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Or how I learned to stop worrying about the media and start podcasting

What the heck is podcasting? It's a new method of sharing and downloading audio programs. The term combines the words "iPod" and "broadcasting," since shows are often listened to on MP3 players, the most popular one being the Apple iPod.

The technology that makes podcasting possible has been around for awhile, but the first community of people to call themselves "podcasters" didn't exist until about Aug. 2004. In less than a year, podcasting has gone from obscurity to being a powerful international media tool.

I first started podcasting after my girlfriend gave me an iPod for my birthday in Sept. 2004. I'm a huge music fan, but also enjoy making it, and I wondered what I could do with my iPod besides consume music. I learned about this new thing called podcasting through technology writer Doc Searls' weblog.

My podcast, AudioActivism.org, is a mix of opinion, interviews and radio documentary-style shows that inform listeners about information technology and activism in media and politics.

You can do it, too! What follows is a Mac- and PC-friendly guide to podcasting.

Creating

  • Equipment
    Besides the computer, the basic things you'll need are fairly inexpensive consumer electronics, which you can find at places like Radio Shack, Best Buy, amazon.com, bhphoto.com, etc. Try using Google's "Froogle" to compare prices (froogle.google.com).

  • A computer with internet access.
    If you don't already own one, drop by a local computer center or library, or use a friend's computer. It will need to have a USB port, at least 256mb of RAM, Windows 2000/XP or Apple OS X, a Web browser and an FTP client.

  • A small digital voice recorder.
    The Olympus DS-2 fits the bill nicely. It comes with a stereo microphone and an external microphone input, earbud headphones, an external speaker, a USB cable and software that creates uncompressed versions of your recordings.

    The revolutionary thing about this device is that once you record your audio, it's already a digital file, downloadable to your computer.

  • Cheap external mic (optional).
    The Labtec AM-222 is a good hand-held mono microphone. It records a person's voice without distracting background noise and works well with the Olympus DS-2. Other mics with a 1/8" stereo jack connector will work, too. Weblog . There are many varieties of software used to maintain a weblog (aka "blog"). I like the open source software WordPress. Download it for free at wordpress.org/download. It'll help you podcast "out of the box," with just a little work. You can read "How to Podcast with Word Press 1.5" on my blog for help.

  • Recording your Audio.
    One of the great things about podcasting is that the style is casual, but I do suggest making a short outline before recording so you'll remember what you want to say.

    New digital recorders are very simple--all you need to do is plug in the external mic (or use the built-in one), hit record and start talking.

    Make a few test recordings. Does the audio sound distorted? Try holding the microphone further away from your mouth. The goal is to have clear audio, but don't fret about the quality too much, and try not to spend too much time fixing mistakes. Each time you record, you'll get better. Copy audio from voice recorder. The voice recorder connects to a computer via USB. It comes with software that makes downloading the audio to your computer easier, and it will convert audio to a file type that everyone can play.

  • Tweak audio (optional).
    I use Audacity to edit and prepare my audio. It's a good, free piece of software available for all operating systems. You can download it at audacity.sourceforge.net/download.

    I like to raise or lower the gain (the amount of power increase in a audio signal) so it sounds good on many kinds of speakers. Sometimes I also add fade-ins and fade-outs.

    You can also add music to your podcast. Remember that you need permission from the creators and owners of the music. Even though you may not be making money with your podcast, you should still respect artists' rights. A good alternative to going through the hassle of securing rights is to use Creative Commons-licensed music, which gives you permission to use it how you want to. Go to www.creatviecommons.org to learn more.

    Sharing
    Making a podcast is no different than recording other audio on a computer. What makes podcasting truly unique is how you share it.

  • Convert your audio into an MP3 file.
    I suggest that you convert your audio to a mono MP3 file that's encoded at 64kbps and 16 bit. You can do this with Audacity and iTunes. Check out this short how-to: www.podcastingnews.com/articles/Exporting_MP3s_Audacity.html.

  • Upload the MP3 to the web.
    I use an ftp client (software that copies files to another computer using the internet) to get the MP3s on my Web server. Some weblog software will allow you to upload files via a web browser. Be sure to remember where you uploaded your files to. I recommend creating an "audio" folder in a subdirectory of your Web site. You'll need to know the full URL that your MP3 lives at (e.g. www.yourweb server.com/audio/your_podcast.mp3).

  • Making the Podcast Feed.
    RSS 2.0, aka the podcast "feed", is where you link to the MP3 you just created. Enclosing a file in a feed is much like putting an attachment in an email. An enclosure tells everyone where your file is.

  • Tell the world about about your podcast.
    The best podcasters are good bloggers. Describe the show and include a link to the MP3. Tell readers the size of the MP3 in megabytes and how long it lasts. Also, list your site and podcast URL on directories like Podcast.net , audio.weblogs.com and podcastalley.com .

  • Start over.
    The more podcasts you make, the easier it gets. As new software and audio recording devices are released, the process will become simpler. One forward-looking free service is Odeo.com. Not only can you find new podcasts, store a list of podcasts and listen them, you can also record audio right in your web browser using your computer's built-in mic.

    Receiving
    To download a podcast, also known as "podcatching," you need software like iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes), Juice (juicereceiver.sourceforge.net) or the Web browser-based Odeo.com.

    One way to subscribe to a podcast is to copy and paste a podcast feed address into your software. iTunes and Odeo offer one-click subscription, which is even easier.

    Podcasts aren't live shows, so you can listen to them whenever you want to.

    The real power of podcasting is that you can become a better media participant--not a consumer, but an equal partner. Gone are the days of one-way preaching, and programming that tastes like pablum. Now we can talk with each other and choose what to listen to--and when--from a multitude of producers.

    Local media activist Brian Russell is organizing PodcasterCon, happening on Saturday, Jan. 7 at UNC-Chapel Hill. See www.podcastercon.org for details on this free event.

    N.C. podcasters (a partial list)
    Mur Lafferty: Mur "lives in Durham with another geek, a young geek-in-training and a dog."
    www.geekfuactiongrip.com.

    Dave Warner: Dave's Lounge showcases the best chillout, trip hop and downtempo music found on the Internet.
    www.daveslounge.com .

    Anne Bramley: "The food podcast that takes you back in time, across the country, around the world and back to your own table."
    www.eatfeed.com.

    Jason Adams: "Tangential transmissions from a disorganized mind."
    www.randomsignal.libsyn.com.

    Corey Pudhorodsky: A podcast for nonprofit professionals, volunteers and do-gooders.
    www.501c3cast.com .

    Joseph Puentes: Oral histories of indigenous peoples and archives of seminars and organizing meetings.
    www.nuestrafamiliaunida.com.

    • Or how I learned to stop worrying about the media and start podcasting

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