What Are Podcasts, And How Do I Listen? A Beginner's Guide From VPR

May 2, 2017

The boom in podcast popularity may have you wondering: What exactly are podcasts, where do I find them, and how do I listen?

If you’ve tuned into public radio over the past couple of years, there’s a very high chance you’ve heard of podcasts. VPR makes them, and so does NPR, along with countless other media outlets. Many public radio fans have come along for the ride and become avid podcast listeners.

If you’re new to podcast listening, here are some basics to get you started.

What are podcasts?

In a nutshell, a podcast is a radio show that you can listen to whenever you want.

Similar to public radio programs, podcasts are a way to share audio stories, interviews and more. Unlike radio, podcasts can be listened to “on demand." That means you can listen to whatever podcast you’d like whenever you want — pausing, rewinding, and restarting as you please.

Podcasts began gaining popularity more than 10 years ago as iPods grew in popularity. The word "podcast" is combination of "iPod" and "broadcast," which reflects the way listeners would download these broadcasts from the web and listen to them on a mobile device. 

From a tech perspective, here’s how they work: Podcasts live online as a sound file. If you subscribe to podcast — like you would a magazine — the newest episodes will be delivered right to your device when they're available. If you prefer to listen to individual episodes of a bunch of different podcasts, you can pick and choose episodes based on your interests, just like getting a book from a library.  

If I already listen to public radio, why should I also listen to podcasts?

VPR’s program schedule is carefully selected to be the best possible public service to our 220,000 weekly listeners. But no matter what we do, we’ll never find a lineup that’s perfect for every listener in every way. Podcasts are the solution. They allow listeners to personalize their listening experience.

You could also think of podcasts as a new art medium ripe for exploration. Most podcasts combine interviews, narration, music and natural sound to create a diverse terrain of audio. The sensational soundscapes can create and enriching and intimate experience.  

Can I listen to a podcast of my favorite VPR programs?

A majority of the talk programs you hear on VPR and NPR are available as podcasts. VPR's Podcast Directory has more than a dozen of your favorite local programs in podcast form, such as Vermont Edition, our Commentary Series and Outdoor Radio.  

VPR also produces two programs that exist solely as podcasts:

  • But Why is a podcast for curious kids and their adults. Kids around the world ask questions and host Jane Lindholm finds the answers.
  • Brave Little State takes on questions from listeners about Vermont, our region and its people. Angela Evancie hosts this podcast that lets listeners vote on which Vermont-focused happenings and idiosyncrasies she should investigate.

Many of the NPR programs you hear on VPR are available as podcasts, too — like Fresh Air, On Point, BBC’s Newshour.

NPR's podcast directory has many of the programs you hear on VPR, and much more.
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The music programs you hear on VPR are more challenging to adapt into podcasts, due to music streaming rights. But we do have on-demand music content available!

  • VPR’s James Stewart hosts Timeline, a podcast that travels through the history of Western musical tradition.
  • The Live From The Fort podcast features dynamic music from contemporary Vermont bands performed live at VPR’s Colchester studio.
  • All The Traditions and My Place are available in the VPR Replay stream, but are not available as podcasts.

How do I access my podcast of choice?

There’s no one way to access podcasts. If you’re totally new to podcasting, VPR’s Podcast Directory might be the most comfortable place to start. Using our directory, you can listen to podcasts the same way you would stream a news story on our website — all you have to do is click the play button. If you want new episodes to be sent directly to your email inbox, you can subscribe to the podcast’s RSS feed.

If you want to listen to podcasts on-the-go via smartphone or tablet, there are a vast variety of podcast apps you can download. Every iPhone, iPad and iPhone comes with Apple’s Podcasts app already installed. It includes charts of popular podcasts so you can listen to what’s popular, or you can use the search function to look up podcasts by title or topic.

As for devices that run on the Android operating system, there is no preloaded podcast app. A wide variety of paid apps are available in the Google Play Store, but the most popular free podcast app is Podcast & Radio Addict. You can subscribe to whatever podcasts you’d like and the app will notify you when new episodes are available to stream or download.

You can stream podcasts when you have internet or mobile data connection, or you can download them for offline listening.

Podcast & Radio Addict is a popular free podcast apps for Android users.
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What other podcasts should I listen to?

You know what public radio programs you like, but may need help finding podcasts. This can be tricky, considering there are over 250,000 podcasts to choose from! RadioPublic is an app that allows you to input your interests and they will suggest podcasts based on your likes. Another helpful resource is The Big Listen, which is a podcast all about discovering podcasts!

Do I need to be active on social media to listen to podcasts?

No, you don’t! You do not need to be be active on social media or have any accounts in order to listen to podcasts. In March 2017, VPR participated in the #Trypod social media campaign, which encouraged people to introduce their friends to favorite podcasts. Even if you don’t have a social media account, you can search for #Trypod on social media platforms such as Twitter to find posts with people’s podcast recommendations.

Happy listening!

Did this inspire you to start listening to podcasts? Tell us what podcasts you like in the comments below or let us know here!