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Subscribing to Podcasts

Podcasts are multimedia files that are delivered through an RSS feed that you subscribe to. Many podcasts are audio and video files. Podcasting is now a popular phenomenon that makes it easy to distribute "shows" to viewers and listeners via a reliable method.

There are several components to the process of feeds, subscriptions, and podcasts:

  • Podcast Files (.mp3, .m4a, .m4v, .mov)
  • Feed File (.xml)
  • News Aggregator (an application that understands and checks feeds for you)

This is how it works:

You provide your aggregator application the URL, or Web address, of a podcast. As long as that program is running, it automatically checks the feed. When the feed file changes, your aggregator knows there is new material, and will download any linked files that the author has put on their server. This way, new podcasts come to you automatically, instead of you having to go out to the Web, and search for new episodes.


There are several news aggregators installed on your laptop. They include:

  • iTunes
  • Safari
  • NetNewsWire Lite

If you only want to subscribe to news sites or blogs, then Safari's support for RSS is what you'll likely want to use. Check out this guide instead. iTunes is great for podcasts. In fact, it also has an embedded podcast directory, so you can discover new podcasts through their "store" interface. Remember: almost all podcasts are free.

NetNewsWire Lite is another aggregator that handles both text-based feeds and podcasts well. You're more than welcome to check it out. But let's look at subscribing to a podcast with iTunes.

iTunes for Podcasts

In this first example, let's assume you already have the feed address (URL) of a podcast. I publish my feed URL in the signature of my e-mails. The URL ends in .xml. (Although many do end in .xml, they don't necessarily have to end with this extension.) We'll go to iTunes, and under the Advanced menu, choose "Subscribe to Podcast..."

In the box that appears, paste-in the feed URL by choosing Edit > Paste, or Command-V.

You can repeat this as many times as you like. In the iTunes sidebar, you'll notice a "Podcasts" item under Library. This will display all the podcasts you have subscribed to, and is the area where you can listen to podcasts that have been downloaded.

The "gray" podcast episodes you see above have not yet been downloaded. You can click on the "GET" buttons to force a download of these episodes. If you do not listen to a podcast for awhile, iTunes will temporarily stop downloading new episodes, but will still show them grayed-out within the feed's listing under "Podcasts."

iTunes and the Directory

You can also subscribe to podcasts you find in the iTunes directory.

To get to the directory, you can follow the link at the bottom of the iTunes window (pictured above) that reads "Podcast Directory," or go to the iTunes store and search under "Podcasts."

The directory is searchable, but you can limit your search to a particular category. Explore the popular podcasts, and those under the "Education" category, located on the left-hand side of the Podcast Directory window. For instance, to find my podcast, you could search for "Goochland" it will appear within the results.

Once you find a podcast you like, simply press the "Subscribe" button to automatically get new episodes as they are published.

You can also publish your own podcast feeds (created automatically for you with your blog) to the iTunes directory if you'd like others to find your podcast. Check the iTunes Help details for publishing your own podcast through Apple's iTunes directory.

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Page last modified on August 30, 2007, at 01:30 PM