How To Subscribe To a Podcast (Without iTunes)

I'm a contributor to a couple of podcasts, and I've appeared as a guest on a couple of others. Whenever I mention that fact to most people, the first question I usually hear is:

What Is a Podcast?

A podcast is like a cross between a radio show and a blog. It's an audio program that is published over the Internet like a blog is.

There's a broad variety of kinds and formats of podcasts. Some are short, some are long. Some are daily, others are annual. Some are pre-recorded and edited, others are recorded live on-air. Some are only audio, some come with a video version.

The one thing that all podcasts have in common is the way they're distributed: through RSS.

What's RSS?

RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication". And it is really simple. The vast majority of blogs and other websites use RSS to publish their posts.

As a user, such as yourself, the way you use RSS is as a "web aggregator". It's a tool that allows you to bring all the new posts from your favourite websites into one place, sort of like an email inbox, that lets you  read them without having to visit each website individually.

To do that, you need an RSS reader - an application that you use to subscribe to RSS feeds, and displays them for you. Although there are a lot of RSS readers available, my favourite is Google Reader.

Just paste the address in the Subscribe box
You can subscribe to a feed in Google Reader by pasting the address of the website you want to subscribe to into the Subscribe box. Google Reader will find the feeds associated with that site, and you're away. If you are visiting a site with an RSS feed, and you see an orange RSS button somewhere on the page, clicking that button will take you straight to the feed you want, and you can just copy the address from your browser's address bar into Reader's "Subscribe" box, if you want to.

Look for the RSS logo.
You can sort your feeds into folders, and you can share the items you like directly to Google+.

(Most other feed readers work in much the same way, although not all of them are as easy to use as Google Reader)

How Do I Subscribe To Podcasts In Google Reader?

All you need to do is subscribe to the podcast's RSS feed. When the podcast's creators publish a new episode, it'll appear in your Google Reader with a little audio player box, so you can listen to it right there in your browser.

Listen in your browser or download the file.
If you prefer to download the file and listen to it later, there's a link to the original audio file right below the player box. Easy as that.

How Do I Listen To Podcasts On My Phone?

If you've got a smartphone, or other phone that allows you to play music, you probably already know how to get your music onto the phone. Podcasts are MP3 files, just like your digital music collection, so you can copy them to your phone the exact same way.

If you have an Android phone, there's an even easier way: Google Listen.

Google Listen
Listen is an app you install on your phone. It accesses your Google Account, and then creates a new folder in your Google Reader called "Listen Subscriptions". If you move one of your podcast subscriptions into that folder, Listen will automatically download new episodes and have them ready for you to listen to at your convenience.

You can easily manage how often it checks for new episodes, when it downloads them (you might want to tell it to only download via WiFi, or it'll cost you a fortune on mobile data charges), how many episodes to store on the phone and so on. It's simple, elegant and easy to use.

If you don't like Google Listen, there are plenty of other podcast apps available with more powerful tools, most of which work together with your Google Reader account.

Is That It?

Yup, that's all you need. If you have an Apple device (an iPod, iPhone or iPad) there's another way of subscribing to podcasts using iTunes. But since I don't use Apple products myself, you'll need to find instructions for that elsewhere.

If you'd like to subscribe to the podcasts I contribute to, click here to add them to your Google Reader.

If you have any questions, please drop them in the comments below. I'll do my best to answer them for you.

1 comment:

  1. Who wants to subscribe using Google Reader? Most podcasts can be subscribed to using an RSS feed for the podcast itself. Those links, usually through libsyn, enable you to subscribe with your Android phone and Google listen.

    If a podcast doesn't have an RSS link that works with Google listen, then screw them. ...but all of the big ones do. e.g. Carolla, Smodcast, WTF, Joe Rogan etc...