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Podcasting, from basement to big bucks

Washington, July 18: It started out as a hobby: host your own laid-back audio show out of the basement and then make it available to Internet users for listening on their digital media players. All you needed was a cheap microphone, something to say and time to kill.

But last month, the grass-roots phenomenon known as “podcasting” went mainstream. Apple Computer Inc made the talk or music shows, known as “podcasts,” easier to find and download on its iTunes online music store.

The site went from zero podcast subscriptions to more than a million in just two days.

Podcasting, coined by joining the word “broadcasting” with the Apple iPod digital music player, is generally credited to former MTV video jockey Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer, who created some of the key software and popularised the idea beginning last year. Subscriptions to podcasts are free.

The concept works like this: Anyone who wants to rant or discuss a topic can record and post an audio file on the Internet. Listeners can use software to subscribe to the show, getting an automatic update every time a new installment is recorded. Then they carry the show around on a portable music player ' an iPod or a similar device ' and can listen to it while running or driving to work.

Corporate media moved quickly to stake out podcasting as an avenue for reaching to new listeners.

The result demonstrates how a new technology can remain part of an underground culture only for so long before corporations adopt it. Indie podcasters say Apple’s decision has brought them new listeners, but they complain that the iTunes website heavily promotes big-name podcasts while leaving out their homegrown shows.

“We invented podcasting,” said Todd Cochrane, who hosts his own podcast known as Geek News Central out of his home in Honolulu. “The people who are coming in now are jumping over the fence and joining the party. It’s funny how Apple is so focused on commercial shows and how little they are emphasising the grass-roots side of podcasting.”

Now, with Apple’s newest release of its software, those who download podcasts from the iTunes website can more easily transfer the audio files directly to their iPods.

“I think what’s so novel about it is that it’s your neighbour creating this content,” Cochrane said. “It’s the person across the street.”

Broadcasters see podcasting as a way to reach new listeners. These days, people want the freedom to listen to audio files whenever they feel like it, rather than on the strict schedule of a traditional radio station, said Phil Redo, vice president of station operations and strategy for New York public radio station WNYC.

“We have got to be in those spaces or we run the risk of becoming less relevant to them,” Redo said.

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