Beginner’s Guide to Podcasts — What They Are & How to Listen

Beautiful woman relaxes on sofa and watches podcast on tablet pc, listening with green big earphones. Copy space

Are you in the roughly 30% of Americans who haven’t yet discovered podcasts? You’re in for a treat! 

While definitions vary, a podcast is generally described as an audio broadcast that is available online for listening and downloading. Podcasts are also categorised by their serial nature, with listeners subscribing to their favourite ‘shows’ so they can be alerted to new instalments.

Believe it or not, the now common term ‘podcast’ is actually a blending of the words ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’. This harkens back to the early days of podcasting when iPod technology was just taking off and allowing many music listeners to download audio files to their own devices for the first time. Podcasts have technically been around since the 1990s, but only really took the digital world by storm in 2004 due to improving technologies, such as RSS (Really Simple Syndicate), a tool for distributing content.

As of January 2020, there were around 850,000 active podcasts available online, comprising over 30 million individual episodes. One of the brilliant things about podcasts, such as this V1 Church podcast, is the sheer diversity of subject matter. Whether you’re interested in Hollywood history, true crime, baking, improving your finances, there truly is a podcast to suit everyone. 

Why are podcasts enjoying such a surge in popularity? One thought is that it ties into our universal love of stories. From childhood, our minds gravitate towards narratives and use them to help us make sense of the world. Podcasts strongly utilise this format, with even the more techy or scientific shows generally relying on anecdotes and personal experiences to frame the episode. This makes podcasts a great way to learn a new skill, as research has shown that we are up to 22% more likely to retain information presented in a narrative as opposed to facts alone.

Another reason that podcasts are growing more mainstream is the COVID-10 pandemic. We’ve spent the better part of the year at home, isolated from our peer groups. Many podcast hosts play the part of a surrogate friend, offering humour, warmth and companionship that resonates with our need to feel connected. Additionally, they’re a fun way to fill some of the time on our hands, offering a way to pick up a new hobby, learn a language or brush up on history from our living rooms.

Not only are podcasts extremely diverse in their scope, but they’re also very easy to access in 2021. There are a number of ways that you can discover and listen to podcasts. Here are the most popular:

1) Via a website

If you’re just dipping your toes into podcasts, a quick and easy way to begin is to use your regular web browser, such as Chrome, Firefox or Internet explorer. No need to get fancy with apps or downloads. Simply navigate to the official website of the podcast you’d like to listen to and play the audio directly from the player on the page. Keep in mind that this method has some limitations – for example, you can’t navigate away from this tab and continue listening.

2) Via your phone

For regular podcast listeners, mobile devices are the primary consumption method. If you’ve got an iPhone, you can use the inbuilt Apple Podcasts app to listen, but that’s not the only option. Popular music streaming service Spotify also hosts a huge number of podcasts that can be accessed via the app. For android users, the process is quite similar. However, instead of looking for the Apple Podcasts app, you’ll need to install a third-party app, such as Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Regardless of whether you’re listening on Android or Apple, most podcast apps have features that you can’t utilise when using a browser, such as the ability to bookmark or subscribe to podcasts you enjoy. This will help you keep track of your favourite podcasts and alert you when new episodes are available.

Once you’ve decided on your listening method, it’s time to hunt down some podcasts. Many apps, including Spotify, will let you browse new and popular podcasts, which is a good starting point for the uninitiated. For hidden gems, hit up your friends and ask what they’ve been listening to. If you find a podcast you particularly enjoy, Google the creator’s favourite podcasts to see where they got their inspiration. News outlets, like The Guardian, also routinely put out lists of intriguing podcasts they’ve come across throughout their reporting. 

With this beginner’s guide on hand, there’s nothing left to do but to plunge into the wonderful world of podcasts!