Listen up

A podcast can deliver the latest tunes from your favourite artist, a radio program you aren't able to catch live and even instructions on how to knit. We give you everything you need to know to tune in to this latest technological craze

When I first heard the word podcast, it conjured up images of aliens in little oval buggies trying to send messages to earth. Once I found out what they really are, I’ve discovered that podcasts can be invaluable sources of information – and entertainment – for a go-getting woman.

Don’t let the name fool you: you don’t need an Apple iPod specifically to listen to podcast programs. Instead, an MP3 player or a personal computer with a media player program such as Real Player will do. But in case you need a little cocktail banter to impress – or bore – your Luddite friends, you can tell them that term originated as an amalgamation of the words iPod and broadcast.

Podcasts are a collection of MP3 audio files that are compressed and sent through an RSS feed from a website directly to your computer or digital music player. In plain language, podcasts are online audio programs that you can access through a free subscription. Subscribing allows you to receive automatic updates whenever there’s new material, meaning that you sign up only once and can listen whenever, or wherever, is convenient for you.

While the majority of podcasts are audio-only, video podcasts (AKA vidcasts, vodcasts or vlogs) are growing in number. They work the same way as audio podcasts, and if you’re lucky enough to have the latest techology, you can have vidcasts sent right to your iPod. The new video iPod allows you to watch music videos, television shows, short films, cartoons and more. You heard it here first – I predict that the vidcast movement will gather major steam thanks to such a gadget.

If downloading music is your thing, find out if your favourite artists offer free podcast subscriptions through their websites. You’ll be notified as soon as new songs are available. More interested in radio? Many major stations include podcasts of continuous streaming music or popular programs, such as CBC’s Radio 3, which is the number one podcast in Canada.

And whether you want to learn how to knit, cook a soufflé or speak another language, there’s probably a podcast out there to help you do it. Podcasts come in a variety of formats, such as daytime talk shows, mini sitcoms, ongoing documentaries, audio blogs and instructional shows. Topics cover a huge range from being a stay-at-home mom to hearing the latest film reviews to getting a good workout. Directories separate shows by topic and are easy to navigate. Check out Canada Podcasts and Canadian Podcast Buffet for homegrown podcasts or Apple iTunes and for international listings.

Celebrities, politicians, musicians, artists, a few weirdos and even, surprisingly enough, lots of regular folk. “Can you talk into a microphone? Cut and paste? Operate an MP3 player? You’re set,” says Toronto-based writer and mother Sage Tyrtle. Sage has been the force behind the popular podcast Quirky Nomads since 2003. After the Tyrtles decided to protest the policies of the Bush administration, they moved their son and their cats across the 49th in January 2004. This quick peek into the lives of a family adjusting to their Canuck surroundings is heartwarming and hilarious. “As a writer, podcasting is a dream come true,” she says. “It gives me the opportunity to make sure the listener hears my words exactly the way they’re meant to be heard. I like to make people laugh.”

Catfish Show – The sweet and funny tales of a stay-at-home mom in Montreal.
Cast-on – Host Brenda Dayne talks everything to do with knitting – news, views and how-tos.
Podbop – Get onto your city’s concert circuit with this podcast, which tells you which bands are coming to your community and lets you listen to a few of their tunes to help you decide if you want to hit the show.
CBC’s Radio 3 – Our country’s number one podcast, showcasing the best of Canadian independent music.
Quirky Nomads – The story of a family that said they were moving to Canada “if the Republicans get any worse.” So here they are.
Zee and Zed – A talk show hosted by a “sarcastic American and a wry Canadian joined in cross-border matrimony” living in Minneapolis.