The guide you never knew you needed for the thing you never knew you wanted.

Ugh, get to the good part.

Let me guess…you loved Serial.

It was bold, riveting, engrossing entertainment. But when it came out, you had a lot of questions for your nerd friends. Questions like, “How in the Hell am I supposed to listen to this thing? What is a podcast? How do I do it? Do I pay? Do I have to donate to NPR? Did Adnan really do it?”

And I’m guessing (understand, this is all hypothetical) that your nerd friends rolled their beady little eyes at you, because *pfft*, they don’t want to get into a whole thing here. They probably recommended a lot of funny-sounding apps that actually cost money, what?! That’s ridiculous.

Yes, your nerd friends have been listening to podcasts for many years. Yes, they paid for fancy apps to make listening to and managing new podcasts easier. No, you don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to.

That’s why I made this dumb little website - so you can leave your self-important nerdy friends to their Dungeons & Dragons and their fancy headphones and get down to business. And so…

Here’s How to Listen to Podcasts.

1. Download a Podcast App

There are many different podcast apps that will scratch a variety of itches. The basic podcasting app from Apple (which is free) is pretty good, to be honest.

All you have to do is:

  1. If you don’t already have Podcasts installed (you should, though), go to the App Store app on your iDevice, or to some other thing on some other device (I really don’t know much about Android. If you feel there should be an Android version of this guide, go make it with my blessing. I’ll link to it, if you do.)
  2. Enter “Podcast” into the search bar. Apple’s Podcasts app should show up first.
  3. Tap “Get” and the app will download to your iDevice.
  4. Open the app. You’ll see a few different buttons at the bottom of the app, one of which is “Featured”. Click the “Featured” button and you’ll see a handful of podcasts that Apple recommends.
  5. Start browsing around using “Featured” or “Top Charts”. If you have a particular topic of interest, enter it on the “Search” screen.

UPDATE: The far-superior Overcast app is now free! Download it if/when you get sick of Apple’s own Podcast app.

2. Subscribe to a Podcast

When you choose a podcast and click “Subscribe”, two magical things will happen.

  1. The podcast will be added to your “My Podcasts” screen.
  2. The Podcasts app will download the latest episode of that podcast to your iDevice.

Simple, right? At that point, all you have to do is tap on the latest episode and it will play in your earbuds or through the speaker.

When you’re done listening to the first episode of your chosen podcast, you can get more episodes under the “Feed” tab. Simply tap “Feed” and then tap on the download cloud icon to get the episodes.

Gentle Reminder: Podcasts are like songs - they take up space on your device. If you’re done listening, it’s best to delete the episode. You can always download it again later on.

Want to listen to all your downloaded podcast episodes in order, top to bottom? Go to “My Stations” and tap “All Unplayed”. When one podcast is over, another will begin right behind it and they’ll play until they’re all gone.

Too long, getting bored...

3. What Podcasts Would I Like?

Podcasts are like lunch specials at a diner; they happen weekly, they vary in substance, and they’re subject to taste. What I can tell you is that if you have one particular interest, there’s a podcast for it. Using “Search” and “Featured” functions in the Podcasts app will get you started and, from there, you can see what iTunes recommends.

As a big dumb nerd, I can tell you I love the following podcasts and listen to them every week. In no particular order:

(§ = LOTS of cussin’!)

  • Roderick on the Line § - John Roderick of the Long Winters and Merlin Mann of the Internet talk about what’s wrong with the world and how John could fix it all, if all those idiots would just get out of his way.
  • My Brother, My Brother and Me § - Three brothers get questions from listeners (and from Yahoo! Answers) and offer their “expert” “advice”.
  • The Flophouse - Three guys in New York who write comic books and The Daily Show watch bad movies and drink brew dogs. Great for MST3k fans.
  • Back to Work - The aforementioned Merlin Mann talks with Dan Benjamin about how to quit being such a titty baby and get your work done, whatever that work may be.
  • Judge John Hodgman - John Hodgman listens to the cases the Supreme Court is too narrow-minded to consider. Is chili a soup or a stew? Is a machine gun considered a robot? When should you tell your kids the truth about Santa? Hodgman rules on all of it.
  • Oh No, Ross and Carrie! § - Ross and Carrie go undercover to learn about cults, fringe groups, weird diets, self-help scams, and much more. It’s somewhere between “Fascinating” and “Terrifying”.
  • Another Round § - If you’re an African-American lady (or a woman of any color…or just a woman, honestly), you will love Heben and Tracy’s take on the world and their frank, informative, incredibly funny segments (including the one where they go up to white guys and ask them if they like squirrels, a segment I laughed at for roughly seventeen minutes) and interviews with all kinds of interesting, passionate, smart guests. I’m the first to admit that I’m not the intended audience, but I learned a lot and laughed a lot.
  • Decode DC - Andrea Seabrook finds out what makes DC tick. It’s smart, interesting reporting done by a real professional and you’ll learn a lot about this country’s lawmakers and its citizens.
  • Stop Podcasting Yourself § - Two Canadian guys do some crazy talkin’. Come for the jokes, stay tuned for Hulk Hogan News!
  • Never Not Funny § - Jimmy Pardo is easily one of the funniest people in America. Each week, he sits down with a colleague from the world of comedy and yells at his Intern/video producer for their gross incompetence. You’ll be quoting Pardo from the first time you listen and laughing every week thereafter.
  • Lady to Lady § - This is a show where three ladies (Tess, Barbara and Brandie) do a lot of funny stuff with lots of funny guests and play sleepover games and I laugh so hard that the guy next to me on the train moves seats. This is a true story, and if the guy who moved away from me is reading this, know that I regret nothing.
  • Pop Rocket § - Guy Branum, Wynter Mitchell, Margaret Wappler, and Oliver Wang bring the heat every week and tell me which of my many privileges I ought to be checking.
  • Song Exploder - Hrishikesh Hirway (Ree-shee-kesh Her-way) is a musical genius (and one Hell of a nice guy). With each episode, he breaks down a song into its component parts and talks to the artist about why they chose the instruments, melodies and themes that make up the finished product.
  • Jordan, Jesse GO! § - Jordan Morris and Jesse Thorn are two pals who are funny. They laugh and joke with all sorts of alt-comedy friends.
  • 99% Invisible - Roman Mars has created one of the most interesting programs in podcasting. His show is all about the “Built World,” including art, music, architecture, engineering and technology. Mars and his editors consistently deliver a great program that will often leave you with a great appreciation of the simple things you encounter each and every day.
  • RadioLab - This is an NPR Podcast that is not unlike This American Life - great stories told by smart people. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich do a wonderful job of telling stories and acting as audience surrogates.
  • Serial - Of COURSE I liked Serial. I even gave money.

Many of these are funny. Some are serious. All are free.

4. What’s My Next Step?

I don’t know that there’s much more to know. You get an app, you subscribe to podcasts, you listen to them, you keep going. Past that, I might recommend one or two things:

  1. Check out the podcasts that your podcasts recommend - Your favorite podcasters will often talk about the podcasts they listen to. Make a little note when they do that. Try out an episode or two. You’ll often find the recommended podcast to be a must-listen. I know I have.
  2. Get an upgraded podcast app - Podcasts by Apple is a pretty good app. Fine enough. But when you’re ready to step up to the brownbelt or blackbelt level, consider an app like Overcast or Downcast - two fine apps that both have a number of strengths over the Podcasts app. Overcast includes things like Smart Speed (which shortens the silences in podcast episodes) and Voice Boost (so you can get richer sound on host and guest voices). It also auto-deletes podcast episodes after you listen so they don’t take up space on your device. Downcast is great for pulling in other audio files and video files so you can set up your podcast lists how YOU like them. Best of all, Overcast is now FREE to download with all the great features. I highly recommend it.
  3. Support your faves - Consider, if you will, how much you pay for things like Netflix, Hulu, cable, cockfighting, etc. Many of those pastimes rely on commercials to keep themselves going, and they do so successfully. But others take money from subscribers to keep the lights on. Many podcasts rely on that structure - they offer the shows to everyone for free and occasionally solicit donations from listeners. If you really love a show, find out how you can slip them a few dollars. Many depend on podcast networks to move the money through, while others simply ask you to Paypal them a little money every once in a while. If you hook up with the right network or show, they might even send you some swag!
  4. Make your own podcast - That’s right! You, too, can have your own podcast about whatever you want. There are many ways to go about this, but the easiest is probably to go to Squarespace and use their service to get started. It’ll run you about $100 a year, which you can recoup through donations or sponsorships if you manage to gain a large enough audience. But you can’t get a big audience without making quality stuff. So…figure it out.

“I’m still not sure I understand…”

Damn but you’re making this difficult. Okay, here we go, just the broadstrokes:

1. Download a Podcast App

2. Subscribe to a Podcast

  • Step 1Step 1: Search for your show, click subscribe
  • Step 2Step 2: Go to "My Podcasts"
  • Step 3Step 3: Download and start listening!

3. Sample a Few Favorites

4. Next Steps

  • Tell your friends Tell your friends!
  • Upgrade your podcatcher Upgrade your podcast app!
  • Give your faves some money Give your faves some money!
  • Make your own, how bout it Make your own, how 'bout it?