'Podcast' your world
Digital technology for iPod does for radio what blogs did for the Internet.
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A quick browse through podcast directories such as ipodder.org or podcast.net lists shows that range from amateur radio plays and poetry readings to movie reviews and shows devoted to car talk. One can subscribe to podcasts such as "Coverville," a show devoted to odd and obscure cover versions of well-known songs; "Daily Grind Coffee," a peek into high school life by a teenager who'd rather be podcasting than doing homework; or "Folkden," a roots-music podcast hosted by Roger McGuinn, onetime guitarist for the Byrds.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course, there are dozens of podcasts in which cyberspace versions of Jack Handy ramble on with deep thoughts about life, the universe, and everything. That's hardly surprising given that many of the early adopters of podcasting are bloggers who are now creating, in effect, audio blogs. Like the popular online journals that have exploded on the Internet in recent years, podcasts are often informal, untidy, spontaneous, and diverse in scope.
Though podcasting is dominated by talk, the MP3 medium may prove to be a vital force for music.
At present, terrestrial radio stations tend to structure their playlists to offend the least number of people so that audiences will stay tuned for the next group of commercials. That format has alienated listeners who crave more eclectic, less predictable fare on the airwaves.
Chris MacDonald, founder of Indiefeed, is optimistic about podcasting's potential to become an alternative to traditional music radio. His website allows subscribers to sign up to receive free, single-song podcasts by independent artists in genres ranging from hip-hop to blues. Each song is preceded by a brief introduction including information on where to purchase the artist's music.
"There's a variety of places you can spend time learning about new, uncovered music," says Mr. MacDonald. "But what we realized is that there are very few places where it's distributed in an automatic fashion."
Podcasters who develop a reputation for playing innovative, cutting-edge music will become trusted intermediaries between the listener and musician, says Dave Winer, a creator of the iPodder software.
Many observers expect podcasts to become as diverse and niche-oriented as the world of blogs. In theory, listeners will be able to pick and choose from a menu of shows that cater to their interests. They'll also be able to subscribe to downloads that provide news from the stock market or updates on developments in a particular industry. And one will soon be able to access podcasts on a standard-issue cellphone.
"I venture there's about 33 million MP3 players out there, and after Christmas when everyone has their new cellphone, there's another 600 million cellphones that have MP3 capability - and they have a network connection," says Adam Curry, who along with Winer developed iPodder.
Mr. Curry believes that these developments will challenge the dominance of terrestrial radio.
Maffin agrees that podcasting will shake up radio - but in a good way. The download medium provides stations with a new outlet for their shows. If the content is good enough, stations may even be able to charge consumers for downloading individual shows, just as some listeners now pay a premium for satellite radio.
There's a term that sums up the future of podcasting: niche radio.
On terrestrial or satellite radio, one can tune into a dozen formats or maybe even five dozen formats. But with podcasting, everybody is a format of one, says Jesse Walker, a managing editor at Reason magazine and author of "Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America."
"Podcasting is just making it easier for this new set of niche listeners and this new set of producers to find each other," he says.