Versatility of podcasts offers new sources of online information

By ALEXANDER B. PEARCE

Once upon a time, everyone would gather around the radio in the evening to listen to the nightly news and catch their favorite radio serials. Those days are long gone, of course, with fewer people tuning into radio stations each year. But the new medium of podcasting has seen a huge boom in popularity over the past few years, bringing back the spirit of old-time radio shows that both entertained and educated audiences.

Podcasting falls into a similar niche as dabblers in ham radio and public access television. The equipment needed to start a podcast is readily available and mostly affordable, allowing anyone to make their voices heard over the internet. Huge communities of podcasters and fans interact across the information highway, providing how-to guides and tips for beginners. Quality shows are relatively easy to produce with moderate equipment provided the hosts work diligently on their product.

While not journalism per se, podcasters fill a very similar role to trade publications. Since they aren’t primarily run by major companies, they can focus on incredibly niche topics and offer scathing opinions without fear of blacklisting or professional retribution.

Essentially every topic you can imagine has an in-depth podcast about it, often with hours of archives for new users to delve into.

New to the world of woodworking? Try listening to some of the Woodworking Online Podcasts. Are you an avid knitter looking for something listen to while you work on that afghan? Give Cast On a listen. A fan of raunchy humor and role-playing games? You’ve got a wide variety of choices available, including Brilliant Gameologists, This Modern Death and Narrative Control.

All of these podcasts are produced by everyday people who happen to have a passion for something and the technical know-how to put together their own show. These shows offer an interesting look into the sub-communities they represent, but often suffer from inconsistency since podcasting takes a backseat to everyday life.

But major corporations and news services are wise enough to get in on the act as well, capable of producing a much sleeker product with more consistency than those produced by inspired individuals. CNN releases much of its unused content in podcast form, both so that people can easily watch what they missed and so that people can save their favorite clips for the future.

Discovery Company produces a series of successful podcasts under the How Stuff Works brand. Their most successful program, Stuff You Should Know, is designed to have all the familiarity and comedy of two friends making a podcast on their own but has all of the credibility and funding a major organization can provide.

Podcasting is a new step in the world of media, available to the general public and used just as often to both disperse national news as well as offer opinions on the latest in yarn and whittling.

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