Those readers “of a certain age” will recall the on-screen sight of the late actor Kevin McCarthy dashing around the strees of southern California, shouting about “The Pods! The Pods!” at the climax of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
Well, today’s “pod” word isn’t science fiction; rayjer it’s wel;-established fact: Podcasts are sweeping the planet as a means of communication with people of like mind. What’s more anyone-and I do mean just about anyone with access to a computer0can create and disctribute their own podcasts around the world.
“Podcasting,” the online encyclopedia Wikipedia informs us, “is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers…. The term podcast, like ‘radio,’ can mean both the content and the method of delivery. The host or author of a podcast is often called a ‘podcaster.’”
Beyond this, a podcast can also be syndicated, which in computer circles means it is distributed by an automatic service known as “RSS” (Really Simple Syndication) or Atom, another syndication software platform. Commercial services such as Apple Computer’s iTunes also offer podcasts—a search of the Apple iTunes site for Australian-themed podcasts turned up several dozen, including churches such as DaySpring church, or Brisbane’s CityWest church. (I found, sadly, no Seventh-day Adventist churches in Australia offering podcasts, but perhaps word of these haven’t reached us in the northern hemisphere just yet.)
What else characterises a podcast? Lengths can vary—from three to five minutes, up to half-an-hour or more. As I type, I’m listening to a podcast from the Loma Linda University church in California. I’m 20 minutes into the audio, and don’t know how long it’ll take.
But no matter: the content is generally free of charge, and all one pays for is the bandwidth used to download the audio. The files can be large—10 to 15 megabytes or larger, depending on program length—but these can also be deleted when you are finished.
The “king” of podcast applications is iTunes (pictured previous page), which is free for users of Microsoft Windows and the Macintosh operating system, OS X. You can search their directory of podcasts and find many of use, including some that may be familiar to Signs readers including the Voice of Prophecy, It is Written (which offers video podcasts of its television programs) and Amazing Facts. Ground7 News at news.adventist.org/podcast is a great way to keep up with Seventh-day Adventist church news.
Other Christian organisations, including The Salvation Army, have their own podcasts from various branch churches and/or their headquarters. I wouldn’t be surprised if, some day in the not too distant future, Pope Benedict XVI’s messages are available via podcast.
How can you get in on this? Listening is easy, as noted above; podcasting isn’t much more difficult.
You need a computer with an internet connection, audio recording software and at least a built-in microphone. On the Windows side, there are dozens of podcasting programs available, even a free one, Audacity, that seems pretty nice (audacity.sourceforge.net for information). Commercial Windows programs can run relatively cheaply, but Audacity and its helper applications (see their website) might be all you need.
For Mac users, a program called Garage Band has everything you need to produce a professional-sounding podcast, talent excepted. It’s part of Apple’s iLife 2006 package and I recommend it highly. (Those on limited budgets will want to know that a Mac version of freeware Audacity is also available.)
The content and length of your podcast is up to you. A check of Apple’s iTunes podcast roster will reveal shows that are rated “clean,” or family-friendly, and those with an “explicit” warning. Most Signs readers, I suspect, will want to stay in the “clean” range!
A budding podcaster will want to study other podcasts in their desired genre to get a feel for what is being done, and how they may wish to improve or change. Or you can just strike out on your own—it’s up to you.
But with freedom there must also be responsibility, as one Christian thinker, Dr Jan Paulsen, said recently, “I agree: when putting anything on the Web, act with responsibility and respect for others.”