If meetings take you from south Mumbai to Juhu, Airport Road to Richmond Circle or Connaught Place to Indira Gandhi International Airport, there seem to be few ways to spend the travel time. You can work on your laptop or read, which leads most to nausea. You can glare at the traffic. Or you can listen to music, which could get stale after 30 hours a month.
For those with a portable digital player, such as the Apple iPod, there is another option: podcasts. This is a techie term for audio or audio-visual shows distributed through the Internet and consumed on a computer or portable player. There are shows on news, religion, language learning, business and music. In other words, it is like having portable radio or television shows, except here you decide what and when.
Like radio and regular television, podcasts are free. But unlike those mediums, they can be produced by anyone. So, if you go looking for podcasts, you will find ones created by established organizations such as HBO, MTV, ESPN and Disney. But you will also find a podcast by India-based Arun Krishnan, who puts out Hindi lessons using clips from Bollywood movies, while US-based Mac and Katherine Barron put out Catholic in a Small Town about, well, being Catholic in a small southern town.
The point is that, right now, podcasts are still experimental (and that includes the revenue model). Big companies are often forcing their usual written or video content into the podcast medium, unsure of how to create for it. And individual podcasters are struggling to put out a product that is professional and useful, and to do so consistently.
Many, though, have learned from early experimentation. Some great podcasts have emerged, and more will come. For example, entrepreneur Kiruba Shankar in Chennai will be reinventing himself in 2008 as a professional podcaster, interviewing India’s CEOs on The Kiruba Show, after dabbling in the podcast world for a few months in 2007.
ITunes filters the good from the bad fairly well, but a few duds still get on its list. The best way to find quality podcasts is by trial and error, or through recommendations from friends (such as Lounge). Here are some good podcasts to get you started. Warning: Consumption can cause enjoyment of traffic.
Each week, The Economist puts out two or three podcasts. The staples are From the Paper , which is a 10-minute summary of magazine highlights, and The World Next Week , which is a conversation on coming events and pending news between The Economist and the Council on Foreign Relations. Mid-February, these podcasts talked of topics ranging from the future legacy of Barack Obama to the past one of Benazir Bhutto. Additionally, there are political podcasts— Democracy in America and Certain Ideas of Europe —and special reports on topics such as a February one on technology and government. These shows whet the appetite for the coming week’s magazine, or fill in for it if you don’t have a subscription or failed to read the week’s issue.
Barnes and Noble’s
‘Meet the Writers’ Podcast
The US’ top book chain Barnes and Noble puts out one of the most gratifying podcasts available. Steve Bertrand interviews best-selling authors, including Yann Martel of Life of Pi , Jackie Collins of Drop Dead Beautiful and former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright of Memo to the President Elect . The interviews hold your attention because Bertrand does his homework and asks pointed questions. He asked Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni how her grandfather’s death inspired her to write. And uncovered how Khaled Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner at 4am, while working full-time as a doctor. He also keeps the interviews to the perfect bite-size length of 10-15 minutes.
‘The New Yorker’: Fiction
The New Yorker, the iconic publication that is known for showcasing the best writers in fiction and non-fiction, has put out a podcast every month since May. It features discussions between The New Yorker’s fiction editor Deborah Treisman and one of their writers such as Junot Diaz of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Paul Theroux of The Elephanta Suite. When Jhumpa Lahiri was on in December, she picked the story of a housewife’s life in A Day by William Trevor, published in 1993, that she had read when she was first trying to write fiction herself. She elegantly reads aloud the article, and then she and Treisman discuss the story and its characters. This is the format for all these podcasts, one that works well in translating the magazine’s material into an audio format.
Here’s how you can get started
The easiest way to search and download podcasts is through Apple iTunes, the program that accompanies the iPod. It can be downloaded at ‘www.apple.com/itunes/download’. At the iTunes store, click on podcasts on the top left and the catalogue will come up. The best way to shop for an interesting show is to browse the categories on the left, and click on one that suits your personality. The relevant shows will come up in the middle. It is best to click on “see all” from here so you have the full view.
Find a show and subscribe to it (so that your computer will automatically update when you open iTunes) or just try one episode. Alternatively, you can download Juice at ‘juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/’, which is also free and works with many types of multiple media players. One point to note: Downloading video podcasts is time-consuming on most Internet connections in India, but audio podcasts come fairly quickly.