A podcast is an episodic audio program delivered over the Internet. Listeners can subscribe to a podcast to get new episodes delivered automatically to their podcast player app, or they may download individual episodes without subscribing. The word "podcast" is a portmanteau of "iPod" and "broadcast," reflecting that podcasts are like digital, on-demand versions of radio shows.

Podcasts can be produced by media companies, podcast networks, or individual amateurs. The barrier to entry is low enough that a single person with a computer and a microphone can create and distribute a podcast. However, like a radio show, many podcasts are produced by a team that includes hosts, writers, engineers, and editors. Most podcasts are distributed freely and supported by advertisements. Podcast makers release new episodes via RSS feeds, which include direct links to the audio file and metadata like titles, descriptions, and show notes. Dedicated podcast player apps read these RSS feeds and automatically download new episodes as they're released.

The New York Times' <I>The Daily</I> podcast in the Apple Podcasts app
The New York Times' The Daily podcast in the Apple Podcasts app

Listeners can find a link to a podcast's RSS feed on the podcast's website or browse for shows in a player's podcast directory. Apple maintains the largest podcast directory through iTunes and its podcast app. However, audio streaming companies like Spotify or Audacy may create and host exclusive podcasts unavailable outside of their services. Podcasts funded by their subscribers directly, instead of through advertisements or corporate funding, often create custom RSS feeds for each subscriber through a service like Patreon.

Podcast player apps include special audio playback controls designed for podcasts. For example, some podcasts include chapter markers that allow listeners to skip to certain parts of a show. Most allow listeners to adjust the playback speed to increase the pace and get through episodes faster, modify equalizer settings to make voices easier to hear, and create playlists of episodes from multiple podcasts.

NOTE: Podcast episodes are typically saved as .MP3 files, although .AAC and .M4A files are also common.

Updated June 7, 2023 by Brian P.

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