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SciTech Watch – Podcasting: What’s On?

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Podcasting has become the generic term for creating and distributing audio files for listening on personal computers or portable music players. But what kind of programs are available as podcasts? How do you find more podcasts you will like? Join us this week on SciTech Watch as we explore Podcasting: What’s on?

To explore what sort of programs or content we can find available as a podcast, we’re going to dissect my own podcast playlist to see what categories the things I listen to fall into. We’ll also explore Internet resources to help you find additional podcasts of things you like.


People who create podcasts realized early on that if they played popular music or more specifically copyrighted music without permission, they would be liable for copyright infringement. Since podcasting is a new technology, none of the existing music-licensing methods accurately apply. So podcasters began looking for musical artists who have not signed on with a major music label and have enough control over their music to be able to grant podcasters the explicit right to play their music on podcasts. Currently, many small music labels are also granting podcasters rights to play music from their stable of artists in a podcast. Music whose copyright holders have explicitly allowed their music to be played on podcasts is known as podsafe music.

I have several music podcasts in my playlist: The Roadhouse, Raven and the Blues, Celtic Music News, Renaissance Festival Podcast, and Knobtweakers. Four of these follow the same format: 5 – 10 songs played in a single podcast, interspersed with commentary from the podcaster. The last podcast on the list, Knobtweakers, a podcast devoted to electronic music, actually puts individual songs out as .MP3 files.[ADBLOCKHERE]

The popular radio program Echoes, which features a wide array of styles, from acoustic to electronic, jazz to space music, avant-garde to rock, doesn’t podcast their actual program, but does have a stream of material that they podcast providing short interviews with artists featured on Echoes and snippets of their music.

For a look inside a working band, check out the Lascivious Biddies podcast. These four New York girls produce a regular podcast about their adventures and gigs as a band and always include a couple of their tunes.


Podcasts give you the ability to hear interviews or conversations with thought-leaders and other individuals on you own schedule. Since I’m a computer and science geek, I get a lot of these types of podcasts from IT Conversations. IT Conversations also has several themed podcasts with recurring hosts who interview people involved with the work connected to the series’ theme. They carry Moira Gunn’s excellent Tech Nation series which interviews authors, scientists and others in science and technology fields. Tech Nation has a spin-off, Biotech Nation where she interviews scientists and others working in various fields of Biotechnology. Other recurring series include Globeshakers, Opening Move, and Sound Policy.

The Science and Society podcast broadly focuses on nanotechnology, life sciences, energy and the environment, space exploration, and K-12 science education. Over the last several years they have interviewed more than 400 trendsetting and groundbreaking researchers, industry-leading executives, and senior government officials.

Two of the best technology-oriented conversation podcasts are the Gillmor Gang where Steve Gillmor hosts a regular hour-long roundtable discussion on the various technology news. This Week in Tech (aka TWiT) features Leo Laporte and a round-table of folks who worked with Leo at TechTV. The TWiT discussions are wide-ranging, pretty geeky and always fun.

For conversation about science fiction programming on television and in the movies, check out the Slice of SciFi podcast for weekly interviews and conversation about new science fiction programming.


IT Conversations is a leader in providing audio of speakers at various lectures and conferences. They post individual sessions from each conference as separate files allowing you to pick which lectures you want to listen to. They have provided recorded sessions from a plethora of events including Pop Tech, Open Source Convention (aka OSCON), and Web 2.0.


One of the great effects of the rise of podcasting has been the resurgence of story-telling podcasts. Some authors are reading their works as podcasts with each chapter being a single .MP3 file. Cory Doctorow podcasts readings of his shorter works in science fiction and the Escape Pod podcast features reading of short fantasy and science fiction stories by established authors. There is even a web site dedicated to delivering audiobook chapters via podcasting at Podiobooks. The Morning Stories podcast is a ten minute segment produced by WGBH radio in Boston and based on their radio series of the same name. The segments feature interesting personal stories told by the story’s author.


A lot of podcasts have a variety of elements in them, including music, conversation, promotional clips for other podcasts, etc. The granddaddy of all the variety shows is Adam Curry‘s Daily Source Code. Adam is a former DJ and MTV VJ. He was instrumental in getting the software mechanisms in place to easily distribute podcasts. The Daily Source Code combines new podsafe music, Adam’s commentary on his life, work and the world around him, as well has promos for other podcasts. The first 30 minutes of Adam’s show is available on Sirius Satellite Radio while the entirety of the show is available as a podcast.

The Internet makes podcasts available no matter what country they originate in. I listen to three podcasts produced outside the U.S. Caribbean Free Radio is produced in Trinidad by Georgia Popplewell. She includes local music, news and of course football news in her podcast. Scott Lockman is the host of the Tokyo Calling podcast. His was one of the first podcasts to originate from Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo Calling is Scott’s vehicle for talking about life, parenthood, work, and much more about life in Japan’s largest city. From Australia comes the G’day World podcast the very first Australian podcast, an irreverent rant about technology, science, politics, and the arts by Cameron Reilly.

Finding More

There are several good sources of podcasts including the PodcastDirectory, Podcast.net, Podcast Alley, NPR, Indiepodder and iPodder. These sites will let you browse podcasts by genre or category as well as doing key word searches of the podcast’s descriptive text. When you find interesting podcasts, these directories will point you to the correct URL for adding them to your podcast client.

If you have other great podcasts you listen to, feel free to leave information about them in the comments so we all can enjoy.

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About johniac

  • Wow, there’s some great stuff to check out here, John, thanks!

    I would be remiss if I didn’t mention BCRadio which is produced weekly by our own DJRadiohead and features lots of BC insider stuff and much good conversation.

  • My favorite podcast for some time has been Diggnation, which is a weekly half hour to hour video of Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht discussing tech news from digg.com. Excellent info, and I’ll certainly check out some of this stuff. Thanks!

  • Hey, thanks for the mention. There are many other quality MP3 blogs out there for those who prefer styles outside the scope of Knobtweakers. There’s a pretty good list arranged by genre at the music blog wiki, and it’s getting better every day.

  • John: In what ways do you see independent podcasts being able to generate any revenue in the future? Or do you think that unless you’re getting some kind of sponsorship, it will be strictly remain as a free type of service?

  • Another great place to find podcasts is Fetching Podcasts. It lists only the best of the best in the categorized directory.

  • A New Podcast Directory is the iTunesTracks.co.uk Podcast Directory. If you have a podcast please add it today..

    Podcasts are now becomming more in peoples daily life with advances in technology and mobile media players. I see more on them in the future…