I’ve started a new series of history podcast reviews on this blog and over at the Genealogy Technology YouTube Channel. While podcasts are becoming hugely popular, they haven’t yet – as of this writing – quite hit the mainstream. I still have people asking me “What exactly is a podcast?” And the biggie: “How can I listen to all these podcasts you recommend?”
The answer to that first question is that a podcast is like a modern day radio show and you can find one about nearly any topic you can imagine – from today’s news to the Little House on the Prairie TV series. (Yes, really!) The vast majority of podcasts are absolutely free and they’re a great way to learn new things or keep yourself entertained when exercising, doing chores or driving.
As for the second question, this post will show you how to listen to and subscribe to podcasts so you never miss an episode.
The Easiest Way to Instantly Listen to a Podcast
If you are at your computer or have your smartphone handy and just want to listen to a single podcast episode, the easiest way to do that is go to the podcast’s website.
For example, here’s the website for Ben Franklin’s World, the subject of my first podcast review. Just find an episode you like and hit the triangular play button, and you’re all set. By the way, if your favorite podcast doesn’t have a website, you may find it hosted on Soundcloud.
But there are drawbacks of listening to podcasts from the podcast’s website. First, you need to be connected to the internet. If you’re not on Wifi, that can eat into your mobile data plan. Second, unless you’re signed up for email notifications you may forget to listen when new podcasts come out. So that brings me too…
How to Listen to Podcasts on Your Phone or Device (Recommended)
I listen to podcasts in the car and when I’m doing chores around the house, so I recommend listening to podcasts on something portable – like your smartphone!
Depending on the type of smartphone you have, there are built-in apps that allow you to listen to podcasts.
iPhone – Apple Podcasts App – Find it already installed in your phone by searching “podcasts” or looking for this icon:
Android or Google Pixel – Google Podcasts App – Find it already installed in your phone by searching “podcasts” or looking for this icon:
If you have an older Android phone you may find that you don’t have Google Podcasts. Instead, you can listen and subscribe to podcasts through the built-in Google Play Music app.
There are also other apps that you can download. This really depends on the types of features that you want when listening to podcasts.
PocketCasts ($5.99 one time fee) – I like PocketCasts because it allows you to create filters around your different types of podcasts. For example, I could create a filter for all my history podcasts and then when I’m feeling super historical I could choose to only listen to podcasts in that particular category. (Full disclosure: At this point, the other two major smartphone podcasting apps may allow you to do this, too. I’ve been using PocketCasts for so long that I haven’t kept up with the “other” guys!)
Spotify – Spotify starting hosting podcasts a few years ago. However, they aren’t ideal (to me) for podcast listening because they require you to be a paid Spotify Premium subscriber in order to do things that other podcast apps allow for free – like saving episodes to listen to when you’re offline. As of right now, I only recommend Spotify for podcasts if you are already a Spotify Premium subscriber and really, really want to keep all your music/sound files in one app.
How to Listen on Your Phone
Listening to a podcast on any one of these apps on your phone is as easy as searching the podcast, picking an episode and hitting play. In most cases, your podcast app will download the podcast episode to your phone, but it will also delete it once you’ve finished the episode.
However, I recommend hitting the “subscribe” button on your favorite podcasts. When you do this, your phone will automatically download new episodes of your podcast. This means that you can listen to them even when you’re offline – like on a plane or in an area with no internet access. This is especially useful if your phone plan doesn’t include a large amount of data. Your favorite podcasts will download while you are connected to the internet to avoid excess data use charges.
Subscribing also means you won’t miss an episode of your favorite podcast. While a lot of podcasts are about non-fiction topics, there are plenty of scripted story podcasts, too, and if you miss an episode you can miss a lot! By the way, my favorite “story” podcast is Welcome to Night Vale. I highly recommend it, though it has nothing whatsoever to do with genealogy.
How to Listen to Podcasts on Your Computer
If you’re prefer to listen to podcasts on your computer, here’s how:
Mac Users – iTunes is your built in podcasting app.
Windows Users – as far as I know, you don’t have a built-in podcast app. However, you can also download iTunes.
There are instructions on getting started with iTunes on your Mac or PC here.
Final Note: Premium Podcasts
From time to time you may come across a podcast you want to listen to, but find out that it isn’t free. Some podcasts only play on premium (i.e. paid) subscription services like Stitcher. Other podcasts may be “exclusive” to one podcasting app. And some podcasters try to make money – and who can blame them? – by offering premium episodes, or episodes without ads, if you pay a small monthly fee through services like Patreon.
Podcasts have been around awhile, but the industry behind podcasting is still a wild west. Right now, the vast majority of podcasts are free, but that could change in the future. Meanwhile, it’s always a good idea to throw your favorite podcasters some compensation for all their hard work, even if that means shopping with one of their advertisers or sending them a one-time tip through their Patreon page!
Do you have any questions about listening to podcasts? Is this post out of date? Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, happy detecting!