Wednesday, May 30, 2012

WotW: Listen and Learn (or at least laugh)

I have a long commute to work every morning and it gets boring. For the longest time, I listened to the morning radio show, then I tried going through my long lost CD collection. Of course, I also plugged in my iPod and went through all those songs too, but I found myself getting sick of my music and wanting something different.

That's when I discovered podcasts. If you're not familiar with a podcast, it is basically an audio file that you can download, usually for free. It's almost like a throw back to the early days of radio, where you would listen to a radio program, except instead of being broadcast over radio waves, you download a file from the Internet and listen to it on whatever digital device you want.

There are hundreds of podcasts out there on any number of topics. Many podcasts are news and entertainment oriented, but there are many other specialty niche podcasts to choose from. Most podcast episodes last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour and they don't take up all that much space on your device.

So where do you get a podcast, anyway?
There are podcasts all over the Internet, but one of the easiest locations is iTunes. Even if you don't own an iPhone, iPod or iPad, you can still access podcasts through iTunes and then place them on any other digital device you may have.

Here's how to find them. First, open iTunes and go to the iTunes Store. Next, click on the Podcasts link in the top menu bar.

On the right-hand side of the Podcast store, there are some filters you can choose from to refine your search, or there's always the handy Search bar. If you're new to podcasting, I would start exploring what's available. A good place to start is the staff picks, which should show automatically in the main section of the Podcast store.

To view a podcast in more detail, simply click on the little album cover and you will be taken to the show's main page. Here, you can read brief descriptions about each episode, listen to the episode or even download.

One of my favorite podcasts is Freakonomics Radio, produced by one of the authors of the popular Freakonomics books. If you liked the book and/or the movie, you will definitely love this podcast. If you're not familiar with Freakonomics, you'll still probably love it. The episodes are usually pretty short, extremely interesting and highly entertaining. You'll come away with all sorts of new information. I'm always telling people about what I learned on this podcast.

Take a look at the Freakonomics page on iTunes. On the left, you'll notice you can subscribe to the podcast in much the same way you subscribe to a blog. This way, anytime a new episode is posted (usually about once a week is standard in the podcasting world), you will be alerted and can easily download it.

In the large middle area you see all the episodes. To give an episode a quick listen, simply hover over the episode number and a play button will appear which will allow you to stream the episode without downloading. If you decide you like it, you can click the FREE button on the right side of the page and it will download it to your device. That simple.

I usually download a slew of podcasts every couple weeks and that keeps me stocked and listening to something more productive and educational than the radio.

My Favorites
I'm kind of a nerd, and a history buff at that, so a few of my favorite podcasts are:

  • The History of Rome (a thorough review of the history of Rome that's interesting and not dry)
  • Freakonomics Radio (explore the hidden side of everything)
  • How Stuff Works (sometimes hit and miss, but you'll probably learn something)
  • How Stuff Works: What You Missed in History Class (interesting topics, though sometimes dry)
  • Nerdist (I hesitate to put this because of the profanity level, but he does have big-name stars)
If you're a big NPR junkie, there are enough and to spare of those podcasts available for download as well.

Podcasts typically download in MP3 format, which is nice because you can put them on practically any mobile device, including your phone.

Besides podcasts, there's a similar idea called vodcasts, or video podcasts. These are like short video episodes. Now, my podcast time is while I'm driving, so a vodcast doesn't do me a whole lot of good, but if you want to give it a go, try out The Onion News Network.

Podcasts are a lot of fun if you're willing to give them a try. It's a lot like watching a new TV show. You go into it with an open mind and hope to be entertained. If you are, you're hooked. If not, find something else, and fortunately, there are thousands of options. Happy listening.
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