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Bloggers, Meet the Pod People

Local radio host Mark Levine (His tag line: "All the news from Washington that the government doesn't want you to know'') jumped mike-first into the on-demand audio movement a few months ago, podcasting his one-hour daily talk show that airs on Leesburg-based WAGE-AM (1200).

"I get about 5,000 people a month downloading my podcast, and that is growing," said Levine, whose podcasts are posted online at www.radioinsidescoop.com.

Podcasting Primer

• What is it? A podcast is an audio file specially formatted so that podcasting software programs can download it automatically and transfer it to an iPod or other portable media player.

• Where do I find podcasts? The Web has spawned several indexes of audio content, including www.podcastalley.com and www.podcastbunker.com.

• What do I need to receive a podcast? Free software for Windows computers is available online at www.ipodder.org. The most popular program for the Macintosh is iPodderX, available in free and premium versions at www.ipodderx.com.

-- Leslie Walker

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Transcript: DEMO executive producer Chris Shipley joined Leslie Walker for a one-hour discussion of the top trends and innovations on display at this year's conference.
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Levine's show has advertising spots carried over from on-air broadcasts, but WTOP plans no commercial messages in its original podcast, at least not initially. As for at-home podcasters, most have no clue how to make money.

Jeff and Tina Henry-Barrus have modest costs -- they pay $15 a month to a Web hosting firm, edit their shows with free audio software and upgraded last week from a built-in laptop mike to a $54 plug-in model.

"The greatest thing about podcasting is it lets regular people make radio," said Jeff Barrus, 30. "It would be nice to make money from it, but I don't think that is going to happen."

Thanks to copyright issues, spicing podcasts with songs poses a problem for hobbyists. While the D.C. couple would love to sprinkle urban tunes into their weekly show, they can't afford the licensing fees required to distribute copyrighted music online -- and they won't risk the lawsuits they believe the recording industry will file against podcasters who play unlicensed music.

Podcasting has become a magnet for software entrepreneurs, who think it could turn out to be bigger than the blogging movement and are eager to get in early.

Arlington resident Roger Strickland, a federal technology consultant by day, has become a podcast service provider by night. His $4.95-a-month www.slapcast.com hosts podcasts and lets people record shows by calling a toll-free number and talking into any phone.

Strickland said the bug bit him while he was riding the Metro to work in D.C. and listening to podcasts on his iPod Mini. His favorite is "Daily Source Code," a geeky gabfest recorded by Adam Curry, the former MTV video jockey who co-created podcasting software with blogging pioneer Dave Winer.

"It is replacing radio and dead times on commutes for a lot of people," said Strickland. "I can listen to a real human voice and get a point of view I may not have considered before."

Advertisers are starting to show interest, too.

Doug Kaye runs www.itconversations.com out of his spare bedroom in Kentfield, Calif., offering 450 free podcasts of speeches and interviews with technology executives. Kaye has one sponsor now and said two more are on tap, which should allow him to expand his one-man operation and hire a few independent producers.

The veteran sound engineer sees podcasting as part of a bigger trend toward mobile, on-demand media. "When I can subscribe to a podcast directly from my cell phone -- without needing a laptop or computer -- then it will be really big," Kaye said.

That day may come this year or next, but I wouldn't bet on cell phone carriers letting ordinary people crack into their tightly controlled, still-emerging networks for mobile radio and TV. Then again, the iPod's funky culture is spawning such strong demand for on-the-go media that new audio advertising and subscription models almost certainly will follow.

Leslie Walker's e-mail address is walkerl@washpost.com.

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