1. Verdusco, Louis Michael PhD, MA, BA, AAA

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Q: I keep hearing about podcasts, but hate to admit-I don't know what they are or how to access them.


The word "podcasting" was the Oxford American Dictionary word of the year in 2005. This provides some perspective of how long podcasts have been available. In the beginning they were harder to find and if you were listening to them, it likely meant you were at least a bit of a geek. This has changed; podcasts are now readily available and cover so many topics, you could fill your phone, tablet, or computer with more than you could possibly consume. This on-demand publishing media has matured to a point that it has gone mainstream and is not just for the geeks.


Podcasts are similar to radio or television shows but they are made available through the Internet. Unlike traditional media, podcasts offer a wider variety of content and programming because the podcast producers are willing to support smaller audiences. Traditional media measures audiences in the millions, whereas podcast producers measure them in the thousands. The formats can include informational content, music, talk shows, training, and story telling. These programming formats cover a wide spectrum of categories including; hobbies, politics, technology, health, education, comedy, culture, business, and medicine. There are podcasts for all interests.


What makes podcasts compelling, is the minimal personal investment. To listen to podcasts you need just a few things: a device (smartphone, tablet, or computer), software to play them, and a topic you are interested in. There are both audio only and audio/video podcasts. The audio only, which is more common, is great for listening while driving or getting things done around the house. In other words, anywhere you could listen to the radio. The video-based podcasts require more visual attention and are more akin to television programming. The show quality varies based on the source. The podcasts may come from an individual who is passionate about a certain topic. Podcasts are also produced by large production companies or organizations associated with traditional media outlets. National Public Radio (NPR), British Broadcasting Network (BBC), Revision3 (Discovery Digital Network), and PRI (Public Radio International) all produce shows that are released in podcast format. Most recently story-based podcasts providing episodic content similar to old radio programming have become popular. Serial is a recent example of a very popular story-telling podcast.


One of the consumer advantages of podcasts is that they are low-cost or free. Similar to radio or television, financial support is often provided by advertisers who pay for commercial placement in the shows. Alternatively, the producer may use a support model similar to public radio where they request donations. If you find that you enjoy a podcast that requests donations, you may want to provide some financial support to express interest and to support continued programming.


Now, how do you get started? You can locate and subscribe to podcasts using an application (app) on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. There are apps you can purchase for managing your podcast subscriptions, but it is likely best to start with a free application. On iOS (iPhone or iPad), there is a built-in application named Podcasts, but free alternatives are also available from the App Store, such as Overcast (iOS). For Android phones and tablets, two popular free options are Player FM (Android) and Podcast Addict (Android). To subscribe to podcasts on your computer, you can download Apple's iTunes (Mac/Windows). There are other desktop applications, but iTunes may be the easiest with which to get started. In addition, many television-based media boxes and smart TVs provide built-in options for podcasts. Your phone, tablet, or computer would likely be the best place to get started though. Then once you get started, you can always explore other options to locate and consume your podcasts.


After you have decided which device and software will work best for you it is time to find shows of interest. To find podcasts that match your interests, all the applications mentioned above provide search and discovery features. You can search by name or keyword, or explore by topics that will allow you to locate individual episodes or subscribe to shows. A quick search of iTunes found many podcasts for physical, occupational, and speech therapists; nurses and social workers; as well as disease-specific podcasts such as stroke, knee replacement, and Parkinson disease. Some universities even offer podcasts of popular courses.


Another consideration in choosing podcasts is average playtime. Some shows will be as short as 5 minutes, whereas others are as long as 2 hours, and all times in between. Podcast applications will keep episodes until they have been played, which allows you to play them at your convenience. When you subscribe to a podcast, these applications will also automatically download new episodes as they become available. This makes podcasts extremely convenient to enjoy and ensures you don't miss an episode.


In addition to the many independent podcasters who produce one or two individual shows, podcast networks are forming that are similar to the television broadcast networks. There are networks such as 5by5 that provide broad topic-based programming including culture, news, and productivity. Then there are networks that are more narrowly focused on a single topic and cover multiple aspects of that subject matter. is a network that focuses on technology with shows specific to Window, Macs, iOS, Android, home entertainment, and also general technology news. Some of the networks are sponsored by traditional media companies such as NPR, BBC Radio, Revision3 (Discovery Digital Network), and PRI. The many options provide a variety of topics in both audio and video to choose from based on your personal interests.


Podcasts are convenient, easy to find, are usually free, provide a variety of material similar to traditional media outlets like television, and are more varied in content than ever. If you have a smartphone, tablet, or computer, you can find specific and general topics that match your personal and professional interests. As you know, home care professionals spend a lot of time in the car. Listening to podcasts is one way to make this time productive and interesting. If you have not yet tried podcasts, this is a great time to get started.