What is a podcast?

When I have started telling people that I wanted to make a podcast, they all had the same reaction. They nodded in agreement, but immediately paused:

“A what? What is a pobcast [sic]?”

I was generally giving two kind of answers – depending on to whom I was talking. For the older generation, I was saying that it was like doing a radio show in your garage and then posting it to the Internet. For the younger one, I was saying that it was like YouTube, but with audio instead of video. Obviously, neither answer was all right. What should I have told them?

Some definitions

I first thought that it would be quite simple to figure this out. I just had to look for the meaning of the term “podcast” in a dictionary and voilà. However, the definition that I found in the Oxford Dictionary of English1 was not satisfactory. Let me try to use it in a conversation with my fictional great-aunt Aunty:

“Hi Aunty. Sorry, but I can’t stay long today as I have to work on my podcast.”
“To work on what? What is a bodcast [sic]?”
A podcast is a multimedia digital file made available on the Internet for downloading to a portable media player, computer, et cetera!

Not happy with this definition, I turned to Google’s Dictionary that defines a podcast as a digital audio file made available on the internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new instalments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.

Better. A lot better, actually. Still, I was looking for something else, without knowing exactly what.

Podcasting is the distribution of specially encoded multimedia content to subscribed personal computers via the RSS 2.0 protocol.

Something more accessible than this other definition (left) found in Podcasting For Dummies2. Accurate from a technical point of view, granted, but it would not do the trick either. This is not how you want to explain what a podcast is to your great-aunt Aunty.

The portmanteau explanation

A nice exception was a well-done video explanation by Common Craft that I recommend if you have an extra 2:41 min.

If you search Google, as I did, for What is a podcast, you will end up with an endless list of results. Disappointingly, the explanations were often quite elusive. Besides, I did not want a page-long definition and, despite appearance, it is not my intent to add another to this list.

What I was looking for was a way to define what a podcast is in few words; you know, for my great-aunt Aunty! Actually, it is typical to find a two-word explanation (at least of the word “podcast” itself):

iPod + Broadcast = Podcast

It is claimed that “pod” was borrowed from the Apple iPod, but it seems that no evidence suggests that the two were related when the name was coined2. Personally, I like the following suggestion:

The term originated from P.O.D,
meaning Portable On Demand, and
cast, relating to the term broadcast.

What is a podcast? (reloaded)

Yet, I did not know what to respond to my great-aunt Aunty. A glimpse of answer came from a video by Colin Gray from The Podcast Host that covers the difference between audio files and podcast. Paraphrasing him, an audio file posted on the internet is not a podcast, but if you add a subscription to this audio file, that is an RSS feed, you now have a podcast.

Audio file + RSS feed = Podcast

Great, it is as simple as this equation. Except that my great-aunt Aunty doesn’t have a clue about RSS feed!

Another interesting point he was touching on was the distinction between episodes and series. Indeed, podcasts are generally available in a series of episodes themed around a particular topic.

Any topic

In fact, this is what makes podcasting so engaging: you can podcast about literally anything! In contrast to regular broadcast radio, podcast don’t need to attract the greatest number of people. Whether a show has hundreds or thousands of listeners, it makes no difference, and no sacrifices are required to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible. Thus, you can probably find a podcast on anything that interests you.

Note that recorded broadcasts of radio program are now made available as podcasts; this can bring some confusion. In addition, podcasts don’t have to be limited to audio format – video podcasts exist as well – but, let me not complicate things further.


Anyway, after all my reading, I came up with this:

A podcast is a series of audio episodes, made available on internet. You can find a podcast on any topic of your choice and listen to it via the internet or, even better, you can easily subscribe and have the episodes downloaded automatically whenever a new one is available. You can listen to them whenever and wherever you like and it is free!

Now, you know what to tell your great-aunt Aunty if she garbles something like:

“What is a bobcast [sic]?”


1 Podcast (2010) Oxford Dictionary of English – Third Edition. Oxford University Press. ^
2 Tee Morris, Chuck Tomasi, and Evo Terra (2008) Podcasting For Dummies – Second Edition. Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley Publishing. ^


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