Podcasts have taken off in a huge way since the term was first coined in 2004. The definition of a podcast was initially a combination of iPod and broadcast, but in the age of smartphones the medium has really come into its own — but what is a podcast, exactly?
We’ve put together this guide for the uninitiated, covering everything you need to know to start listening to great podcasts. Learn what podcasts are, how to listen to them, and more!
What is a podcast?
A podcast is a digital audio file that you can download or stream via an internet connection on a number of devices. Although you can sometimes listen to them live as they are recorded, typically they are pre-recorded and edited before release.
You can think of them as radio for the 21st century, but there is no standard format or length. They can range from talk shows to audio dramas to language lessons to deep dives, with everything in between. Some of them even release video episodes alongside the standard audio.
Podcasts can range from just a few episodes to hundreds of episodes, and all players make it easy to subscribe to your favorite shows. Subscribing means you’ll always be up to date with the latest episodes as they’re released. Depending on the podcast, that could mean anything from once daily to once every few months.
Are podcasts free?
Yes, they are free. Although some of them release special episodes for listeners who support the show financially, the whole point of podcasting is to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Some podcasts or podcast apps might charge a fee for ad-free episodes.
Most of them make money by taking sponsorships and including advertisements. Like radio, these are typically inserted in short commercial breaks during the episode. Others, like BBC, are at least partially financed by governments or other organizations.
Some podcasts or podcast apps might charge a fee for ad-free episodes, but this is usually not required to listen.
How do you listen to podcasts?
There are a number of ways to listen on your computer, smartphone, or smart home device. Odds are if it has a speaker or headphone jack, you can listen to podcasts on it.
We recommend listening on your phone, since you’re more likely to have it with you, but if you prefer podcasts with video you might want to watch it on your computer. Regardless, make sure you’re on Wi-Fi when you stream or download episodes as they can chew through your data!
How to listen on an iPhone or Android smartphone:
- (iPhone only) Open the pre-installed Podcasts app.
- Download and open any of a number of great podcast apps on Android or iOS.
- Open Siri or Google Assistant and say “Play (podcast name)” or similar.
How to listen on your computer:
- Navigate to the podcast’s website and click play.
- Listen on Spotify, TuneIn, Apple Podcasts, or any number of streaming services.
How to listen on a smart home device:
- Activate your device and say “Play (podcast name)” or similar.
What are the best ones?
The best ones for you to listen to will depend heavily on what you’re interested in. Nowadays there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts to choose from, with tens of millions of episodes already published. No matter what niche interest you have, there’s probably a podcast for it.
If you just want to test the waters, there are a number of great networks that publish only the highest quality content. Hop over to their websites or find them in your favorite podcast app to see what they have to offer. Here’s a shortlist of networks that we like:
That’s it for our basic primer to podcasts. Hopefully you now know what a podcast is and can start listening right away!