What’s a podcast?
A podcast is an audio show, usually spread across a series of episodes, which can be downloaded from the Internet and listened to either on a computer or an Mp3 player. The term, which was coined in 2004, is portmanteau of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’.
Who makes them?
Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can make and freely distribute podcasts, making it a bracingly democratic and vibrant medium. In the early days of podcasting, it was largely an amateur concern – the Internet’s answer to CB radio – but in the last few years dozens of major broadcasters, magazines and news organisations have rolled out large-scale podcast operations of their own.
Are they free?
Yes, almost entirely. Some podcast makers, like Marc Maron, have recently started to charge for access to their archives, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.
How can I find them?
If you've got a smartphone or tablet, the easiest way to find and listen to podcasts is through a dedicated podcasting app. Dozens are available; if you're unsure where to start, I can recommend Pocket Casts, which is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
On a computer, the most popular way to find and listen to podcasts is through Apple’s iTunes software, which has a dedicated podcast section listing thousands of different episodes and programme strands; and a built in system for downloading episodes and transferring them to an iPod or iPhone.
Podcasts are also widely available on the Web; typically a podcast creator will upload their content to a website (for instance, the BBC’s podcast website), where users can either listen online or manually download the files. A quick Google search ("This American Life", e.g.) will usually bring up the relevant page.
What’s an Internet radio station?
An Internet radio station is like a terrestrial station except that instead of being broadcast over the airwaves it reaches listeners via the Internet. Many Internet radio stations also broadcast conventionally in their countries of origin and run a simultaneous Internet broadcast so that people elsewhere in the world can tune in (Argentina’s FM Tango, for instance). There are also a multitude of dedicated Internet radio stations, which broadcast only in cyberspace.
Listen to our new guide to digital radio: The Pod Couple
The Telegraph has launched a new weekly audio guide to the best podcasts and digital radio, hosted by our award-winning radio critic Gillian Reynolds and our podcast expert Pete Naughton. It's called The Pod Couple and you can find it here.
How can I listen to Internet radio?
There are three main ways to tune in to an Internet radio station.
- Firstly, you can visit the Website of a station; there’s usually a ‘listen now’ button somewhere prominent on the home page, which will open up a window with a radio player in it. There are also a variety of Websites like shoutcast.com which allow users to browse through and listen to a large selection of different stations.
- Secondly, there are a handful of useful radio apps for smartphones (TuneIn Radio is a popular choice) which enable users to search a large global index of radio stations and listen on their phones.
- Thirdly, some high-end DAB radios now also come with an Internet radio function, where they can connect to a user’s WiFi network and stream the stations directly, without the need for a computer.
Do I need a computer for all of this?
Podcasts and Internet radio both require listeners to have Internet access; so you’ll need, at the very least, an Internet-ready device like a smartphone or a tablet. Users without Internet access could still access podcasts by downloading them on a friend’s computer and then transferring them to an Mp3 player, which are now available for less than £20. Once downloaded, a podcast is just like any other audio file and can be kept indefinitely and listened to without the need for an Internet connection.