If you’ve listened to a podcast and to talk radio, you’ve probably noticed that there isn’t much difference. Both have episodes and talk about a specific subject, one difference being that most often radio is broadcast live and podcasts are pre-recorded.
Radio is free and sometimes only available at the time it’s aired unless the radio station posts the audio on their website. There is no cost to listen to a radio program once it has aired. Podcasts are downloadable and can be listened to on most electronic devices. You might be wondering, “are podcasts free?” The answer is yes and no.
Many podcast programs are free, and all you need to do is to download. Other shows come at a cost. There can be a fee for accessing archived programs and some might have a “premium” subscription to listen advertisement-free. If you listen to Pandora, you’ve likely heard them pitch for ad-free subscriptions. Podcast providers do the same.
How to Listen to a Podcast
If you’re new to the world of podcasting, you might be wondering how to tune in. Unlike radio, you can’t simply turn a dial to your favorite station. Podcast listening takes a few more steps; however, it’s not complicated or time-consuming. All you need is an internet connection to access the podcasts you want to listen to via the following platforms:
- Website – A web browser is the easiest way to listen to podcasts. You can use either a computer or a phone to access a browser such as Safari or Chrome. All you need to do is search for a website that has podcast programs that you like and listen to. It’s that simple!
- iOS – iPhone and iPad owners can use the Apple Podcasts app to find and listen to the programs they’re interested in. The app is preloaded into most devices; however, if it isn’t, it can be downloaded at the Apple Store. The app provides a search bar so you can search by subject or host. When you find the one you want to listen to, click it on and it will take you to the show’s homepage where you can select the episode you want to listen to. You are also given the option to subscribe. If you choose to subscribe, the programs you select will be downloaded to your library automatically, and most often there is no cost involved. Apple has an extensive podcast library, and its search does work well so it won’t turn results that have nothing to do with your search words.
- Android – Android users will need to use the Google Podcast app, available in the Playstore if you don’t have it. You can use the search bar to find the podcast you want to listen to and click on it to be taken to the show’s homepage. From there, you can play it.
Although a web browser offers the most convenience, there is no difference between options. A podcast will play as good as your equipment, and no matter what app you use, the selection will be nearly identical. Most podcasters upload their programs to more than one platform, so you won’t be missing out if you can only access one application, for example, the Apple app.
Where to Listen to Podcasts
We don’t mean where, as in location, because you can listen to a podcast wherever you are, be it at home, work, on the road or on the beach. Technology has provided us with mobile listening and access to the internet in all parts of the world. So when we speak of where to listen to podcasts, it means the options of podcast players other than Apple and Google. Although they are among the most popular, they are not the only options.
Podcast players are simply apps, and there are plenty to choose from. Among the most popular are:
- Spotify – This popular music app now has a decent podcast library that lets you build a personal playlist of your favorite shows without a subscription.
- Stitcher – This app is one of the more widely known for podcasts, but it’s not as impressive as Google or Apple. A pitfall is that it doesn’t allow you to export your podcasts to other apps.
- Castbox – Known for always having the new and unique, Castbox is popular with podcast junkies. The problem with Castbox is that it’s like Pandora, constantly advertising to bypass ads and subscribe to its premium service. If you can stand the ads, then the free version offers plenty of new suggestions almost daily.
- Pocket Casts – Pocket Casts is receiving rave reviews from users and techies, and it’s easy to understand why. It allows users to sync files between devices and it has a pause button that lets you pick back up on one of your synced devices. It is compatible with Bluetooth speakers and other in-car programs, making it more universal than some of the others.
How to Find Podcast Shows
If you’re looking for podcast shows, you can search any of the apps for the niche you’re interested in. If you don’t want to swim through a sea of thousands of search results, there are several options available. There are plenty of recommendation newsletters that you can subscribe to, such as This Week in Podcasts, Podnews, Podcast Gumbo, PodcastBrunchClub, Sara’s Podcast Newsletter, and a host of others than you can find by searching the internet for “podcast newsletters.”
Apple offers a top podcast list, and you can do a Google or Safari search for popular podcasts or newly released shows. You can narrow your search to a specific topic to find what’s new. If “birdwatching podcasts” is searched, it will return the “best” episodes as well as some generic results. You can narrow your search to the United States only or “American bird watching.” You can do this with most topics. Streamlining the results will bring the most popular in your category to the top.
Another way to find podcast shows that are of interest to you is to ask your family, friends, and coworkers if they listen and, if so, what do they recommend.
Subscribing to Podcasts
Subscribing to podcasts is easily done by simply going to the podcast page and clicking the subscribe tab. Most subscriptions are free; however, there are some that charge a nominal fee. When you subscribe, you can download the episodes that interest you so that you can listen at any time.
You can subscribe to a podcast player for free or as a premium member for a fee ranging from a couple of dollars per month to $10 or $12 per month or even annually. Prices do vary quite a bit, so you’ll want to check several before choosing one.
Subscribing does require you to submit personal information and a debit or credit card number if you will be paying, which not everyone is comfortable doing. If you do subscribe, make certain you’re making a one-time purchase and not a reoccurring automatic charge. You’re better off not keeping your card information stored, and that’s good advice for any online purchases.
You may have wondered why listen to a podcast? What’s all the hype about? What makes a podcast different than talk radio? Let’s examine a few of the differences.
- Geographic Reach – Radio stations are limited by geographic reach. If you live in Ohio, you aren’t going to pick up a station in New York. In fact, if you live in Cleveland, you probably can’t tune into a station 155 miles away in Columbus. A radio station needs to appeal to the masses, meaning it can’t zoom in on a particular niche. A podcast, on the other hand, has no geographic boundaries. A podcaster can host an episode about birdwatching and attract listeners from all over the world who are interested in the subject, whereas a radio host would have a limited audience in their geographic range.
- Time – Radio shows have time-limits, depending on programming needs and advertising. An all-talk radio station, such as NPR, has more time than a station that also needs to play music, and both need to air advertisements during programming to pay for the programs. Podcasters, however, aren’t time-barred, and they can talk on for as long as they’d like. A podcaster has much more flexibility with program timing, and there’s generally no producer giving cues into an earpiece from the control room.
- Music– Unless a podcast host has a special musical guest or belts out their own scores, podcasts are usually dedicated to talking only. Without a license to air copyrighted music, a podcaster needs not to worry about cutting off to play a tune. A radio announcer does have to play music at scheduled times, leaving less talking time.
- Tune in, Tune Out – When you get an important telephone call while listening to your favorite podcast, all you need to do is hit the pause button and return to it later. With radio, you are at the mercy of the station as there’s no going back. Plus, you can always pick up where you left off with certain podcasting applications.
While there are some syndicated radio talk shows that you can go back and listen to, most are lost in space once they’ve aired. With podcasts, you can listen anytime and access archives for years to come. This makes podcasting ideal for those who want the convenience of listening to talk shows at their leisure.
There are many popular podcasts, depending on the niche. Currently, with a presidential election on the horizon, politics is a hot topic, and health, fitness and real estate investing have been popular since the inception of podcasting.
The most downloaded programs of all time include Serial, an investigative story about Adnan Syed, who may have been wrongly convicted for the 1999 death of his ex-girlfriend. The podcast explored the case and all of the evidence. It was created by This American Life, which has one million downloads per episode.
Also from This American Life is Planet Money From NPR, a show that discusses the economy. POD Saves America covers subjects of interest politics and other topics in an off-the-cuff manner. It’s not a pre-scripted show, which makes it not as dry as some podcasts can be, especially if the host is the only speaker throughout the episode.
Podcast popularity is determined by subject matter and demographics. A niche show can be extremely popular with hobbyists, and a general audience program can generate a following of hundreds or thousands.
As you can see, the answer to the question “are podcasts free?” is that for the most part, they are if you don’t care to pay. You can access a plethora of podcasts for free or you can choose to pay. The best thing about podcasts is it’s not like many music apps that charge 99-cents or $1.99 per song. Even if you do choose to subscribe as a premium member, you won’t be paying a per-episode fee. You might find some podcast players that limit the number of downloads per subscription, but overall, it’s well worth the money if you’re an avid podcast listener.
Most podcasters have other ways to monetize their programs, such as through sponsorship during the fade-in or fade-out of an episode or by airing a 30- or-60-second ad, usually at the beginning or end of the show. Some podcasters crowdfund or use patron sponsorship, which can result in a lucrative monthly income.
No matter how they monetize their shows, podcasters know that to be heard, they need to be free. Even with the pitfalls of radio, a podcaster does compete as national broadcasters such as NPR offers podcasts of some of its most popular programs. While it’s an unusual step for the radio industry, it is a strong indicator that podcasts are becoming a broadcasting frontrunner and is no longer considered a passing fad.