Apple Plants a Seed to Help Raise Podcasting

By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, July 24, 2005

What, you don't have a podcast yet?

That's this year's version of, "What, you don't have a blog yet?" Podcasts -- downloadable audio clips that you can listen to on your computer or on a digital music player such as an iPod -- are riding an extraordinary wave of hype.

Where blogs are supposed to make newspapers obsolete, podcasts are supposed to turn radio into a dusty fossil.

And just as people last year were rushing to launch their own journals on the Web, folks are now jumping into podcasting. Former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards has a podcast, and so does Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans.

Given time, podcasts may very well live up to the most optimistic predictions offered about them. For now, though, the programming available in the pod-verse teems with both brilliance and boredom. The software needed to tune into this bounty also could use more work -- even after the improvements in Apple's new version of its iTunes music program.

The basic idea behind podcasting is to work around the annoying reality that until we get universal broadband Internet access, you can't tune into Internet radio in most of the places you'd like to.

Podcasters abandon real-time streaming over the Internet in favor of recording a program in advance, then letting users download it and listen to it on their own time. A podcast is essentially shrink-wrapped radio, almost always in the form of an MP3 audio file.

You can listen to that right in your Web browser, you can download it and play it on a computer later on, or you can copy it to an iPod or most other music players.

But listening to the wrong podcasts may leave you wondering why anybody bothers. It's not that mediocrity is so much more prevalent among podcasters than bloggers -- or newspaper reporters. It's just more obvious.

Simply speaking clearly and engagingly into a microphone is not always a natural skill. Podcasters can also routinely make rookie mistakes like forgetting to talk close enough to a microphone, or allowing feedback to screech into the recording.

Cleaning up the aural equivalent of typos -- "um," "er" and "uh" -- is far trickier in sound-recording software than in any word processor. Perhaps because editing after the fact takes so much time, many podcasters seem compelled to try to blitz through a podcast in a single take.

Scripts also often appear optional: Quite a few podcasts are ad-libbed -- even when their authors blather on for upwards of an hour.

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