Consuming podcasts: Tips and tricks

By now you know that the iTunes Music Store, in cooperation with iTunes 4.9, offers podcasts that can be played on your computer and iPod. Likewise, you probably know how to move some of those podcasts to your iPod. But beyond that, the details may get a little murky. Allow us to shed light on the more perplexing aspects of iTunes’ podcasts with these helpful tips and tricks.

iPod shuffle, Autofill, podcasts, and you

iTunes does its best to cram the most music it can onto an iPod shuffle. For this reason, a shuffle won’t play AIFF files, which tend to take up a lot of space. Likewise, the Autofill feature that’s available when you plug in an iPod shuffle won’t add audiobooks or podcasts (which can also be meaty) to a shuffle even if you’ve gathered those podcasts into a playlist.

You can, of course, add them to the shuffle by dragging them into the shuffle entry in iTunes’ Source list. Alternatively, if you convert the podcasts to a different format—AAC, for example—Autofill will have no objection to automatically pulling them over to the iPod.

To perform that conversion, choose the encoder you’d like to use in the Importing tab of iTunes’ preferences and then select Convert Selection to XXX from the Advanced menu (where XXX is the encoder you’ve chosen in the Importing tab). With the right configuration—the AAC encoder using the Podcast setting from the Setting pop-up menu, for example—you can create files smaller than the original.

Note that when you convert these files they’ll lose any chapter marks they had and the podcasts will no longer be bookmarkable. If you’re bound to have the best of both worlds, you can then make the files bookmarkable by using Doug Adams’ Make Bookmarkable AppleScript to convert the files to a bookmarkable format.

Share and Share Alike

If you’ve ever tried to listen to a companion’s podcasts using iTunes’ built-in music sharing capabilities, you’ve probably been frustrated that the podcasts can’t be found. Here’s the trick: On the computer that hosts the podcasts, select the Podcasts entry in iTunes’ Source list, select the podcasts you want to share, and drag them into the iTunes music library. Once in the music library, the podcasts become available for sharing.

Podcast Playback and iPod shuffle

If you’ve configured your iPod shuffle to mimic its name and shuffle songs randomly, it won’t play podcasts that are encoded as .m4b files (it probably will play .mp3 and .wav podcasts in shuffle mode). If you want to hear your podcasts on a shuffle, be sure that your shuffle’s back toggle switch is set to the first “Play in Order” position rather than the second “Shuffle” position.

iPod Sync or Swim

Within the Podcasts tab of iTunes’ preferences you have the option to keep all unplayed podcast episodes (this is an option in the Keep pop-up menu). If you’ve configured your iPod so that podcasts are updated automatically, this isn’t a good choice as a podcast will be considered played even if you’ve played only a portion of it. When you next sync your iPod, the podcast will vanish from both the iPod and iTunes.

For this reason, if you tend to leave unfinished podcasts on your iPod, it’s a good idea to choose a Keep setting that’s more likely to maintain your partially played podcasts. Choosing Last 5 Episodes from the Keep pop-up menu, for example, gives you plenty of opportunity to finish older podcasts.

Spread the Word

If you want to alert your pals to your new favorite podcast, there’s no need to send them to the iTunes Music Store. Just select Podcasts in iTunes’ Source list, choose the show title you want to share with your friends, and drag it to the Desktop. It will be turned into podcast subscription file (with a .pcast extension). Email this file to your nearest and dearest. When they drag the file into iTunes (or double-click on it), they’ll be subscribed to the podcast linked to the file.

Getting More Information

After listening to a podcast you may be interested in learning more about the subject or the podcaster by visiting the podcast host’s website. If the podcaster has prepared the podcast’s tags properly, you should be able to get more information by clicking the small Information icon (a small letter i to the right of the podcast’s name in iTunes’ Podcast window). In the window that appears, look for a URL entry. (Regrettably, you can’t select this text and then cut and paste it into your browser.)

If you don’t find a URL entry in this window, select the podcast, choose File > Get Info, and click the Info tab in the resulting window. The Comments field may hold a referring URL to the podcaster’s website.

Find What You Seek

If you’ve typed “Leo Laporte” time and again into the iTunes Music Store’s Search field only to be frustrated at not finding his Leporte Report or TWIT (This Week in Technology) podcasts, relax. You’re just looking in the wrong place. You can search for podcasts in two ways.

The first is to select Podcasts in iTunes’ Search pop-up menu in the upper right corner of the iTunes window and then enter the term you’re looking for. Choosing All will find everything on The Store except podcasts.

The other option is to click the Podcasts entry in the iTunes Music Store’s main window, wait for the Podcasts home page to appear, and enter what you like into the search field in the middle of the page’s left column.

For more on podcasting, visit our podcast subject page.

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