What is a Podcast and How Do I Start Listening?


With the news that actor David Tennant is starting his own star-studded podcast, I have had friends approach me and ask “what is a podcast and how do I listen to one?“. This is what happens when you become the resident techie. Everyone asks you questions like this. You’ll be thankful to know that listening to a podcast is absolutely not a problem and requires zero tech skills whatsoever. All you need is a way to be informed of new episodes and something to listen to them on. You can even listen to them on your computer while you work.

What is a Podcast?

A podcast is essentially a radio talk show broadcasted online. There are two types of podcasts, audio, and video. And audio is the dominant format. Being online, anyone can start a podcast. The entry barrier is extremely low with many websites offering to distribute your podcast for free. The only real cost if you want to do your own podcast is a decent microphone.

But the focus today is on people who want to start listening to podcasts. We can talk about starting a podcast some other time.

For podcasts newbies, it’s important to know that the majority of podcasts out there are free. There are some behind a paywall, but usually, the content if free and can be interspersed with some ad-reads. The word “subscribe” often concerns people and they think they have to pay something. But no, subscribing to a podcast is like subscribing to a website’s newsletter. It’s free, and you get the content delivered to you each time there is a new show. The app you choose to manage your podcast subscriptions, on the other hand, is something else.

Find a Podcast App

A lot of the time, you can download podcast episodes directly to your computer as MP3 files, and listen to them in iTunes or VLC Player.

But if you want to listen while on the go, you should find a good smartphone or tablet app. There are several advantages to going this route.

  • You can download or stream episodes directly to your device.
  • The episodes will be immediately removed when you have finished listening to them.
  • The app will also inform you when a new episode is available.
  • The app can help you find new podcasts to listen to.
  • You can stop podcasts part of the way through and it will remember your place for later.

There are countless apps available but here are the ones I think you should be focusing on. To keep things simple, I am recommending two free ones, one freemium one and one paid one.

Pocket Casts (iOS & Android)

Pocket Casts is my absolute favorite podcast app, and I have tried a lot. It is available for iTunes and Android and costs $3.99. It is worth every cent. Your podcasts are shown via their thumbnail images, so visually it is very striking to look at. Numbered badges will show you how many unlistened episodes you have in your queue and you can either stream or download the episode.

There is also a good search function to find podcasts you’re looking for, and a “trending” section will tell you what is currently popular. Oh look, there’s David Tennant again.


Spotify is more well-known for streaming music so it is not known by many people that it also hosts podcasts. If you type in the name of a podcast, you are likely to find it. It even has my very short-lived podcast (one episode!). This option would be best by people who are already-existing Spotify subscribers and want to mix up their music with a few podcasts every now and then. On the downside, you are not notified of new episodes.

iOS Podcasts App

This is the barebones podcast app for iOS devices. It is good enough for many people and it syncs across iOS devices and iTunes using iCloud.

But it just seems as if the podcasts app is the neglected child in the Apple family. There are so many ways they could improve upon it. But I guess you can’t argue with free, especially if you are a light podcast listener.

Google Podcasts (Android Only)

Since I don’t have an Android phone, I can’t say personally how this app is. But I do know people who are using it and they say it’s fine as podcast apps go. Again, if you are a light podcast listener and you don’t want to pay for an app yet, Google Podcasts might be a good one to start with. If you have an Android phone that is. Currently, there is no iOS version.

Searching For & Adding a Podcast

There are many ways to find a podcast and add it to your chosen app. If you have an app on your phone, then the easiest method of adding a podcast is simply to use the app’s search function. Start typing the name of the podcast or the name of the presenter, and it should appear

It’s well known in the podcast world that if you want your podcast to succeed, you need to have it on iTunes. Getting into the iTunes top 100 charts virtually guarantees success. So if you are using iTunes as your app, the podcast should definitely be there. You can tap on the subscribe button in iTunes to start listening or streaming.

Google Podcasts

If you are not sure of the podcast name — or if that person even has a podcast — then simply Google them. If a podcast is not on Google, then it simply doesn’t exist. For example, I wasn’t sure if Jake Tapper of CNN had a podcast, so I googled Tapper + CNN + podcast, and sure enough, there was the name of the podcast. He has two in fact. Busy guy. Now go back to your app and enter it.

Tweaking The Podcast Settings

Once you have subscribed to a podcast, you should go into its settings and tweak them the way you want them. For example, do you want all new episodes downloaded? Or will you stream them? This will all depend on your device’s space and/or data plan. Do you want to be notified of new episodes or will you check manually? Should finished episodes be deleted and archived or deleted automatically?

There are many other apps out there on different platforms for listening to your favorite podcasts. Essentially, any service or app that offers audio will also offer podcasts including Pandora, TuneIn, and even Plex now offers podcast management. You will find podcast apps for all platforms including Android, iOS, Windows 10, macOS, and Linux. You can also listen to your favorite podcasts through Alexa devices or watch video podcasts on your Apple TV.

Next time, we will look at some of the best podcasts out there that you can subscribe to. If there is a favorite podcast of yours that you would like to see added to the list, let us know in the comments. We’ll take a look at it.

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