I was listening to my favorite new radio station on the long drive to work the other day. The commute started with 20 minutes of rock 'n'...

Share story

SAN JOSE, Calif. — I was listening to my favorite new radio station on the long drive to work the other day.

The commute started with 20 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll songs spun by a disc jockey who apparently was drinking beer during his shift, followed by a review of the 1998 Bill Murray movie “Rushmore” (which I’ll probably rent now) and a six-minute show about sex. It ended with a show hosted by a semihumorous couple from Wisconsin who discussed … well … themselves.

I wanted to sneak in a few minutes for a program aimed at Mac computer users but ran out of time.

The name of this eclectic radio station? Call it iPod radio.

Thanks to a new technology called podcasting, I’ve turned my iPod into a personalized radio station, loading it with talk shows and cutting-edge music that I’d never be able to hear on traditional radio stations. It’s transformed my listening habits overnight.

What they’re listening to

Here are the podcasts receiving the most votes on Podcast Alley.

1. Dawn and Drew Show (www.dawnanddrew.com) (for age 18 and older)

2. Engadget (www.engadget.com)

3. Reel Reviews — Films Worth Watching (mwgblog.com)

4. IT Conversations (www.itconversations.com)

5. Daily Source Code (live.curry.com)

6. Coverville (www.coverville.com)

7. Free Talk Live (freetalklive.com)

8. The MacCast (maccast.blogspot.com)

9. Rock and Roll Geek (www.rockandrollgeek.com)

10. Tracks up the Tree (tracks.upthetree.com)

Source: Podcast AlP

Although it’s new, I’m convinced podcasting will transform the way many people consume media, just as blogging and TiVo have. When you can program your own radio station, carry it with you anywhere and pause and restart it at will, who needs mainstream, advertising-supported broadcast radio? As technology guru Doc Searls wrote on his blog in October:

“Podcasting will shift much of our time away from an old medium where we wait for what we might want to hear to a new medium where we choose what we want to hear, when we want to hear it and how we want to give everybody else the option to listen to it as well.”

The technology behind podcasting — conceived by technologist Dave Winer and former MTV VJ Adam Curry — is simple.

By wrapping a few lines of code around MP3 files, Web-site owners make it possible for people to “subscribe” to their audio programs using special software.

It’s the same technology — called RSS for Really Simple Syndication — that allows Internet users to subscribe to blogs and other Web content.

With podcasting, I program my podcast software (I’m using PlayPod for now) with a list of shows I want to subscribe to. The software does the rest, from finding and downloading the shows onto my computer, to copying them into my iTunes library. I just sync my iPod with my computer, and I’m set.

True, Web programming has existed for years, and I could have been manually downloading and copying the MP3 files onto my iPod long ago.

But it’s the automation of podcasting that changes the game. Think TiVo. Which would you rather do when recording a TV show? Fumble with trying to set the timer on your balky VCR, or let TiVo automatically find and record the shows for you?

I’m discovering new programming daily.

In late January, I found a radio show that dedicated an entire hour to a tribute to the late talk-show host Johnny Carson, including audio clips from his old shows.

Someone named Jason Adams has started a podcast called “Five for the Drive,” which is all about “ensuring you have a great five songs to download and drive to work to.”

I’ve finally started listening to IT Conversations, a series of shows aimed at the tech crowd.

“On the Media,” produced by New York Public Radio, is perfect brain food for us journalists.

Taking the first steps

A podcast requires software that reads RSS 2.0 feeds with enclosed audio files. The software is available at sites like www.iPodderX.com or www.iPodder.net. The software downloads audio files to your PC and moves the tracks to iTunes or another music management program for transfer to your iPod or other digital-music player. All you do is subscribe to podcast feeds and your machine does the rest.

Here are some podcast portals that can get you hooked with show programming:

• Podcast Alley: www.podcastalley.com

• The GodCast Network: www.godcast.org

• Adam Curry’s iPodder software: www.ipodder.org

Source: Knight Ridder Newspapers,

The Associated Press

And “Coverville,” “a thrice-weekly voyage into the world of cover songs,” is entertaining at times.

Podcasting hasn’t entirely replaced radio for me. I still regularly tune in to NPR and my favorite rock station; it’s easier, sometimes, to let someone else do the programming.

But I’m also hoping that traditional media learn to embrace podcasting.

What if my favorite radio station created a “new artists” podcast every week? Done right, I might even endure it with advertising.

How hard would it be for a newspaper to create its own audio news podcasts so people could get their news at work or the gym or while they take their morning walks?

(Answer: Not hard at all.)

Someday soon, I suspect, we’ll have video podcasts, so we can watch TV shows or amateur video on our computers or portable media players.

Not surprisingly, there’s a ton of white noise in the podcasting world.

Sifting through the chaff to get to the wheat can be a pain.

Who knew there were so many wannabe DJs and talk-show hosts, waiting for their big chance? As of late January, the online directory Podcast Alley had links to 822 different shows.

I had high hopes for a talk show dedicated to beers and microbrews, since I sometimes brew my own beer. But it seemed the co-hosts were spending too much time sipping the merchandise, and I had to zap them from my playlist.

“The Dawn and Drew Show,” “married bestest buddies, podcasting from their 1895 farmhouse living room in southeast Wisconsin,” is one of the most popular podcasts today. But at the close of every show, I felt I’d just wasted a half-hour of my life. Zap!

A lot of shows spend far too much time talking about podcasting itself and marveling at the technology and its rising popularity.

I’m not worried, though. The blogging phenomenon started similarly, littering the Web with hundreds upon hundreds of mind-numbing Web diaries by technology geeks and bored teens.

How many bloggers whiled away hours writing about the art and novelty of blogging? Too many.

But the medium is aging nicely. Now I find plenty of high-quality and entertaining content in the blogosphere. I expect the same to happen with podcasting.

Besides, it doesn’t matter how much audio junk is swirling around out there. Unlike with broadcast radio, I’m the programmer now. I can pick and choose what I want. I’m the master of my iPod Radio.