Start your own Podcast

Imagine running your own radio station—but without the hassle of transmitters, expensive hardware, or training. With Podcasting, it’s that easy. Podcasting is amateur radio at its best: people from all around the world are recording their own broadcasts on topics ranging from technology to religion. Listeners subscribe to the broadcasts, which are downloaded to iTunes or to an iPod for listening on-the-go.

Podcasts let you interact with audiences in a way that blogs can’t. Last December I started my own Podcast, The Wanderlust Geek, to share my travel stories from around the world. Writing down the same stories would have taken a lot longer. And sharing my tales verbally added a level of intimacy that written words couldn’t have achieved.

It’s surprisingly easy to join the ranks of Podcasters. In fact, you probably already have most of what you need. Once you’ve recorded your broadcast, you simply put it online and distribute it to others through an online syndication technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Think of RSS as a beacon that announces when new online content is available. Listeners use an RSS reader, such as Thunderstone Media’s iPodderX ($20), to find available podcasts and download them to iTunes (for more on how to find and listen to Podcasts, see “Are You Listening?” ).

What You Need

To record a Podcast, you need a few basic pieces of equipment:

Microphone
Most iMacs, laptops, and eMacs have internal microphones. But I’ve found these mikes a bit lacking in both range and sound quality. I recommend going with an external computer mike instead. You can pick up a simple one from Radio Shack for around $30. It’s definitely worth the investment.

The latest PowerBooks and desktop Macs (excluding the Mac mini and the eMac) offer audio-in jacks, so you plug the mike right into the computer. If your Mac lacks this port, you’ll need to plug the mike into a USB audio interface such as Griffin Technology’s iMic ($40). To get the best performance, Griffin recommends plugging the iMic into a self-powered USB hub instead of directly into a Mac.

If you have an iPod, you can use Griffin’s $40 iTalk voice recorder to record Podcasts while you’re out and about. The iTalk plugs into the top of your iPod and records audio as a WAV file, which you can later download to iTunes or import into editing software. You can even go hands-free with the help of a clip-on mike such as Griffin’s $15 Lapel Mic.

Headphones
You’ll also want to plug a pair of headphones into your Mac so you can monitor your voice as you record. This allows you to hear your voice as others will hear it, and to detect background noise your ears might not otherwise pick up.

Software
If you’re recording directly to your Mac, you’ll need special software to capture the audio as you speak. There’s a wide range of options to choose from. If you have the iLife ’05 suite, for example, you can use GarageBand 2 for these tasks. However, I’ve found that the simplest—and least expensive—option is HairerSoft’s Amadeus II ($30) for recording and the free Audacity for editing.

Recording Your Podcast

To begin recording in Amadeus II, go to Sound: Characteristics and set Number Of Channels to Mono, Sampling Rate to 44100Hz, and Sampling Size to 16 Bit. Under the Sound menu, select Record. A new window containing a volume meter will appear (See screenshot). Practice reading your text at the volume you’d be using if you were recording. If you have a naturally quiet voice, you can boost the levels by moving the gain sliders, which are located underneath the volume meter. For a clear, full sound, the volume levels should occasionally peak into the red but usually remain in the green and yellow areas.

When you’re pleased with the levels, click on the record button and start talking. If you’re alone, imagine that you’re speaking to someone else in the room and ignore the fact that you’re being recorded. You want to make your Podcast as intimate and conversational as possible. When you’re done, save the recording as an AIFF file.

Editing Your Podcast

After you’ve recorded your voice track, you can use Audacity to combine multiple takes (getting the best from each one), to delete awkward pauses, or to add embellishments. (Get editing ideas and instructions on using Audactity).

To give your recording a more professional touch, consider adding a short musical intro. But remember to stick to noncommercial music that doesn’t require a license from the Recording Industry Association of America. You can create your own clips with programs such as GarageBand. Sites such as FindSounds and Opuzz offer free or inexpensive royalty-free music clips for download.

Once you’re satisfied with your recording, export it as an AIFF file.

Uploading Your Podcast

To prepare the exported audio file for the Web, drag it into iTunes and then open that program’s Importing preference pane. From the Import Using pull-down menu, choose MP3 Encoder. From the Setting menu, choose Custom. Then set the Stereo Bit Rate to 128 Kbps, the Sample Rate to 44.100 kHz, and Channels to Mono.

Return to the library and select the newly imported track. Under the Advanced menu, choose Convert Selection To MP3. Open the song information window (Command-I) and fill in the Song (in this case, your Podcast entry), Artist, and Album fields. Then press Command-R to bring up the file in a new Finder window, and change the file’s name to better reflect its contents—for example,

samplepodcast-2005-06-01.mp3
.

Once that’s complete, upload the file to a Web server. Many ISPs offer free Web space for customers. If yours doesn’t, you can usually pay a small fee to have someone host your audio files. Got a .Mac account? Just upload the file to your Sites folder.

To make your audio file easily accessible to others, you need to create an RSS feed for it. The easiest way to do this is to create a Weblog. Although you can use any blogging software, Blogger is the easiest to set up.

When the blog is up and running, go to FeedBurner and type in your blog’s address. If you use Blogger, you’ll type something like this:

myblog.blogspot.com
.

On the next page, scroll to Additional Services, select the SmartCast option, and then click on the Hide Details link. Enable the ping audio.weblogs.com option at the bottom of the section. Now when you update your blog with new Podcasts, audio.weblogs.com will add them to its list.

Return to your Blogger page and create a new entry. You may want to add a little message with details about your Podcast, as well as any technical information, such as file size. In the entry, add a link to the audio file on your Web server. The link will look something like this:

Promote Your Podcast

You can publicize your Podcast at Podcast Alley and in the iPodderX directory. At Podcast Alley, click on the Add A Podcast link at the top of the page and type in the appropriate information: the title of the Podcast, the feed address, and so forth.

[ Cyrus Farivar is a freelance technology journalist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. ]

Use Amadeus II’s volume levels to create a rich, full sound. When you speak, the levels should barely peak into the red areas.

Are you listening?

If you’re not quite ready to start your own Podcast, you can still get in on the craze by subscribing to other people’s Podcasts. The first thing you’ll need is a Podcasting client, such as iPodderX, which regularly checks various preset sites to find new content for download. Once you’ve launched your client, you can use its built-in directory to add new Podcasts. If iPodderX doesn’t list the Podcast you’re looking for, you can add it by going to Podcasts: Add A Podcast Feed. Then copy the RSS feed address (it usually ends in .xml ) and paste it into the Podcast Feed URL field.

You can have iPodderX check specified feeds for new content to download. It will add the Podcasts to a new iTunes playlist. If you have your iPod configured for an automatic update, all you have to do is plug in your iPod; iPodderX will do the rest.

Here are some Podcasts to get you started:

> Daily Source Code
> The Dawn and Drew Show
> Reel Reviews
> MacCast

Tip

Place your mike at a 45 to 90 degree angle relative to your mouth. This will reduce the plosive sound that words beginning with the letter p can cause.

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