Downloading Podcasts to Go Go

My apologies for not posting to Litagogo recently--I've had a very sick kid. But she's mostly better, and I have been listening to some great podcasts on our many drives to various medical emporia. It really is worth figuring out how to take podcasts on the road: listening to an interesting author interview or book excerpt is much more sustaining in stressful times than skipping through random radio stations. I rarely have the time or focus to listen to a whole audiobook, but I can and do listen to literary podcasts, which range from 10 minutes to an hour.

How to Download Podcasts to Go from iTunes
Getting podcasts from iTunes is easy and costs nothing. You can download the iTunes application from Apple's site. From within the iTunes store, find a podcast episode that intrigues you (here are my tips for searching for podcasts), or check out my favorite literary podcasters by clicking on the links on the right side of this blog.

1) Once you have iTunes on your computer, go to the iTunes store and find a podcast you like. Select your desired episode (a blue arrow will appear) and click on the little lozenge that says "FREE." iTunes will download the episode into your iTunes "LIBRARY" in the "Podcasts" subcategory. The podcast episode will now reside physically as an .mp3 file on your hard disk, accessible via the iTunes application. You can play it on your computer, or transfer it to your iPod as described below.

2) Connect your iPod to a USB port using the small white cable. iTunes should launch automatically, if you don't already have it open.

3) When your iPod's name (i.e. "Holloway's iPod") shows up on the left gray sidebar under "DEVICES," drag the desired podcast episode title from your LIBRARY "Podcast" listing over to the name of your iPod under "DEVICES." A green + sign will highlight over your iPod name if you're on target. The download swirl will go round & round as the podcast episode is copied from your hard disk iTunes collection to your iPod. It will be stored on your iPod under the "Podcasts" category with the purple halo symbol, and listed under the name of the original Podcaster (i.e. "New Yorker: Fiction").

4) Eject your iPod by clicking on the pyramid symbol to the right of your iPod battery symbol. Wait for the synchronization to finish, and when your iPod screen says "OK to Disconnect" then you can detach it from the USB cable and listen to that episode anywhere you like.

You can automatically synchronize all your iTunes podcasts onto your iPod using the iTunes software; I don't have huge storage space on my iPod, so I prefer to mouse-pick individual episodes, some of which I delete after I listen. I use my hard disk based iTunes LIBRARY as my archive.

(For information on how to subscribe to iTunes Podcasts on a regular basis, and manage your storage settings, please see Apple's podcast subscription instructions.)

BBC Tips on Downloading Podcasts from the Web
Downloading podcasts from the web is a little trickier, especially for a tech-doofus like moi. (If you have access to a teenager, they can probably rip an .mp3 podcast file for you in 5 seconds.) The BBC has an instruction page that I was able to follow (link is below). This is extremely useful unless you like to do all your listening tied to your computer. Some podcasters only make their episodes available on iTunes for a limited time (fie!) but also leave them up on archived web pages, from whence you can manually copy them to your hard disk and from there to your iPod (see above). Many niche podcasts never get podcasted beyond their native web pages, so these BBC instructions on how to download a web-based podcast episode to your hard disk are pretty useful. Once you get the .mp3 file onto your computer's hard disk you can click it to listen, or move it to a portable device. (Saving directly from the web to an iPod is beyond my ken.) The only tricky thing is that iTunes will view the downloaded .mp3 as a SONG, not a podcast. So when you look for it in your iTunes LIBRARY, look under "Music," not "Podcasts." The easiest way to find the podcasts in your Music list is to highlight the Music icon and type a keyword (i.e. author name) into the search box top right. If you can't remember, just search for the text "podcast" within "Music"--iTunes considers "podcast" a genre, like, say, "pop," or "jazz." You can copy these podcast-"songs"to a Playlist, which will make them easier to find on your iPod (see next section).

Here's the BBC FAQ link: How do I download an episode of a podcast?

How to Make a Customized Podcast Playlist
I also wanted to give you tips on how to organize podcasts on your iPod, because once you download more than two dozen episodes, it can be hard to find the newer one you added with such anticipation just the other day. You can create a Podcast Playlist using podcast episodes from both your iTunes downloads and your manual web downloads. However, iTunes only seems to recognize playlists as "Music" regardless of content, so your Podcast Playlist will be stored on your iPod under "Music/Playlists." I guess the silver lining to this is you could create a road-trip playlist that mixes songs and podcast episodes...just don't look for it under "Podcasts" when you're done.

1) Connect your iPod to your USB port. If iTunes isn't already open it should open automatically. Your iPod battery will charge while you're managing your lists.

2) Once your iPod name shows up under "DEVICES" on the vertical left light gray sidebar, make sure it is highlighted in royal blue, or click on it to select it. This ensures that the Podcast Playlist you create will be stored on your iPod rather than with your general computer-based iTunes "PLAYLISTS" (these are listed at the bottom of the vertical gray sidebar).

3) Go to the File menu on the top left of your screen (next to the Apple symbol and iTunes) and select "New Playlist." At the bottom of the list under you iPod you will see a blue page with an eighth note and the name "untitled playlist." Click on this text if you want to rename it; I call mine "Recent Podcasts." (If the "untitled playlist" shows up at the bottom of "PLAYLISTS" you can delete it and start over, making sure your iPod name is highlighted when you create the new playlist.)

4) Go up to your LIBRARY and click on a podcast from either your "Podcasts"(iTunes downloads) or from your "Music" listings (manual downloads). Click and drag that podcast episode title (highlighted in royal blue) over to the left gray sidebar until it hovers over your new Podcast Playlist (a green cross will appear) and release the mouse. The transferring symbol will spin until the episode is copied over. It will be stored on your iPod under its original downloaded category ("Podcasts" or "Music"), but the episode will also be playable from within the Podcast Playlist, and easier to find.

Repeat this step until you have as many podcasts as you want on your playlist, and/or mix in songs. You can change the order of the episodes by selecting them and sliding them up and down the playlist. You can delete an episode from the playlist only by selecting the title and hitting the delete key on your keyboard, though it will still be stored under "Podcasts" list on your iPod. Deleting an episode from your iPod's "Podcasts" list (organized by podcaster) will delete it from all playlists at the same time. It will, however, still be stored by iTunes on your hard disk unless you delete it or have established a regular podcast deletion schedule using the iTunes Settings feature.

You can also go back to Step 2 and create more playlists, i.e. "Author Interviews," "Short Stories," "Lectures," etc. etc. I don't think Podcast Playlists take up much memory, because they just "point" to the episode already stored under "Podcasts" or "Music," so you can go crazy with Playlists if you want.

5) Eject your iPod by clicking on the pyramid symbol to the right of your iPod's battery symbol. REMEMBER: Your hand-selected Podcast Playlist(s) will be listed under "Music/Playlists"on your iPod's display screen, along with any regular music playlists you've created. The playlist itself will not be findable under "Podcasts," though any iTunes-downloaded podcast episodes that you transferred to your iPod will also be displayed under the generic "Podcast" list, organized by podcaster. Any web-downloaded episodes you've put on your iPod will also be listed with your songs, under "Music," which makes things interesting when you play your "Music" on Shuffle--the occasional podcast pops up!

I'm sure there are far more clever ways to use playlists, including making "Smart Playlists" with iTunes, but this basic system works well for me. Please see Apple's podcast info if you want to get fancy.

How to Listen to Your iPod on Your Car Stereo
I use a $7 iPod-to-tape-deck adapter with so-so sound but it works fine if the podcast was recorded with reasonable fidelity (usually you have to turn up the volume on both the iPod and the car stereo for it to be audible--be sure and turn the car stereo sound back down before you switch back to radio or the CD player). There are more expensive car radio-to-iPod devices that I know nothing about. Newer car stereos have iPod jacks which work even better. I suggest you look at your car stereo and if there's no iPod jack go to your nearest Best Buy or similar and get their advice. Whatever you use, please resist the urge to manipulate the iPod wheel while driving--it's too fiddly to be safe. Pick a podcast to fit your estimated journey time, or start up your podcast Playlist (see above), and go with the flow. At least you'll be feeding your brain while you drive, for free.