Gadget Freak: Singing the Blog Electric--Podcast Your Way to Stardom

Illustration: Barry Blitt
I'll never be a movie star. I'm unlikely to leave my mark on Broadway, radio, or TV. But I may yet become a podcasting sensation.

Podcasting (a made-up word that's a combination of IPod and broadcasting) is a kind of do-it-yourself radio that uses the Web, not the airwaves. Instead of reading a blog online, for example, you could download a podcast of someone else reading it and listen to the file on an MP3 player.

Free tools like Doppler Radio and IPodder make it easy to subscribe to podcasts. Sites like PodcastAlley and Podscope can help you find podcasts.

Unfortunately, most podcasts seem to consist of people talking about their cats, or Paris Hilton waxing moronic about her new movie. Even interesting podcasts, such as those of IT Conversations, are similar to stuff you'd hear on a good public radio station. Nice, but hardly revolutionary.

So the competition isn't exactly stiff. And if Paris Hilton can become a podcaster, why not me? All I needed was a microphone, a PC, and software to record and edit my musings. Once I had my recording, I needed a way to upload the MP3 files to my site so my fans could download them to their IPods. I also needed a way to enclose the podcasts in an XML site feed, so my adoring public could automatically download new ones using an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader like Doppler Radio or IPodder.

Brilliant Mistakes

I found a near-perfect solution in the Web-based Audioblog service ($5 a month). To post a recording, you just plug in the microphone, click a few buttons, and choose the blog in which you want the file to appear. Your blog then displays a flash-based slider bar that readers can use to play the file. Audioblog also lets you create an RSS or XML feed on the spot, as well as upload your favorite songs. (But be careful: Posting copyrighted music on your blog could make you fresh meat for the rottweilers at the RIAA.)

You can also record voice entries by phone. Simply dial the site's moblog number, enter your PIN and your blog's four-digit ID, and then start talking. You can even capture video clips with a Webcam and podcast them as easily as audio. I posted to my blog several videos of me crooning Elvis Costello tunes. (When my kids are being really bad, I force them to watch.)

However, Audioblog provides no tools for editing audio or for stitching different recordings together into a show. For that, I used Mixmeister's Propaganda ($50), which let me drag and drop separate recordings and add transitions between them, including the truly obnoxious "talk over the first six bars of the song" trick beloved by drive-time DJs. But publishing in Propaganda is a pain--you need to set up an FTP server, and it wouldn't work with my free Blogger account. So far, I've yet to find a tool that makes both editing audio files and podcasting them easy.

Another problem: With my PC's cheapo microphone and my breathy singing style, my show sounded like I'd wrapped the mike in cellophane. Jack Herrington, author of Podcasting Hacks (O'Reilly Media, 2005), suggests purchasing a noise-canceling mike such as Plantronics' Audio 45 USB Stereo PC Headset ($60) or Audio-Technica's AT2020 Cartioid Condenser Microphone ($169).

The podcasting craze is just gathering steam, but it already has its own Oscars: the TopCast Awards, which will be handed out in November. I've started working on my acceptance speech. And if I win, I'll be certain to podcast it.

Contributing Editor Dan Tynan authored Computer Privacy Annoyances (O'Reilly Media, 2005).
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