Written by StreamYard
What is a Podcast? Hosting, Preparing Episodes, Explanations, and Examples
Podcasts have become one of the most popular ways for people to consume content. There are all sorts of podcasts catering to different interests and audiences. However, if you’ve only heard about the term, but you’re not entirely sure how the whole thing works... we are here to help.
This article will cover everything you need to know about podcasts. We’ll first go through some definitions and explanations. Then, we’ll inspect how podcasts are created and promoted. And throughout, we’ll see different examples, so you see what exactly we’re talking about.
It’s a fascinating world out there! So, let’s get started!
What is a Podcast?
We’re jumping right into it. What is exactly a podcast, and how does it work?
A podcast is, in simple terms, an audio program distributed online. If you’re wondering about the word itself, it’s believed it comes from “iPod” and “broadcast”. Yes, iPods; those little portable players developed by Apple that soon exploded in popularity.
Now, although the name of the device is there, podcasts can played on phones, computers, tablets, and media players (through a podcast hosting service that act as sort of ever-present radio stations)
How It’s Different From Other Mediums
A podcast has a few characteristics that differentiate it from other formats (like radio shows or videos). For instance:
- Available on-demand: Podcasts are pre-recorded, so you can listen to them or download them when you want. So, you can choose when to access and consume the content.
- Regular release schedule: Most podcasts are structured as a series or ongoing episodes. The content is, therefore, released on a regular schedule (like daily, weekly, or monthly).
- Accessibility: The majority of podcasts are free to access. Some creators offer premium or subscription-based content for a fee, too, but not all.
- Independent creators: Podcasts are usually produced by independent creators. Which means you can access a more diverse range of voices and perspectives!
- Active engagement: Podcast listeners can engage with them through subscriptions, reviews, ratings, and social media interactions.
- Long-Form Content: Because of their length, podcasts allow for in-depth exploration of topics and storytelling.
- Relies on RSS feeds: Podcasts are primarily distributed through RSS feeds, though that is changing today with options like YouTube for video podcasts.
What Do You Need To Listen To A Podcast?
All you need to listen to a podcast is an internet connection along with a device that can access it.
Although some audio content (a digital audio file) is available through software or podcast apps, this is only necessary if you want to do things like subscribe to updates. For example, to receive new episodes automatically or download podcast episodes to listen to offline.
In terms of devices, you can use your smartphone (iPhone, Android, and others), tablet, or computer. You will initially need an internet connection to access and stream episodes — but downloading episodes is also an option.
Popular Podcast Apps
Many people use podcast apps on their smartphones. Popular options for iOS devices include Apple Podcasts, Overcast, and Pocket Casts. On Android devices (or any other mobile device), you can use apps like YouTube Music, Spotify, or Castbox.
Popular Podcast Computer Software
If you prefer to listen on your computer, you can use desktop applications like iTunes (for Mac and Windows) or web-based services like YouTube, Spotify, or Stitcher to tune in to your favorite podcasts.
Podcasts vs Traditional Content Production
Podcasts have not come out of nowhere. They share some similarities with radio in terms of content creation and distribution. However, they also have distinct differences that set them apart.
Let’s start with what they have in common. Both podcasts and radio productions are primarily audio files or audio-based forms of media. So, they rely on spoken word, music, sound effects, and other audio elements to convey information, entertain, and engage.
Both mediums also cover a wide range of topics and genres, a diversity that allows creators to cater to various interests and audiences. And both often feature hosts, presenters, co-hosts, or narrators who guide the content and provide context. Lastly, podcasts and radio use editing, mixing, music and sound effects to enhance the listening experience.
Where the two differ is in distribution. Podcasts are distributed digitally and are typically available on-demand. This means that listeners can choose when and where they want to listen to episodes and can subscribe to their favorite shows for automatic updates. Traditional radio programs, on the other hand, are only broadcast over the airwaves at specific times. Additionally, they tend to be either live or pre-scheduled.
Podcasts are also known for their flexibility in terms of episode length. They can range from a few minutes to several hours, allowing for in-depth exploration of topics. Radio programs typically adhere to fixed time slots and may need to fit content into specific time constraints.
Are Podcasts Audio Only?
Initially, podcasts were 100% audio. However, as their popularity has grown (or exploded), video podcasting has also become a viable option. In other words, while the term podcast originally referred to audio broadcasts, it has evolved to encompass a broader range of multimedia content.
So, to give you an idea of formats, we now have:
- Audio podcasts: Considered the more traditional and common form. They consist of audio recordings, such as spoken word content, music, interviews, storytelling, discussions, and sound effects.
- Video podcasts (also known as vodcasts): Video podcasts combine video with audio. They can include video interviews, discussions, tutorials, visual storytelling, and other content. Video podcasts are also typically distributed in the same way as audio podcasts, through podcast apps and platforms.
The choice between making an audio or a video podcast will depend on your preferences as a content creator. The nature of the content itself will also play a role. For example, while some people opt for video podcasts to provide a more visual and engaging experience, others stick with audio-only for simplicity or because they don't require a visual component.
About Podcast Distribution
We should also note that regardless of whether a podcast is audio-only or includes video, it is still distributed through podcasting platforms and apps. Listeners or viewers can subscribe, download, and consume the content on-demand and at their convenience.
In fact, the term podcast has now become deeply associated with the format of episodic content rather than the medium (audio or video) itself.
Why Podcasts Are So Popular
We have covered some of the reasons that make podcasts a quite unique format. So, before we move on to different types of them and examples, let’s quickly recap why we ALL love them so much.
- Anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or PC can access a variety of them.
- They cover an incredibly wide range of topics and genres. No matter what you’re interested in, there's likely a podcast that caters to your interests.
- You have the freedom to choose when and where you want to listen, whether it's during a commute, workout, household chores, or simply relaxing at home.
- The vast majority of podcasts are free to access (and easy, especially if you use an RSS feed)
- Podcasting has a relatively low barrier to entry, allowing independent creators, individuals, and small teams to produce and distribute content.
In short, podcasting has democratized media production. It allows marginalized voices, independent journalists, and content creators to reach a global audience without the need for large budgets or corporate backing. So, it's a medium that truly empowers both creators and listeners, making it a dynamic and enduring form of media.
Different Types of Podcasts (and Examples)
As we have mentioned quite a few times already, there are podcasts for every single interest out there. However, the majority of them can be broken down into four main formats. These are conversational, repurposed content, narrative nonfiction, and scripted fiction.
Let’s go through each of them in some more detail and explore some examples.
Some of the most popular podcasts around the world follow a conversational format. They are informal; they feature interviews and focus on discussing topics. This can be done either as solo podcast hosting or as part of a roundtable with guests.
Conversational podcasts usually center around a specific topic, theme, or subject matter. To explore it, the hosts engage in a back-and-forth dialogue, sharing their thoughts, opinions, and insights with the audience. In short:
- They rely on the format of a conversation or dialogue between hosts or participants.
- The tone is often casual and unscripted, with hosts using humor and anecdotes to engage listeners.
- Many feature more than one host or guest who contributes to the conversation.
- Hosts tend to engage with their audience by responding to listener questions, comments, and feedback.
- The podcasts may have varying episode lengths, depending on the depth of discussion and the preferences of the hosts.
Most Popular Conversational Podcasts
Conversational podcasts can cover a wide range of subjects, from news and current events to personal stories, entertainment, and niche interests. Many follow a regular release schedule, such as weekly or biweekly. So, let's see some examples.
This podcast (one of the most popular ones ever) features long-form conversations with a wide range of guests, covering topics from comedy and science to politics and philosophy. The show, often abbreviated as JRE, is not a new podcast. It was launched in December 2009 and features an incredibly diverse array of guests, ranging from celebrities, scientists, authors, politicians, athletes, comedians, and experts in various fields.
The Daily is your daily news fix in podcast form. It's hosted by journalists who break down the biggest news stories of the day. They dive deep into one major story, explaining all the angles, and you come away feeling like you've got a handle on what's happening in the world. In other words, it's like your news-savvy friend giving you the scoop over coffee.
Ever wonder how your favorite companies and products came to be? How I Built This is your backstage pass to the world of entrepreneurship. Guy Raz, the host, chats with the founders and creators of some of the world's biggest brands. You get to hear their personal stories and the ups and downs of building something from scratch. It's like getting business advice from the pros.
Repurposed Content Podcasts
Repurposed content podcasts are a type of podcast that, as the name hints, repackages existing content. In fact, it uses content from other media formats and turns them into podcast episodes. So, instead of creating entirely new audio content, these podcasts reuse radio shows, TV programs, live events, webinars, and interviews.
The goal of repurposing podcasts is to allow you to reach new audiences. Plus, they can help extend the lifespan of your existing material. The content can come from various places, including radio broadcasts or YouTube channels. Or they can be webinars, conference talks, or documentaries.
The difference, though, is that you can enhance the material. For example, by adding commentary, introductions, or summaries. All of these provide additional context or insights to the podcast audience.
- Repurposed content podcasts take content that was originally created for a different medium.
- You can use various places to get materials for a repurposed podcast.
- The purpose is to reach a new audience of podcast listeners who may prefer audio content over other formats.
- Repurposing content can save time and resources compared to creating entirely new episodes from scratch.
- Some repurposed content podcasts focus on niche topics or subject matter.
Most Popular Repurposed Content Podcasts
Repurposed content podcasts are great for making content more accessible to a broader audience. In other words, they can help you maintain a podcast presence while using your existing content library. Let’s see a few examples!
Do you know those super insightful TED Talks? Well, TED Talks Daily is like your daily dose of brain fuel (a reason why it’s won Best Podcast awards all around). It takes the best talks from TED conferences and turns them into podcast episodes. And it feels almost like having a front-row seat to these mind-blowing talks from brilliant people who are changing the world, one idea at a time.
The Dave Ramsey Show is a go-to podcast for all things money and personal finance. Dave Ramsey's radio show can help people get out of debt, build wealth, and take control of their financial lives. Now, you can catch his practical advice and inspiring success stories in podcast form. A bit like having a money mentor in your pocket.
If you're a science nerd (or just curious about the world), Science Friday can be your weekly ticket to fascinating scientific discoveries. The episodes take the best segments from the Science Friday live radio show and serve them up in podcast episodes. The topics range from astronomy to biology... and it's a blast.
Narrative Nonfiction Podcasts
The third type of podcast is the narrative nonfiction podcast. This genre presents real-life stories and factual information in a storytelling format. The aim is to educate and entertain listeners.
To do this, the podcasts present true events or historical accounts in a narrative and immersive way. They also use elements like character development and plot arcs, suspense, drama, and emotional engagement.
- They focus on real events, people, and situations.
- They often mix factual information with compelling narratives.
- They use research to provide accurate information.
- They may include interviews and expert commentary.
Most Popular Narrative Nonfiction Podcasts
Narrative non-fiction podcasts can cover many different topics. For example, history, science, true crime, politics, and culture. Like other podcasts we have discussed, these tend to be episodic. For example:
This podcast is hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig. Each season explores a different genuine crime case. And it's got all the twists, turns, and drama of a binge-worthy TV show! Serial is considered by many ‘the OG’ of true crime podcasts. And with a reason. Listening to Sarah feels like binge-watching a gripping crime documentary but with your ears.
The thing that's so different about Radiolab is how they mix storytelling, real people's experiences, and great sound effects. Radiolab is like a mind-expanding journey through science and philosophy. The hosts, Jad and Robert, are your tour guides to the coolest and weirdest ideas out there. So, a bit like hanging out with super curious friends who can't stop exploring the mysteries of life, and they bring you along for the ride.
Imagine you're attending a storytelling night at your local pub. The Moth is just like that... but, yeah, on steroids. Real people step up to the mic and share their most personal, true stories. So, you get a front row of a raw and emotional live performance every time you listen. A truly worthy podcast that will almost inevitably surprise you.
Scripted Fiction Podcasts
Scripted fiction podcasts? Oh, you mean those audio dramas or make-believe podcasts. Unlike the real-life ones, everything in these is totally made up to suck you right into a whole new world.
In a way, it's like watching a movie.. or listening to one. You've got talented actors bringing characters to life through their voices, and there’s also the sound effects and music that set the mood.
- The dialogue is scripted and written in advance.
- Professional actors or voice artists perform the characters' voices.
- Audio dramas incorporate sound effects and background music.
- They often have high production values.
- These span various genres, from science fiction and fantasy to mystery, horror, romance, comedy, and historical fiction.
Most Popular Scripted Fiction Podcasts
The advantage is that scripted podcasts can take you to places your eyes can't - from distant galaxies to the darkest corners of someone's mind, all without leaving your comfy spot.
Here are some great ones you should not miss.
Welcome to Night Vale is... how to describe it? It’s like stepping into a Twilight Zone meets Twin Peaks kind of town. The podcast is narrated by a local radio host who reports on all the bizarre happenings in Night Vale, from mysterious hooded figures to supernatural occurrences. It's like a surreal, dark, and often hilarious adventure where the strange is just part of everyday life.
The Bright Sessions is designed to make you feel like you are eavesdropping on therapy sessions with people who have supernatural abilities. You've got Dr. Bright, the therapist, who's trying to help her patients navigate their extraordinary gifts. It's like a mix of X-Men and therapy sessions, and it's super engaging.
Lastly, if you're into spine-tingling horror, The Magnus Archives is the perfect late-night campfire story. It's an anthology of creepy tales that all connect to a mysterious archive of the paranormal. Each episode is like a new nightmare that'll leave you questioning the dark corners of reality.
Ready To Start Your Own Podcast?
Podcasts are one of the most popular content formats today, and it doesn’t look like they will stop their growth any time soon.
These shows come in various types and genres, catering to a wide range of interests and preferences. And because the platforms where they are featured are typically open and free, there’s no reason why you can’t give your own podcast a try!
Now, if you’re looking for the easiest way to stream and record audio and video, why not try StreamYard?
We make it it super simple for guests to join. They don’t need to download or install anything; they can talk to you using their browser or phone! Every audio and video file is saved separately so you have maximum control in post-production. But we also offer a combined recording if you want to simplify things.
So, what are you waiting for? Start podcasting today, for free, with StreamYard.