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What is a podcast?

Podcasting - The Basics

Danny Kelly (Podcaster) gives expert video advice on: What is a podcast?; How often are podcasts broadcast?; How did you become involved with podcasts? and more...

What is a podcast?

A podcast, technically, is a series of files that can be pushed - in the old language - to people, to their computers when they're subscribed, or which just sit there and people come and stream it. Also, a podcast is the individual program or piece of entertainment or information that people make. Podcasting is both the technical activity of sending out these pieces of information, and the activity of making the entertainment and the shows themselves.

How often are podcasts broadcast?

One of the beauties of podcasting is that you can do it as often as you'd like. The Times Online, The Game podcast, is actually a weekly digest of football and culture, a chat. When things got busy towards the end of the football season, for instance with the Chambus Lee file coming up, we were doing it twice a week. It's one of the beauties of podcasts, that they exist outside of traditional schedules. It is not impossible, if doing a podcast about something specific, that you could do it very regularly indeed. If you were doing, let's say a cycling podcast: professional cycling has a very limited rhythm in the winter months and suddenly gears up for the summer, and then during the Tour De France you'd be doing it four or five times a day.

How did you become involved with podcasts?

I became involved in podcasts by what is the still traditional route of radio. I was broadcasting on the BBC London about sport, and got offered to do the podcast, because people believe there are similar skills involved. There are, though there are a lot of other skills that you have to learn, new things that you have to learn for the podcast. Until now, people who have been doing the very successful podcasts - the big, professional ones, not the equally excellent and brilliant amateur bedroom ones, which have their own glory - have been either traditional radio broadcasters or, oddly enough, people who do stand-up comedy. That's why we've had very successful people like Ricky Gervais, whose podcast has gone around the world and been a huge success.

What do you need to record a podcast?

If you wanted to really boil it down, there are three things that you need; the process is three-pronged. You must have the means of getting the podcast out there, so you have to have a way of getting it onto iTunes or Wippets, or one of the many people who do this sort of thing. It's not my field of expertise. Somebody needs to do that and make sure you have it. You need to have some way of recording the podcast - that can vary from literally the stuff you've got in your computer - the average PC will have enough power to record your voice perfectly and adequately for the kind of files compressed the way they are produced on most modern podcasts. You need a way to get it delivered, you need something to record it on, and most of all you need something to say, and that's the critical thing. You can't - you could, but it's not advisable - go on, just sit there and babble, but people won't find that interesting. At the very least, you've got to have a structured idea of what it is you're going to say. Once you get going, like live radio or live television, where it goes is often down to the other people who are contributing, whether they be in the studio in your face, or on telephones, or through emails, but you need to have some kind of structure to start out with. Also, once you get it going, if you have furniture - people like to hear the theme music, and know they're in the right place. They've talked about this for a while - there's a stab, an interstitial, a piece of music that breaks the thing up; I know now that I can take a deep breath and we may come back to something else. These are the furniture or the road signs that make the listening experience better for people. There is one other thing that you should think about, and that is of course, bizarrely, people listening on certain devices - computers, handheld devices, even mobile phones - they have the ability these days to get some images. This is not the vodcasting, the sort of video podcasting, but just occasionally, for instance, when we interviewed the English footballer Michael Owen, pictures of Michael Owen kept coming up as you were listening to the podcast. As I said, essentially, you need a means of recording, a means of getting it to the people, and something to say.