The mechanics of a podcast

File photo: Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a Google phone displaying a podcast of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

File photo: Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a Google phone displaying a podcast of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Published Mar 27, 2012


Berlin - The hype about podcasts has faded as they've become part of everyday life. But the growing eminence of smartphones means it is becoming ever easier to access these homemade audio and video clips.

The word podcast stems from Apple's iPod. But podcasts are by no means limited to that kind of MP3 player. Computers, laptops, tablets, MP3 players and smartphones can all play podcasts.

“Podcasts usually contain free media content that can be downloaded,” explains Fabio Bacigalupo, who has operated the German website for eight years.

About 80 percent of what's on offer are audio podcasts. That's because, unlike video podcasts, these can be produced more cheaply and easily.

It's fairly easy to make a podcast. The important thing to remember while doing so is to make sure you have something to say. Distribution is also key.

“It's important that listeners be able to subscribe to the podcast, because the subscription is really what makes a podcast a podcast,” says Bacigalupo. Those subscriptions can be updated with the software Podcatcher, which check the newsfeeds of podcast websites for new entries to be downloaded.

The podcast boom began in 2004. “That's when fast internet connections were being built everywhere and the gear for audio recordings was affordable. The technical possibilities were there to create the content and to download it regularly,” says Tobias Arns, who runs the social media and mobile department of Bitkom, a German technology industry association.

“Since every receiver can also become a broadcaster, podcasts quickly became linked to the kind of hope that was seen in the early days of the radio.” Those days have since faded. “A lot of the functions have migrated to social networks.” But it's a little early to give up on all the early euphoria.

“Now it's really starting,” says Bacigalupo. “That's because of the wide penetration of mobile devices like smartphones and flat mobile internet rates, which mean you can download podcasts when you're underway and listen to them right away.”

There is a wide selection. “But there's still a lot of garbage out there, since anyone can put their podcast online,” says Munich-based podcaster and journalist Larissa Vassilian, who goes by the alias Annik Rubens. “I'm always worried that someone who doesn't know much about podcasts is just going to root aimlessly around and not find anything interesting.”

But you shouldn't be scared off by the variety out there, especially since there are a lot of indexes to provide guidance. “Itunes is definitely the most comprehensive podcast index, but you need to download the right software for it,” says Vassilian.

Whichever you choose, there ought to be a topic out there that suits you. “There's everything from film criticism to recipes to technology and fashion themes. There's an unbelievable number of niches focused upon,” says Arns.

And people don't have to feel that being an audience member is the only role available to them with podcasts. It doesn't take a lot of work to publish yourself and build up your own channel.

“The most important thing is to have a topic and approach the topic with some enthusiasm,” says Bacigalupo. “Sometimes there are discussions with a group of people, sometimes it's an individual discussing his topic.”

But podcasts don't have to have a rigid format. They can be different every day or every week, the experts say. “If it doesn't work, then it's usually because a person didn't have enough tenacity to produce the podcasts regularly.”

At least there are very few technical hurdles. “You don't really need a big technological outlay,” says Vassilian, who was one of the first podcasters in 2005. “A laptop with an integrated microphone or an iPhone can usually be more than enough.”

Freeware like Audacity can be used for editing audio podcasts. Make sure that the podcasts aren't so crackly and full of hissing that no-one can understand you.

There are also a lot of people in the media industry who help others with their podcasts. “A lot of podcasts are being produced by people who also work in the media, or media companies are creating shows that are available as podcasts,” says Arns.

To distribute the podcast, you need a little online space for a website. And you should get yourself registered in an index. Bacigalupo notes that registering is free, but that different services have a variety of pros and cons.

“At iTunes, you absolutely need a logo, you have to have more than one episode, and the podcasts are checked to make sure they meet technical specifications,” he says. Other sites simply check to make sure content doesn't violate local laws.

Once you get past that, nothing should really stand in the way of your podcasting career, providing you have something to say. - Sapa-dpa

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