Podcasts are like radio programs, but better. They’re a great way to keep you actively entertained, get your mind working, and explore new ideas and interests. Best of all, they’re free and you can listen to them at anytime and anywhere. If you're new to podcasts and want to know more about them, you're in the right place.
In this article we explain what a podcast is and what you need to start listening. We also share some of our favourite podcasts for you to listen to, including our very own Be Connected podcast.
In this article:
What is a podcast?
A podcast is a recording of an audio program that you can listen to on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Podcasts are made up of episodes. They can focus on a specific topic like a deep dive into the case of a missing person, for example, or explore different subject matters under a broad category. For example, a health and wellness podcast may consist of an episode dedicated to healthy eating habits while another talks about mental health or meditation.
You can find a podcast on just about any topic you can think of; from comedy and life stories to true crime and news and politics. The episodes can vary in length, anywhere from around 20 minutes up to an hour or even more, and new episodes can be released daily, weekly or monthly.
The best thing about podcasts is they’re free and you can listen to them anywhere - while gardening, cooking, walking, on long drives or just relaxing at home.
What you need to listen to podcasts
Most people use their smartphone since it’s so convenient and mobile. You can still listen to podcasts on your laptop or desktop computer, but it just means you may need to sit in front of your computer.
You need an internet connection to stream and download podcasts, but you can still listen to podcasts offline so long as they're downloaded to your device. More on this later.
A podcast app or website
Think of a podcast app like an online library that houses hundreds and thousands of podcasts for you to choose from. Examples of popular podcast apps include Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts (for Apple users). If you already have a Gmail account, you can access Google podcasts with the same username and password.
Most smartphones come with a built-in podcast app, however if yours doesn’t, you can download one from your device’s official app store – that’s the App Store for Apple devices and Google Play for Android devices.
Most people listen to podcasts using a podcast app on their smartphone, however there are also web versions if you prefer to use your computer.
Find out more about internet and radio podcast apps.
Highly recommended for listening to podcasts on your smartphone while you’re out and about, but also handy for when you’re listening to podcasts on your computer when other people are at home.
How to listen to podcasts
On your smartphone
If your smartphone doesn’t already have a podcast app, you can start by downloading either Google Podcasts or Apple Podcasts (for iPhones). Spotify is another alternative that works on iPhones and Android phones, however you will need to create an account if you don’t already have one.
Search for a podcast you want to listen to by either browsing through the categories in the app or use the search function normally located at the bottom of your app's screen (look for the magnifying glass icon).
- Tap on an episode, press play and away you go! You can skip ahead and rewind by tapping the rewind or fast forward buttons with numbers in the middle. The numbers represent seconds, so fast forward 15, for example, skips ahead 15 seconds of the audio.
On your computer
There are a few ways you can listen to a podcast on your desktop computer or laptop:
Stream a podcast direct from a podcast’s website. For example, our very own Be Connected podcast has its own dedicated page with a list of episodes you can listen to from your computer - all you need to do is select the play button.
Podcast apps like Spotify and Google podcasts have web versions you can access via a browser like Google Chrome or Safari. You can browse their podcasts without needing an account, however to listen you’ll need to set up an account if you don’t already have one.
Some podcast apps are also available for computers. For example, Apple Podcasts and Spotify are available as apps for Macs (Apple laptops) and there's also a Spotify desktop app for Windows 10.
Tip: when you find a podcast you like, you can ‘subscribe’ or ‘follow’ to automatically receive new episodes as they’re released. Look for the plus (+) symbol, ‘Follow’ or ‘Subscribe’ button, depending which podcast app you’re using. You can find the new episodes in your Library, at the bottom of the Podcast app’s screen.
How to save on mobile data when listening to podcasts
You need an internet connection – either your home Wi-Fi or mobile data - to stream a podcast and play the audio. So, it helps to have a large data allowance if you plan to listen to a lot of podcasts on your smartphone.
The trick to saving on your mobile data allowance is to take advantage of your home Wi-Fi. It’s best to download podcasts to your smartphone while you’re at home and connected to Wi-Fi. That way, they save to your phone so you can listen to them later when you’re offline, say out for a walk or even outside doing the gardening if your home Wi-Fi doesn’t reach that far.
To download a podcast to your smartphone, find the podcast episode you like and look for the down arrow icon. Using the ABC Listen app as an example, take a look at our step-by-step video instructions on how to download a podcast episode to your iPhone or Android phone, and how to find and play it (use the chapters icon in the video, third from bottom right, to jump ahead to the section you want to view).
Our favourite podcasts
There are literally millions of podcasts available but there are ways you can narrow it down to build a list of podcasts to listen to. Aside from speaking to friends and relatives about what they like, you can search for popular podcasts online (type in a topic of interest, e.g., 'true crime podcasts') or browse through the categories in your podcast app. You'll be sure to find something you like. But in the meantime, to help you get started, here are some of our favourites.
ABC radio’s weekly health show hosted by Dr Norman Swan covers all manner of health and medical issues: from menopause and lung cancer to screen time and psychedelic drugs and much more.
Genre: True crime
Delve deep into the life of Sydney serial conman, Hamish Watson, who scammed millions of dollars out of unsuspecting victims in the U.S, Canada, Britain, Hong Kong and Australia. Created by The Australian newspaper, this podcast reached number one on the Australian podcast charts, and number three in UK and Canada.
ABC hosts Richard Fidler and Sarah Kanowski interview people you may or may not have heard about, all of them with fascinating life stories.
Genre: Society & Culture
This popular podcast answers everything you ever (or never) wondered about, like the dark origin of fairytales, how the mafia works, and whether artificial sweeteners are really bad for you.
You won’t find recipes on this BBC podcast, but you will delve deep into every aspect of the food we eat.
We may be a little biased, but we think our Be Connected podcast does a fabulous job of exploring common internet and technology related questions. Val Quinn, host and Channel 7 Sunrise’s on-air tech expert, shares his knowledge and dives into conversations with guests about topics such as, scams, artificial intelligence, and apps that can improve your life.
Take a look at our Listening to podcasts courses for step-by-step instructions on how to get the free ABC Listen app on your Apple or Android phone or tablet. Most podcast apps behave in a similar way to ABC Listen, so you can follow the steps as a guide for getting even more apps and interesting podcasts.
This article has been updated. It was originally published on April, 8, 2020.