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'Podcast' your world

Digital technology for iPod does for radio what blogs did for the Internet.

By Stephen HumphriesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 10, 2004



Each afternoon, stay-at-home dad Dan Klass waits until his young daughter falls asleep and then dashes into a home-office that doubles as a broadcast studio.

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Hunched over a microphone, the former stand-up comedian uses the quiet time to record his very own amateur talk show titled "The Bitterest Pill." After an introductory tune that sounds like a mash-up between a mariachi band and the funk bass of the "Seinfeld" theme, the Los Angeles native launches into a breathless, free-form soliloquy that encompasses subjects such as child-rearing, politics, and an embarrassing encounter with Meg Ryan at a party. It ends when his daughter stirs in the next room.

Mr. Klass's month-old program is hardly a conventional radio show. For starters, it isn't broadcast on any of the nation's airwaves. Instead, Klass transmits his show in a format called "podcasting," a new Internet-based medium that has the potential to revolutionize the content of traditional radio as well as reshape our listening habits.

The idea behind a podcast is simple, yet brilliant. Instead of using portable MP3 players such as the iPod only for listening to music, new software called iPodder allows one to download prerecorded radio shows onto the devices.

Though several radio stations have begun podcasting shows, the medium's most visible impact has been empowering DJs like Klass to broadcast their own homemade radio shows with just a microphone, a computer, and a dash of brio.

"Aspiring writers and journalists have their blogs, aspiring movie directors have their Apple iMovies, and aspiring DJs/radio producers now have podcasting," says Reinier Evers, the founder of trendwatching.com, in an e-mail interview. "Podcasting allows for tens of thousands of new 'radio' stations - or, more likely, tens of thousands of radio programs."

It's a boon for audiences, too, because podcasting is the audio equivalent of TiVo. Once a listener logs onto an individual podcaster's website and signs up as a subscriber, each new program will automatically download to his digital player. That frees people to listen to shows on their schedule rather than the broadcaster's.

Podcasting is a radical way of looking at radio, says Tod Maffin, a technology futurist and producer at Canada's CBC radio.

"Instead of me listening to a single radio station for an entire day and picking up a dozen things that interest me, wouldn't it be great if I could tune to all of the world's public broadcasters and specify the particular types of content that I'm interested in," says Mr. Maffin.

Although the software that makes podcasting possible has been publicly available for only three months, radio stations are already exploring ways to exploit the medium. Several National Public Radio stations have been swift to make a few shows, including "This American Life," available as podcasts. Air America and the British Broadcasting Corporation have also launched their own podcasts.

For the most part, though, the medium's pioneers are do-it-yourselfers - people like Klass.

Five years ago, the L.A. podcaster did research on the requirements to set up a tiny radio station.

"The costs, obviously, are astronomical. And that's assuming you can find open space on the dial," says Klass. "When I heard about podcasting I thought, 'Oh my gosh ... I don't have to get permission from the FCC. I don't have to elbow in between Clear Channel and Clear Channel.' "

"The Bitterest Pill" benefits from smooth DJ banter that comes from Klass's prior experience at an FM college station. But most podcasts sound more like radio versions of public-access cable than like Garrison Keillor.

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