Thursday, February 10, 2005

Pod people are invading the media.

“Podcasts,” radio-style programs that can be played online or downloaded to IPods and other digital audio devices, have become the latest vehicle for consumers to get information and entertainment on their own terms.

Most podcasts are produced by amateurs, some of whom say they are fed up with the homogenized sound of traditional radio.

Homemade podcasts include “The Dawn and Drew Show,” a talk show that originates three or four times a week from the living room of a Wisconsin couple, and “Bandtrax,” a weekly showcase of independent musicians.

However, some well-known organizations, including public radio stations and the National Football League, are making programming available in podcast form.

“It puts power in the hands of the user,” said Bob Garfield, host of National Public Radio’s “On the Media,” a weekly media criticism show and one of a few traditional radio programs that are available in podcast form.

Podcasting has been around for about six months, but it is growing in popularity along with IPods. Of the 10 million IPods sold since 2001, about half were bought during the holiday season.

Podcasts are compared to blogs, online journals that have forced newspapers to compete for readers’ attention.

They also are compared to Tivo and other digital recording devices that allow consumers to choose when they want to watch their favorite television shows.

About 800 podcasts are regularly scheduled, and the number is growing daily, the Associated Press reported this week.

Most podcasts are free. They usually come in two formats: talk shows and music programs, said Chris McIntyre, who oversees, an online directory of podcasts.

“On the Media,” which is produced by New York public radio station WNYC-AM (820) and distributed nationally by NPR, has been available in podcast form since January.

WNYC announced plans this week to make segments of “The Leonard Lopate Show,” a weekday interview show, available as a podcast, beginning March 7.

“People are experiencing time poverty. If they can’t listen to the show on the air, they can listen on a podcast,” said Phil Redo, WNYC’s vice president of station operations.

NPR is considering making some of its national programs available as podcasts. It sees the technology as an extension of its extensive online archives of programming, said Maria C. Thomas, an NPR vice president.

Commercial stations haven’t jumped on the bandwagon.

“I don’t know how we make money off that in the current model,” said Randall Bloomquist, program director for WMAL-AM (630), an ABC-owned talk-radio station in the Washington area that carries the syndicated Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity shows.

Mr. Garfield said podcasting represents a bigger threat to satellite radio services such as XM and Sirius, which have billed themselves as the alternative to traditional radio.

“If I were XM and Sirius, I’d been quivering right now,” he said.

The satellite services haven’t made their signature programs available as podcasts, but other organizations have.

The NFL produced recordings of the Super Bowl and playoff games as podcasts. The price: $10 for a full game, or individual highlights for 95 cents each.

Becoming a podcaster is fairly easy. It requires a personal computer, a microphone and recording software, which is generally available free online.

There are two ways to listen to a podcast: by downloading it on a computer and listening through a media player, or by downloading it to an IPod or other mobile listening device.

“It gives you the power to compete with Howard Stern from your basement,” said Joe Lipscomb, who produces a religious-themed podcast from his home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

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