by Terry Wilhite
On June 30 an announcement came out of Cupertino, California, of a technology that has the potential to deeply impact how we spread the gospel down the street and around the world. Apple Computer rolled out version 4.9 of its Windows and Mac-based iTunes software and with it came the ability to subscribe to Podcasts using the free software. Let me explain.
For years MP3, an audio format that is downloaded and played via the Internet, has grown in popularity. Apple Computer was the first to negotiate with record companies so that anyone with a computer could download songs legally via the Internet. Apple charges only 99 cents per tune. The company also introduced an MP3-playing device, called an iPod, which is smaller than a deck of cards.
With Podcasting, the second big wave has been released from Apple. A Podcast is simply an audio show or "radio" show, if you will, typically in MP3 format. Just as one can use the iTunes software to find, download, and sync one's music with his iPod, now the program will allow you to do the same for Podcasts. As new editions of one's Podcasts are updated, iTunes software can be set to automatically download the new shows.
Two days after the release of iTunes 4.9, one million Podcasts had been downloaded. You can find Podcasts in every imaginable genre, except for pornographic material, which Apple refuses to provide. (Thank you, Apple for taking a stand.) ESPN, for example, has a show, as does NASCAR, ABC News, and many other "brand names," but the beauty of the technology is that so can you!
Producing Podcasts is not as difficult as it may sound. The ability to create a Podcast basically boils down to three major areas that you need to learn more about.
First, you need to know how to record digital audio using your computer. Most computers today have all that you need: a microphone input and plenty of hard drive space. Good audio recording software can be purchased for as low as 50 bucks.
Secondly, you need to know about "RSS Feeds." Simply, this is Internet code that is included in one's Website. Your Podcast will be on the computer (server) that hosts your Website—not at Apple. This RSS language is what lets iTunes know where your Podcast resides and when you have new shows ready for listeners. Eventually, Web design software and even audio recording software will write this code for you, but until it does, we'll have to handle this step manually. It will not be as scary as you might think.
Thirdly, we will have to let people know we are now Podcasting. The day after Apple's release of iTunes 4.9, there were only about two dozen Christian Podcasts listed. Soon there will be thousands. We'll face the same "needle in the haystack" issue with our Podcasts that we do with our Websites. You'll need to design your Podcasting ministry to stand out from the pack, and I'll be telling you how.
I listened to parts of the Christian Podcasts that were available the day after the release. None of them impressed me and none stacked up with NASCAR or ESPN, but they easily could have! Without question, 30-minute sermons can be turned into Podcasts. But I would suggest much shorter shows—5- and 10-minute "broadcasts." You've got to be incredibly interesting and entertaining, no matter who or what you are, for a listener to hang with you for a half hour. The "big boys," such as NASCAR, understand that these radio shows have to be professionally produced (which you can do!), very fast-paced, and one hundred percent W-I-I-F-M: "what's in it for me"!
Most amazingly, all of this can be done easily and inexpensively. By the way, it currently costs nothing to list your Podcast at iTunes. At the very minimum, I encourage you to thoroughly investigate Apple's Website: www.apple.com/podcasting and learn all that you can about MP3s (Apple's own download format is called AAC), iPods, and Podcasting. We're only effective as Christian communicators if we're in touch with the means to get our Good News message out to people on their own terms and turf.
Stay tuned as we bring you more regarding Podcasting.