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Created date

February 23rd, 2015

The term “podcast” was coined in 2004 as the name for an audio program available through download on the Internet. While podcasts may have started out with a few negative stereotypes and been dismissed as superfluous or “nerdy,” times are changing, and podcasts are rapidly gaining popularity.   

Now, over a decade later, podcasts have seen a surge of subscribers in the past year. According to some reports, one in three Americans have reported they’ve listened to a podcast.  

What’s the appeal?

Podcasts have several benefits over other traditional entertainment outlets, such as television, radio, or even books and magazines. Podcasts are free to download and are available on demand 24/7. There are a wide range of categories and subjects for every podcast listener. With over 250,000 podcasts available, you are sure to find something to spark your interest.  

Podcasts provide many advantages to content providers as well. The hardware and software needed to create a podcast is much cheaper and easier to use than the traditional radio format. This allows hosts almost complete creative freedom and just about eliminates reliance on sponsors and advertisers.

How to listen

Podcasts are easy to download and listen to. Most people choose to listen to and download their podcasts directly from their smartphones or tablets, either through iTunes or a “pod catcher” app. These apps allow you to subscribe to a podcast, much like you would for a paper magazine. Once subscribed, new episodes will automatically download to your device. However, if you prefer, many podcasts can be found and listened to online. 

Best of the best

With over 200,000 unique podcasts available to users at any given moment, it can be a little daunting trying to pick one to listen to. So as a starting point, here are my picks for some of the best podcasts available today.  

Serial. Widely considered the most popular podcast of 2014, Serial’s premier 12-episode season chronicled the 1999 murder and trial of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee. The series was such a viral hit, even the popular late night sketch show Saturday Night Live parodied it.

This American Life. This American Life started as a terrestrial radio broadcast and even had a short stint as a TV program on Showtime. Episodes revolve around a central theme, often including multiple stories ranging from informative or humorous to inspiring.

Freakonomics. The best-selling book is a now a podcast! Authors and economists Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner host a biweekly show that focus on how economics affects things you wouldn’t normally think about. Some recent popular episodes include “Do Expensive Wines Taste Better?” and “Is College Really Worth It?”

If none of the above tickles your fancy, check out iTunes and just start browsing. Since podcasts are free, you don’t risk anything by downloading a few to test the waters.