Podcasts and the Amazon Echo system are a match made in heaven: you get good sound quality, voice-based control, and a diverse stable of podcasts to listen to. Let’s look at how to tap into a huge podcast library and how, when necessary, to reach beyond it.
How Your Echo Supports Podcast Playback
We’ve shown you how to fine tune your Amazon Echo to give you weather and sports updates, but you can also get full podcasts. Given the radio-like nature of podcasts its a perfect extension of your Echo to also use them to enjoy news, social commentary, information about your favorite hobbies, and even radio drama. In fact it’s so easy to do so, you’ll wonder why you haven’t already been enjoying podcasts on the Echo already.
Unlike most services that are integrated into the Echo ecosystem–like Spotify Radio and Pandora–there’s no need to sign up for (or pay any fees) to listen to podcasts through your Echo devices. Amazon paired with the podcast and internet radio service provider TuneIn such that TuneIn’s free services–which include 100,000 radio stations and 5.7 million podcasts–are automatically available on the Echo. No signup, login, or configuration needed.
Using TuneIn with Your Echo Device
Because there is no need to register for a TuneIn account or even turn it on in the settings for your Alexa account, you could actually start using it right this instant. Have an Echo device nearby? You can immediately dial into any podcast in the vast TuneIn library. Want to hear the newest edition of the popular podcast RadioLab? No problem, just say:
“Alexa, play the program RadioLab.”
If, for some reason, that command coupled with a particular podcast name trips Alexa up, you can also use a more verbose and specific command like so:
“Alexa, play RadioLab podcast on TuneIn.”
Now that’s all well and good if you know the name of a popular podcast you want to listen to (as there’s a very good chance that TuneIn has the very popular podcast you’re interested in) but it doesn’t help you much if you’re more interested in searching for new material to listen to.
Searching for TuneIn Podcasts (Inside and Outside of Alexa)
There are two (well, perhaps two and a half) ways to go about finding new podcasts to listen to. First, you can search on the Alexa companion app. This method, if you don’t already know the name of a podcast you’re interested in, is a bit lackluster, as the user interface on the Alexa app for this particular function is a bit clunky.
To search in the Alexa app, open up the application and tap on the menu icon located in the upper left corner.
Select “Music & Books” from the sidebar menu.
Scroll down to the bottom and select “TuneIn”
Here you’ll find a search box as well as a laundry list of categories.
There’s really no rhyme or reason to why some categories are listed over other categories (like we never figured out why “Brazilian Popular” kept appearing in the varies category lists we looked at). You can scroll down and click on the “Podcast” category but it just, in turn, gives you more sub-categories that don’t necessarily feel the best laid out.
In fact, we’re really only showing you how to do this particular step in the interest of thoroughness. Frankly, if you don’t already know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to find it very easily.
Rather than dink around in the Alexa app, you can visit TuneIn’s website to more easily browser their content.
Not only can you use the search function more easily than pecking away on your phone, but you can jump right to their (much better organized) suggested podcast list by going right to the “Podcast Radio” category.
The extra half of the last trick, searching the web instead Alexa, is honestly much better if you search the greater web instead of limiting yourself to just TuneIn (either via the app or via their website search portal).
Given that we weren’t really blown away by either method, it’s way more effective to hit up Google with search queries focused on your interests like “best history podcasts”, “best radio drama podcasts”, or the like. There are blog posts galore written about these very subjects and you’ll have no trouble finding an article about podcasts for those with even the most eccentric tastes.
Once you find something you like via your general inquiry, it’s a snap (given the size of TuneIn’s expansive, albeit kind of hard to browse, catalog) to find it. Should you stumble across the absolute drama podcast gem that is Welcome to Night Vale via the also excellent Radio Drama Revival podcast, you can find it with a simple search in TuneIn or call it by name by requesting Alexa “play program Welcome to Night Vale”.
Reaching Beyond TuneIn
When it comes to current events type podcasts (such as the various NPR podcasts you can tap into) or podcasts that don’t have any particular strong continuity between sessions (like episodes of RadioLab, Nerdist, or other popular and frequently published podcasts focused on individual topics), the method in which TuneIn serves up the podcasts–by serving the most recent edition–is more than fine.
When you load up a podcast that has continuity, however–like Welcome to Night Vale–the limitations of the Alexa interface (both verbally and the app) become clear. While the Alexa’s TuneIn integration is spot on when it comes to requesting a podcast and getting immediate and snappy playback of the most current episode, it’s pretty painful (if not impossible in some cases) to move backwards in the podcast’s catalog.
In the case of the charming and eccentric Welcome to Night Vale podcast we’ve recommended–the podcast is set up like you’re listening to the public radio station of a very bizarre little town in the American Southwest–there are over a hundred episodes.
If you want to listen to them in order, you’re stuck approaching the problem one of two ways. Either you have to scroll through the long archive on the Alexa app (after searching for Welcome to Night Vale)–a method we found particularly frustrating because the search results were oddly non-sequential–or you need to use your voice to page back through the previous episodes. All the previous episodes.
If you find a podcast you like with 100 episodes, then you’re stuck. If you’re using the verbal command method, calling up the podcast by name and then saying “Alexa, play the previous episode” over, and over, and over again until you’ve verbally paged your way back to the beginning. Worse yet, Alexa will forget you did this silly circus act and start you right back at the beginning next time.
In such cases, we’re going to strongly encourage you to put aside the convenience of voice-driven Echo playback and instead–at least until you’re caught up with the backlog of the particular podcast you’re interested in–use your Echo more like a Bluetooth speaker extension of your phone and less like a smart device of the future. Use the built-in podcast app on your iOS device (which syncs beautifully to the vast and easily searched iTunes podcast library) or the wildly popular and award winning podcast software Pocket Casts (Android/iOS).
Once you’ve churned through the backlog, you can then return to calling on Alexa to play you the newest episodes. It’s a minor inconvenience for those long running shows with continuity, but at the moment, it’s a hoop you have to jump through until (or even when) Alexa’s handling of such shows is improved.
Have a favorite podcast you’d recommend fellow readers queue up on their Echo? Join us in the comments and share.