Around this time of year, public radio stations carve out a week for everyone's least favorite ritual: asking the audience for money.
As a public radio veteran with years of such pledge drives under my belt, I realize the existential importance of the activity. But as the executive producer of Slate's podcasting operation—essentially the world's tiniest radio network—I've also learned there are other ways an intelligent, engaged, and tech-savvy audience like ours can help keep the programming it enjoys from disappearing.
So this week, we're borrowing a page from our public radio friends for the first ever Slate Podcast Pledge Drive. But unlike the tote bag and toll-free number kind of pledge drive, our version doesn't require you to fork over one thin dime. Instead, we're asking for your endorsement.
We'd like each of our regular podcast listeners to get at least one other friend, colleague, or relative to sample the show you like the best. And if this new listener says to you, I don't know how to listen to a podcast, we want you to teach her just how easy it is. Educate her.Emphasize that you don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts. Tell her it's just like TiVo for audio (only better, because you don't have to schedule your own recordings). Use the magic word: All podcasts are free.
If we can show potential sponsors our audience is both enthusiastic and growing, they'll be much more likely to fund our new ideas and keep our existing shows paying for themselves.
Each of our major chat programs this week is making its own pitch and offering modest prizes for the best "conversion story" they receive via e-mail by Feb. 28, 2009. Check out their individual pages and listen to their latest shows to hear the details from each panel: "Hang Up and Listen," the "Culture Gabfest," "Money Talks," and the "Political Gabfest."
In the meantime, I've assembled a user's guide to podcasting. We hope this simple tutorial will help nudge any reluctant aunts or uncles into the blissful world of prerecorded audio programming (or, as you might want to pitch it to them, TiVo for radio).
Slate's 2010 Podcasting Guide
A podcast is simply a prerecorded audio or video file that you choose to receive on a regular basis. To download Slate'spodcasts (which are always free), you "subscribe" to the program in one of several ways. Here are some of the most popular.
From our Web pages: Every show embeds its most recent episodes in a show page, where you can listen with the click of a button. Here are the show pages: " Hang Up and Listen," the "Culture Gabfest," "Money Talks," and the "Political Gabfest."
iTunes: By far the most common way to subscribe to a podcast is through Apple's iTunes. Find the podcast you want in the iTunes store, click "subscribe," and you're done.
Once you subscribe, you can listen to the podcast on your computer by simply opening up iTunes and hitting play. If you want to listen on your iPod, iPhone, or a similar device, you need to plug it into your computer for regular downloads. While we wish this were simpler, the iTunes interface is easy to use, and it gets easier all the time.
Here's a complete list of the iTunes pages for Slate's podcasts:
(A quick, nerdy point—feel free to skip ahead: One recent improvement allows you to program different settings for each podcast. I might tell iTunes to keep just the most recent three episodes of a perishable, topical podcast like PBS's Washington Week, but I'll set it to save every episode of an ongoing series like the BBC's fabulous A History of the World in 100 Objects).
Zune: The Microsoft Zune player and supporting marketplace have become another good place to find and subscribe to podcasts. While not as full-service as iTunes, it does have a fairly good selection of popular podcasts. Here are several of ours in the Zune store: "Culture Gabfest," "Political Gabfest," "Hang Up and Listen," "Money Talks," "Audio Book Club," "Spoiler Specials."
Direct RSS Feed: Many people don't realize that a podcast is simply an RSS feed with links pointing to the audio file for each new episode. That means you can subscribe to a podcast anywhere you can subscribe to an RSS feed—and you can play the episodes right from Google Reader, MyYahoo!, or your feed reader of choice.
For example, when I insert the Political Gabfest feed into MyYahoo!, this appears on my browser home page every time I open the Web:
By clicking on the little speaker icon, you can play the episode right from your Yahoo! or Google home page.
To do this, you'll need the direct RSS feeds for each of our podcasts, so here they are:
Mobile Devices: It's now possible to receive podcasts directly on your smartphone—no plugging in to the computer required, provided you have some sort of Internet connection.
The iPhone makes this easier than most devices. Say you're away from your home computer but want a new episode of your favorite podcast right now. At the bottom of each podcast page you subscribe to, there's a button that says "Get More Episodes":
Click on this and you can access the latest episodes instantly, whether or not you've downloaded them on your home computer. Let's take "Hang Up and Listen." If you click the name of the episode (it will turn blue when you do), the show will stream over your cellular connection:
And if you're connected to Wi-Fi, you can actually download the podcast directly to your phone—no chance you'll lose your signal midway through the show, because it now resides on your hard drive.
There are a growing number of podcast apps for the iPhone and other smart phones that make finding and listening to prerecorded audio even easier:
Stitcher: This third-party app collects many of the Web's most popular podcasts (including Slate's) and makes them available for easy streaming. It has some drawbacks, but improves with each update. Plus, it's free.
NPR News App: This app combines prerecorded shows with live streams from various stations. Again, early versions have been a little clunky, but it's getting better and well worth a try.
SlatePodcast App: Soon you'll be able to buy a cheap iPhone app that consolidates all our podcasts for easy streaming wherever you are. Look for it in the next few weeks.
BlackBerry: For people who reject the cult of the iPhone, we recommend the BlackBerry version of the Stitcher app mentioned above. (It should work on newer, Web-enabled BBs.) It doesn't have every podcast you'll want to find, but it's a good place to start.
Android: Google's entry into the smartphone OS competition is popping up on more devices and winning converts. "Culture Gabfest" listener Jason Buberel wrote in to recommend an Android podcasting client called BeyondPod (which he says allows you either to stream or to download a podcast). I haven't tried it, but the video on the site makes it look pretty cool.
Do you have other favorite podcasting techniques? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.