Podcast hero.
Irina Popova st / Shutterstock.com

Podcasts have boomed in popularity over the last decade, but they’ve been around much longer than that. Sometimes it feels like everyone on the planet has a podcast. What’s the story behind this form of audio entertainment?

A Brief History of Podcasts

The concept for podcasts was hatched in 2000 by Tristan Louis and Dave Winer. The idea was to enable people to attach sound and video files to RSS feeds. Winer was also the author of the RSS format, and podcasts were included in RSS version 0.92.

The first podcast is considered to be IT Conversations by Dough Kaye. It started in 2003 and ran all the way until 2012. Two years after it started, Apple added podcasts to iTunes. This played a huge part in podcasts’ eventual popularity.

iTunes Logo Hero - August 2020

Previously, you needed a separate “podcatcher” application to download podcasts. iTunes made the process much easier. The addition of reviews made iTunes into the defacto home for podcasts for many years. To this day, podcasters still ask listeners to leave reviews on Apple Podcasts as it helps raise the show in popularity.

Beyond iTunes, Apple can also be considered responsible for the term “podcast” itself. “Podcast” is a combination of “iPod” and “broadcast.” iPods were some of the very first devices that could download podcasts on mobile devices, thanks to iTunes. The term was coined by Ben Hammersky for The Guardian.

RELATED: What Is RSS, and How Can I Benefit From Using It?

What Is a Podcast?

“Podcast” may seem like a weird name, but it’s actually a very simple concept. A podcast is simply an audio program, such as a talk show or an audio dramatization, uploaded to an RSS feed.

The idea is very similar to radio shows, but with one major difference. Podcasts can be listened to on-demand. The show is recorded and then uploaded to a hosting service. You can then listen to the show on your phone or computer whenever you’d like.

Spotify podcast ratings

Since the majority of podcasts are uploaded to feeds for free, you can listen to them in any app that can read those feeds. All you need is the link to the podcast’s feed. This makes podcasts much more accessible than streaming music and video services. (Some podcasts are now “exclusives” and are only available on platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, however.)

The colloquial definition of podcasts has evolved past on-demand audio shows. Some podcasts are recorded live, some also have video versions or are only available as video. “Podcast” now is its own genre of entertainment, essentially a modern version of talk shows.

The “average” podcast has a couple of hosts who talk about a topic. Episodes are usually around 30-60 minutes, released on a weekly schedule. Podcast topics can range from rewatching old TV shows, recapping a sports team’s games, politics, video games, technology, and just about anything you can imagine.

How to Listen to a Podcast

Search for podcasts in Pocket Casts

Now you might be wondering how to listen to these audio experiences. The good news is it’s never been easier to get started with podcasts. All you need is a device with access to the internet.

There are a few popular methods for listening to podcasts. iTunes Podcasts became Apple Podcasts, which is included on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers. Spotify and Google Podcasts are two other popular choices for podcasts.

One of the cool things about podcasts is you can listen to most of them with whatever app you want. There are more options than Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Pocket Casts is an excellent podcast player for iPhone and Android. Stitcher is another popular provider.

RELATED: How to Listen to Podcasts on iPhone, iPad, or Android

However—and this is a big “however”—not every podcast is available in any ‘ol podcasting app. Some podcasts are exclusive to platforms. For example, Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” is only available on Spotify. “Hooked” is a true crime podcast only available on Apple Podcasts.

If you’re looking for a specific podcast, you might want to check to see if it’s exclusive to any platforms first. Once you’ve got your podcast app, it’s just a matter of subscribing to podcasts. It’s the same idea as subscribing to a YouTube channel. Search for a show title or browse the categories and tap that “Subscribe” button.

Once subscribed, you’ll get new episodes when they’re released. You can also listen to the back catalog of episodes. Listening to a podcast is basically like listening to music. You can pause, fast forward, rewind, and usually adjust the playback speed. It’s not necessary to listen to full episodes in one sitting, they can be enjoyed on your own time.

RELATED: How to Subscribe to Podcasts on Spotify

What started as an addition to RSS has exploded to become one of the major types of media people consume—movies, TV shows, music, books, and podcasts. They’ve changed a lot over the years, but the same general concept remains. Go forth and listen to people talk.

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
Read Full Bio »