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What is a Podcast? A Beginner’s Guide

What is a Podcast?

Let’s answer the question immediately: What is a podcast? To put it as simply as possible, podcasts are like radio programs, but they aren’t live. Instead they are pre-recorded audio files that you can download or stream on your phone or computer to listen to on demand.

Most podcasts fall into two categories: conversations or storytelling – but they can be anything really. There’s even a podcast called The Walking Podcast with no words, just the sounds of journalist Jon Mooallem walking through the woods.

Table of Contents:

How Do Podcasts Work

Podchaser page for the Invisibilia podcast

Essentially podcasts work by someone recording audio and then sharing that recording, but to break it down a bit more, here are the steps:

First, someone records an audio file. Then they have to attach that audio file to an RSS feed. Since RSS feeds are a pretty technical process, most podcasters hire a hosting provider to handle all the logistics. Typically this costs a small monthly fee but there are some free hosting providers as well.

Once the hosting provider has a dedicated RSS feed URL for the podcast, the Podcaster edits this feed with all their art, branding, descriptions, episode titles, and metadata.

On the listener side, RSS feeds are way too technical as well. To actually listen to the podcasts using these RSS feeds, listeners use a podcast app or directory like Podchaser, Podcast Guru, or Apple Podcasts. Podcasters submit their RSS feeds to these directories, which turn the RSS code into a simple interface for the listener.

The listener can then search in that app to listen, subscribe, or follow their favorite podcasts.

A Very Brief History of Podcasts

Podcasts technically began in the 1980s, but back then they were known as audioblogs. But podcasting as we know it began in 2004 when Guardian journalist Ben Hammersly invented the term podcast as a portmanteau of the words iPod and broadcast.

Podcasts have steadily increased in popularity since their beginning, but they exploded into the mainstream in 2014, when the first season of the true-crime podcast Serial broke records with 68 million downloads.

Now podcasting has fully matured into a popular medium with 104 million Americans listening every month

Who Makes Podcasts?

One of the reasons podcasting has been so successful is that anyone can make one. Many podcasts are just a few friends chatting around their kitchen table, while others are produced in studios by huge companies with a large budget.

Here are a few examples of who makes podcasts:

  • Individuals
  • Small and large businesses
  • Podcast networks
  • Comedians
  • Journalists
  • TV Networks

How Do I Listen to Podcasts?

Podchaser episode page for "Uncomfortable with Power" by the Invisibilia podcast

Look no further than the site you’re already on. Podchaser is the world’s most comprehensive podcast database, and we’re designed to help listeners find their favorite podcasts.

To find podcasts on Podchaser, browse by category, rating, creators, user-made lists, or search for topics you’re already interested in.

Here’s a few short tutorials to find podcasts on Podchaser:

Popular podcast players

 There are many apps, websites, and directories available that allow you to listen to podcasts on any device. Here’s a few popular ones for you to check out:

How Do I Follow or Subscribe to a Podcast?

The vast majority of podcasts are episodic, where new installments in the series come out on a regular basis. Most podcasts release new episodes every week, but every show is different. To stay on top of all the latest releases, most listeners follow or subscribe to their favorite podcasts.

If you follow or subscribe to a podcast, you’ll receive notifications about new episodes so you don’t have to hunt down the show every time.

Podchaser allows you to follow any show you like, and even allows you to follow specific creators. Following a creator will notify you whenever that creator guests on other podcasts, making sure you don’t miss any content involving your favorite podcasters.

Most podcast player apps also have the ability to subscribe to specific podcasts. To get started, we recommend using Podcast Guru.

1. Stuff You Should Know 

Podcast cover artwork for Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know teaches you about – everything. Seriously, from tupperware, to kidney stones to blimps, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark hilariously teach you how stuff works.

2. Serial

Podcast cover artwork for Serial

True Crime is one of the most popular genres of podcasts, and Serial is the podcast that established the genre. The first season covers the murder of high-schooler Hae Min Lee and is gripping from beginning to end.

3. The Daily 

Podcast cover artwork for The Daily

The Daily is a daily news show from The New York Times. It’s a great way to get in-depth knowledge about the news of the day while commuting or cooking.

4. WTF with Marc Maron

Podcast cover artwork for WTF with Marc Maron

Marc Maron is a stand-up comedian and a podcast pioneer. He’s been interviewing comedians and celebrities (including Barack Obama) since 2009, and is still one of the most popular podcasters today.

How Do I Rate or Review a Podcast?

There are millions of podcasts, so for new listeners, it’s really hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Luckily, Podchaser lets you rate and review podcasts and episodes, and see other people’s ratings. It’s a great way to not only share great shows with other listeners but also to track your own listening habits.

To rate or review a show on Podchaser:

  1. Click the Rate button or Podchaser stars on any podcast or episode page.
Screenshot of where rating and review UI elements exist on Podchaser's podcast pages

2. In the modal, click the stars to leave your rating (1-5). Then type your review into the text box below.

Example of where to add a rating when reviewing a podcast on Podchaser

3. Select the Tags tab in the lower-left corner. Type a few unique tags that will help others find this episode. Then click Save.

Example of how to add tags to a podcast when reviewing an episode on Podchaser

4. Once you submit your rating and review, it will immediately display on the podcast or episode page.

Screenshot showing where podcast reviews show on podcast pages on Podchaser

How Do I Start a Podcast ?

We’ve written a bunch of articles for beginners looking to start their own podcasts. Give them a read!

Frequently Asked Questions about Podcasts:

Are podcasts free?

Mostly, yes. The large majority of podcasts are available for free. There are a few podcasts that require a paid subscription or service, while some podcasts hide bonus content behind a paywall. This is the exception to the rule though.

How many podcasts are there?

As of April 2022, there are more than 4 million podcasts.

The word podcast was actually 2005’s Word of the Year, back when people listened on iPods. It was still pretty niche however. Almost a decade later after incremental growth, podcasting hit a tipping point and became mainstream during 2014-2016.

Is there an IMDb of podcasting, where I can find ratings, reviews, credits, and user-curated lists? 

Yes! It’s called Podchaser. Check it out

Time to Find your First Favorite Podcast!

To summarize: a podcast is a pre-recorded audio file hosted on the internet that listeners can subscribe to and listen to using an app or directory (like Podchaser). It’s often spoken word content but can really be anything.  Podcasts are incredibly popular and are here to stay!

Now that you understand, “what is a podcast?” All that’s left to do is get started listening! Explore Podchaser for any topics or celebrities you enjoy, and click play on any episode. It’s a whole wide world of audio entertainment