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What are podcasts?

The world of podcasting can be an overwhelming one. There are so many series out there that it’s hard to know where to begin your listening journey.

But once you’ve started listening, you’re bound to get hooked – there are just so many exciting shows out there. And before you know it, you could be looking to launch your very own podcast yourself!

Read on for our quick guide to podcasting, covering the best apps, the most popular genres, insurance for a mobile phone and much more.


Podcasts – an introduction

A podcast is a series of on-demand audio programmes, predominantly spoken word rather than music-based. Its name is a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast”.

Listeners can subscribe to a podcast series, usually for free, and get notifications when a new episode is available.

Just as with radio and TV programmes, there are podcasts on every topic you can think of, from news to entertainment to the weird and wonderful.

Unlike radio and TV, though, just about anybody can make a podcast. While some are professionally recorded and edited, others are more amateur – though often no less interesting and enjoyable. Many podcast hosting services are free, making it quite simple to launch your own podcast.

Podcasts have been around since 2004. If you’ve yet to join in the trend, you’ve got some catching up to do: worldwide, there are now 900,000 podcasts comprising 30 million episodes!

While podcasts have long had a healthy audience, there’s been an explosion of interest in recent years. According to Ofcom, around 7.1 million people now tune in to podcasts each week in the UK. Half that number only began listening in the past two years.

Those astronomical listening figures have been largely driven by the increasing popularity of smart speakers and high-spec smartphones.

Yes, podcasts are something else to add to the list of amazing things you can do with your smartphone. Make sure yours is covered by insuring your mobile phone.

A microphone set up for a podcast recording session

What’s the difference between a radio show and a podcast?

Traditionally, radio shows are broadcast via air waves using radio frequency. Podcasts, on the other hand, are distributed via the internet.

Therefore, from a listener’s point of view, to hear to a radio broadcast, you need a device that can receive radio waves. For podcasts, you need any gadget that can access the internet. Many devices can do both – remember to get yours covered with mobile phone cover.

Another key difference is that radio programmes are broadcast live, whereas podcasts are on demand.

However, the distinction between podcasts and radio programmes is blurred. For a start, there’s such a thing as internet radio, which can also be called webcasting: it uses the internet for broadcasting, rather than radio waves.

And most radio programmes now are repackaged after broadcast as podcasts, to enable people to listen at a time and place that suits them.

The BBC has the highest reach of all podcast services in the UK, with three-quarters of people surveyed by Ofcom having listened to a BBC radio podcast. Ofcom’s survey also found that 37% of people have listened to a radio programme for the first time after discovering it through its podcast.

Another key difference is that just about anybody can launch a podcast. Radio programmes require a fair amount of investment in terms of technology and staff, so need a sizeable audience to survive.

Podcasts, on the other hand, can be cheap to produce and distribute, and are therefore able to cover niche topics for small audiences.


When can you listen to podcasts?

The beauty of podcasts is that you can listen to them whenever you like. There’s no need to rush back home for your favourite programme – your podcasts are ready whenever you are. You can pause them when it’s convenient, too.

You can stream podcasts directly from a hosting site, so long as you have an internet connection. This is especially popular for home listening on smart speakers.

You can also download them onto your device to play at times when your internet access is limited, for example when you’re on the move.

Best of all, for many people, is that with good headphones, you can listen to them on public transport. Whereas your favourite radio programme will cut out as you descend into the London Underground or go through a tunnel on a train, you can download a podcast for offline listening.

In fact, some people get so into podcasts that they listen to them in the car, at work, at home, and even to help them get to sleep at night.

Just take care that you don’t lose your smartphone while you’re out and about. Make sure your device is covered with a mobile phone insurance policy.

A woman adjusting her headphones listening to a podcast

What types can you get?

Whatever your interests, there are podcasts to suit you!

According to Ofcom, entertainment is the most popular genre in the UK, with 57% of listeners tuning in. That’s followed by comedy (54%), discussion and talk shows (53%) and news and current affairs (49%).

Some 41% of listeners tune into sport podcasts, while 39% listen to society and culture programmes and the same proportion choose politics.

Even the less popular categories get a healthy audience: hobbies (35%), TV and film (35%), and science and technology (33%).

Of course, those are very broad categories. Some of the most famous podcasts have concerned true crime and investigative reporting, while parenting, lifestyle, film, books, history and religion are also popular topics.

And in the unlikely event that there’s no podcast out there that matches your niche interest, you can simply and cheaply start your own!


The best podcasting apps

You can listen to podcasts on a PC or laptop, but these days most people prefer to tune in via their mobile phone or other smart device.

So if you’re keen to try out a few podcasts, which app should you download? The choice is pretty bewildering – but really, it’s up to your personal preference.

Look out for features such as integration with Alexa or Google Assistant; sleep mode, meaning that it will switch off automatically after a set time; and the ability to sync across all your devices, so you can start a show on your smartphone while out and about, then switch to a smart speaker when you get home. Many offer different playback speeds and a variety of sharing options, too.

There’s a huge choice out there, so here are just a few of the most popular options. They’re all free, though some have subscription options.

If you’ve got an iPhone, iPod or iPad, then you’ve already got Apple Podcasts. It offers hundreds of thousands of podcasts, so you’ll never be lacking for something to listen.

Pocket Casts is a great choice. Previously, it was a paid-for app – but since Autumn 2019, it’s been totally free for both Android and Apple users. It’s got an easy-to-use interface, great search function, and a huge choice of shows.

For those who listen to a lot of BBC radio, the BBC Sounds app is your mobile friend. It allows you to listen live to all BBC radio stations, as well as access its programmes and podcasts on demand.

Podbean is a podcast hosting company that also offers a podcast app. If you’re thinking of launching your own podcast – see below for our quick guide – then it’s great to get to grips with this app. It’s now got an Alexa skill, too, making it even easier to search for your new favourite show. 

If you listen to a lot of music, chances are you are already well acquainted with the Spotify streaming service. In addition to every tune under the sun, it’s got a growing selection of podcasts. A good pick if you’re a music lover reluctant to load up your phone with many apps.

Google Podcasts is a relative newbie, having been launched in 2018. However, with the might of Google behind it, you can be assured it’s going to be huge. It’s free, and for Android platforms only.

Finally, Stitcher is another highly rated app. One of its best features is that it allows you to search for individual episodes, not just entire series.

Whichever app you decide is right for you, remember to protect your gadget through mobile phone insurance.


How to start your own podcast

Perhaps listening to podcasts has got you inspired to share your expertise and voice with the world.

Maybe you need to market an activity you’re involved with, or build the brand for a business that you run. Or perhaps you fancy trying something new, just for fun.

The great news is that it’s pretty easy to launch your own podcast with just a relatively small amount of upfront investment in terms of time and money.

Podcast expert Katy Cowan outlines the essential steps you need to take to get a successful podcast up and running.

  1. First, think why you’re doing this. Be clear about what your purpose is and who your audience will be.
  2. Work out which category it will fit into, as this helps people find you. You can pick a couple of secondary topics, too. There are several directories you could choose, but Apple is currently the largest.
  3. Write your show description, addressing your proposed audience directly and telling them what they can expect in each episode. This will help you shape your podcast. You’ll need to consider who might listen and what you can offer them: for example, will your podcast feature just you talking, or will you conduct interviews with special guests?
  4. Next, design your podcast cover. A striking design can get you to the top of the podcast charts, so if you have the money to invest in graphic design, then do so. Otherwise, there are various websites offering
  5. Then pick a catchy and memorable name. If you’ve already got a brand, you need it to match. Otherwise, make sure the name you choose is available on social media and as a web domain – even if you only want a podcast for the moment, you might like to expand in the future. Consider using keywords in your podcast name to improve its searchability.
  6. Now it’s time to set-up your podcasting gear. If you want to make a solo recording, all you’ll need is a PC or laptop running software such as Audacity, which you can download for free; and a microphone. A ‘pop filter’, which prevents sounds ‘popping’ on the mic, is a good idea, too. If you want to interview people, or even carry out remote interviews, you’ll need to invest in another microphone and a mixing deck. Even so, you can buy a decent set-up without a huge financial outlay.
  7. After you’ve made your recordings, you’ll need to edit them using software such as Audacity. Add an intro and outro, and a theme tune – there are various sites offering royalty-free music.
  8. Choose a hosting and distribution service, such as PodBean, ZenCast or Buzzsprout. These do generally charge a small subscription, but will get your podcast featured on all the apps listed above and many more.
  9. Launch your podcast! It’s wise to wait until you’ve recorded several episodes, and launch a few together to get people hooked. The real pros will record and release trailers, too, to get people excited about the upcoming launch.

Happy podcasting!

A pair of glasses and headphones on a laptop

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