What Is a Podcast?

As obsessed as I am with podcasts (including plans to create my own soon!), it turns out that many people don’t really understand what a podcast is. Even those who say they know what a podcast is have some misconceptions when pressed on the subject.

In my quest to share the brilliance and beauty of podcasts with you, I provide some simple definitions, instructions and myth-busting below to help you answer the question: What is a podcast?

A woman in a yellow sweater lies back on a couch. She is wearing green headphones and holding her phone in her hand, listening to a podcast.

In July, I attended the inspiring and educational Podcast Movement conference in Philadelphia for the first time. As part of a keynote session, Edison Research presented the following new survey results:

  • 64% of people in the U.S. 18 and older—a total of 180 million people—are familiar with the term “podcasting” in 2018. That’s a huge increase from just 22% in 2006.
  • Only 17% of people in 2018 listened to a podcast in the past week.
  • Only 27% of people familiar with podcasting are regular listeners.
  • 48% are not sure how to listen to a podcast.
  • 65% said there are so many podcasts they don’t know where to start.

The research illustrated that there are a lot of misconceptions and perceived barriers to listening to podcasts. So, here are several podcasts truths so you begin to enjoy and learn from podcasts:

1. Podcasts are not strictly recorded radio shows.

Yes, you can listen to your favorite NPR or other radio shows later via a podcast app, but most podcasts are completely different from that. There are true crime dramas, business podcasts, fictional stories (like old-time radio shows) and podcasts on any topic under the sun. Sometimes there is just one host talking to you, sometimes there are two hosts having a conversation and/or sometimes there is a host or two with a Q&A with a guest. What’s your favorite thing to do? There’s a podcast for that. Some of my favorite podcasts are:

  • What Should I Read Next?: Host Anne Bogel interviews a guest in each episode about their reading lives. They share three books they love and one book they hate, and Anne recommends three books to them based on that info.
  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin: author of “The Happiness Project”
  • Happier in Hollywood: with Gretchen’s sister, Liz Craft and her writing partner, Sarah Fain
  • Ear Hustle: an award-winning, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, podcast that brings you stories of life inside San Quentin State Prison
  • Crime Writers On: Four true-crime authors and journalists hilariously debate and review true-crime TV shows, movies and other podcasts.

2. Most podcasts are free.

The idea that you have to “subscribe” to a podcast is confusing to many. In reality, you can download or stream individual episodes on your smartphone, tablet or computer at any time—all for free. You don’t have to subscribe. However, if you do subscribe that just means that you sign up so that when a new episode of that podcast is out, it automatically downloads to your phone, all for free. There are certain podcast platforms that you can pay a fee to and they provide special podcasts to only those who pay. But for most of us, that’s unnecessary.

3. If you have a smartphone, then you have a podcast app.

This is also confusing. The Edison Research showed that 80% of people said their phone did not have a podcast app. Eighty percent! We have a long way to go to continue to educate people. Every iPhone comes automatically with the Apple podcast app; it’s a purple square that says Podcasts under it. Plus, other apps, like Spotify, also play podcasts. I use the free app Overcast because I like its functionality more than the Apple app. If you have an Android, Google just released a new podcast app for you, but there are others for Android too.

4. It’s easy to find podcasts.

To find a podcast, Google topics you like or search in the “search” function of your podcast app. There are also recommendation lists in Apple or other apps. Or ask your podcast friends! I’m happy to help with recommendations.

5. You can take podcasts with you.

You listen to podcasts just as you would music. I love to listen to podcasts on my iPhone (on speaker) when I get ready in the morning, when I’m folding laundry or putting away dishes, when I’m walking/exercising (with earbuds) and whenever I’m driving (via Bluetooth). (That’s a lot of podcasting!) Podcasts are often weekly, and the episodes come out the same day every week, helping listeners make them a habit. Podcast-obsessed people often look forward to that day of the week to hear the new episode. “What Should I Read Next?” comes out every Tuesday, and I like to save it to listen to when I’m walking—which motivates me to get outside and exercise.

Have you ever listened to a podcast? Which ones do you love?

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