Podcasting and Podcasts

Podcasting and Podcasts

Posted on Friday March 16, 2007 at 12:08PM

You may be asking - “What the heck is a podcast?” In short, its an amateur audio recording that can be downloaded from the web and viewed on your Ipod, MP3 player, Computer or other digital device. Podcasting is easy to do - at least the technical part - and thus has become all the rage among teenagers, computer nerds, librarians and just about anyone with an Internet connection.

Just imagine…. You start a podcast on the politics of Guam which becomes all the rage in Yugoslavia. Before you know it you are doing speaking tours in Britain and autographing political scientist’s MP3 players. Before long you are featured on the Jay Leno show and your Hollywood career is launched. Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch. But you may develop a dedicated group of listeners if you have the knack and something interesting to say.

Take, for example, George Hageman’s Military History Podcast. Hageman is a teenager who records and distributes podcasts on military history. Thus far he has produced 73 casts on various aspects of military history. His casts are heard by people in 120 countries. Nearly 20,000 people subscribe to his podcast feed and his casts have been downloaded nearly 1 million times.

This blog entry will briefly describe the technical requirements for starting your own podcast. Besides an Internet connection and a computer you will need the following:

  1. A microphone for your computer
  2. A set of headphones
  3. Sound recording software
  4. Web space to host your podcast

The Microphone:
You do not need an expensive computer mic. Like anything the more money you spend the better mic you will likely buy; however, a simple inexpensive mic is all you need. I bought my microphone from Staples for about 30 dollars. Some laptops have a built in microphone so you may not need to buy anything.

The Headphones:
A half decent pair of headphones is recommended but not actually necessary. To keep your computer speakers from interfering with your mic they are a good idea. Also they help in the play back of your recording before you go to production. Again, I bought mine from Staples for about 15 dollars. Honestly, I am not paid by Staples. Although, maybe I ought to be…?

The Audio Software:
Finally, I mention the sound recording software. Again, if you want to you can spend a ton of money on audio mixing software. I am cheap, as my wife will testify, so I use the open source software (free) called Audacity from our friends at sourceforge.net. The program is not too difficult to learn but it will take some time to figure it out.

I recommend that when you finally produce your podcast - export your recording from Audacity - that you choose to make it a MP3 file. MP3 files are the industry standard and will play in nearly any digital audio device. Of course, you need to download a patch for Audacity to export MP3s - fear not though it really isn’t that hard.

I have posted a cheat sheet for downloading and installing Audacity on the Training Resources page.

Hosting your Podcast:
Unfortunately a regular old free blog site won’t allow you to distribute your podcasts without someplace to put them. Thankfully, each of our libraries have web space where you can put your podcasts using an ftp client like Core ftp. You can then link to those “hosted ” files from a blog or your libraries website.

You may notice above you in the navigation bar on this page is a tab now labeled Podcasts. My very first podcast can be downloaded there… or click here. If you have 8 minutes take a listen. Its called podcasting 101 and talks for a few minutes about creating your own podcast - then I share the fable of the Swan Maiden - my own rendition of course. You’ll notice some sound effects in my podcast during the story (birds) - read on to discover where I got them.

If you have a podcast that you’d like to share on this site as an example of what can be done - send it my way. I’ll see if I can put it up on the podcast page.

Adding Sound Effects and Music to Your Cast:
It may be very tempting to add the latest song from your favorite band to your podcast. Be careful. Don’t infringe on someone else’s copyright - or more importantly their rights to intellectual property. Get the permission of the artist(s) when in doubt.

There are many public domain sound recordings you can use and modify available on the web. One excellent user generated content site is called The Free Sound Project. You will only find sound effects here - not music. Join up and you can freely search for and download sound effects created by people like you. You may even get ambitious and create some of your own sound effects to upload to the free sound project.

If you want to find free music - that is if you don’t have a punk band in your garage to record - check out the Creative Commons website for sources of public domain music. Which reminds me - if you are a little nervous about infringing copyright or stealing someones intellectual property check out the Podcasting Legal Guide at Creative Commons.

A few ideas for Podcasts:
This could be an excellent way to involve teens in your community… You can feature their *library appropriate* podcasts on your website.

What would really be neat - get some of the old timers in your community to share their stories. Maybe how they homesteaded in these parts or their WWII stories etc. You don’t have to get them in front of a computer to do it. Get a digital recorder and visit them in the lodge. You can then upload their story from the recorder and edit it in Audacity. Be sure to get their permission before placing the story on your site. You may want to have them sign a release form.

Do you have an old audio tape with such a story that you would like to make digital. With the right tape player and Audacity you can do it. If there is enough demand I’ll create a cheat sheet on how to do it.

Any other ideas? I’m sure there are a hundred and one podcasting ideas out there - please leave a comment and share those ideas.


I recently gave an introduction to Podcasting workshop in Bon Accord. As part of that workshop we created a podcast. If you care to listen here it is, 8:00:

  Podcasting 101

The second podcast in the list is my first podcast: an introduction to podcasting and a short fable, the Swan Maiden told by me, James MacDonald. 8:33.

Author: Northern Lights Library System


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