than a minute for someone with a broadband connection to download an hour-long program.
There are thousands of free podcasts. They run anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour. New episodes are created hourly, daily, weekly - depending on who creates them.
They are amazingly diverse in both quality and content. You can listen to movie reviews by famous Chicagoans Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper. Or listen to movie reviews by not-so-famous Chicagoans Adam Kempenaar and Sam Hallgren.
Some podcasts are professional. They cover just about any subject. Others are amateur. You'll recognize these right away. Then, there are podcasts that are nothing other than infomercials.
Not all podcasts are intended for young ears. Some are explicit. There is no rating system. However, explicit podcasts generally are identified as such.
Checking Web sites daily for new episodes would be tedious. That's why aficionados use podcatchers.
Podcatchers automatically check for new episodes of subscribed podcasts. If a new episode is available, it downloads it.
To use a podcatcher, you must subscribe to a podcast. Subscription instructions are typically on the podcast area of the Web site. You may download and listen to a podcast without subscribing to it. Subscribing merely ensures each episode is automatically downloaded.
Some common podcatchers are iTunes, Yahoo Music Engine and Winpodder. All are free.
Check your favorite Web site for podcasts. Unfortunately, there's no standard area to look. ABCNews.com lists them in the Technology area. BusinessWeek.com in the Extras. FoxNews.com has some available through the host's area. For example, Greta Van Susteren fans can download the GretaCast.
Some are free. Others, such as my national daily and weekend radio shows, require a nominal paid subscription. Usually, it's a few dollars per month.