Getting in to a podcast habit is easy — but don’t be ashamed if you have no clue how (or where) to start. This is a safe space for cluelessness. For example: I don’t really know how rappelling works. Every time Bear Grylls shows Scary Spice or Zac Efron how they’re going to use a single rope to descend a cliffside, I will admit the explanation is lost on me. Is it some sort of pulley system? How come Bear can do it without someone feeding him line? How do they get the rope down? I don’t get it. I don’t understand how rappelling works, okay? Nobody knows everything.
Back to podcasts. They’re great. Smart, funny, and/or interesting people talk into microphones and then post the recordings on the internet, where you can listen to them on-demand and at your leisure. Keep reading to find out how to listen to everything from daily news reports to acclaimed scripted dramas to dudes ruminating about the existence of aliens. (There are a lot of podcasts.)
On Your Smartphone
The original way to listen. If you have a smartphone, you have a podcast player. Most come pre-installed with a podcast listening app, but we're compiled a list of some others that might be better suited for your listening needs.
With iTunes, Apple established one of the earliest distribution platforms for podcasts. The medium is essentially named after one of their products, the iPod (an archaic device that only played audio). Apple Podcasts is newer, dedicated app that comes pre-installed on all iPhones. The app is not available on other devices — at least for now.
If you have an iPhone and don’t want to think too much about this decision, go with Apple Podcasts. Just find the purple icon that looks like a lowercase “i” with two halos.
Until recently, Spotify was exclusively a music platform. In recent months they've invested heavily in podcasts and released new features to accommodate podcast listeners, including a personalized "Your Daily Podcasts" recommendations playlist. If you connect your Spotify account to Facebook, you can also see what your friends are listening to. It's a good bet Spotify rolls out more podcast-centric features in the future.
For current Spotify users who want to start listening to podcasts, this represents a seamless option. The app is available for download on all devices.
Price: Free (with ads, streaming only, no downloading episodes); Premium plans range from $4.99/mo for students and $14.99/mo for families
If you're looking to keep it simple on an Android device, Google Podcasts is a mostly no-frills app that allows you to pause listening on one device and resume with another. iPhone users may have to wait a while — the Google Podcasts app is not yet available on Apple devices.
The key differentiator with Castbox is their focus on helping you discover new shows. From their blog and Staff Picks to their AI recommendation engine, Castbox wants to deliver shows you'll like that you may not have otherwise heard of.
The main benefit of springing for Castbox Premium is getting rid of the ads encouraging you to sign up for Castbox Premium. The free version also limits total subscriptions to 100, which is quite a lot.
Price: Free (with ads); Premium plan is $0.99/mo or $9.99/yr
Billed as "he world's most powerful podcast platform", Pocket Casts is feature-packed, intuitive, and available on just about everything. Their new Playback Effects features allow users to customize their listening experience with playback speed adjustments, silence-trimming, and volume-boosting without adjusting the volume of your device. If you find yourself quickly becoming a podcast power-listener, Pocket Casts might be for you.
Price: Free; Premium plan is $0.99/mo or $9.99/yr
On Your Computer
If you're working on a computer but still want to listen to your favorite shows, there's no need for some complicated two-device headphone wiring rig — most podcasts are also available to stream right in your web browser.
The smartphone apps listed above offer the ability to listen directly in your web browser in some form or fashion — but not all app features carry over. Apple Podcasts recently introduced their web player, though you can't view your list of subscriptions or set a playlist order. Spotify also allows playing in your web browser, but their desktop app is far more robust and has most of the features available on the mobile app. Google Podcasts offers a basic web player similar to Apple. Simply search the name of a podcast (with the word "podcast") and the most popular episodes will populate in Google results.
You'll also find many shows also make episodes available for listening directly on their websites — including this one!
On Your Smart Speaker
For most of us, smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo exist solely to settle family debates over actors' ages while we watch movies when we're back home for the holidays. But not only does Alexa know when and where Shelly Long and Craig T. Nelson were born, she can also play your favorite podcasts on demand.
While the default podcast listening app on Amazon Echo devices is the radio-centric TuneIn, both Apple Podcasts and Spotify recently unveiled updates that enable users to change that setting and seamlessly listen on their platforms.
To listen on Apple Podcasts, download the Alexa Skill and try commands such as:
“Alexa, play [podcast title] on Apple Podcasts”
“Alexa, play [podcast title] from yesterday on Apple Podcasts”
“Alexa, skip ahead 30 seconds”
“Alexa, play the previous episode”
If you link your Apple ID to your Alexa app, you can also pick up where you left off listening to Apple Podcasts on another device.
Spotify users in the U.S. can also set the platform as the default podcast player on their Alexa-enabled device and use similar commands. With two of the largest platforms making these strides at the same time, it's a good bet they'll continue improving the services as they compete for market share.
Google Home speakers offer a streamlined approach, and by that I mean there are no third-party podcast players currently available on the device. That doesn't seem to be an issue, as Google's native podcast app is certainly good enough to deliver what you're looking for.
To listen to a show, simply say, "Hey Google, play [podcast title] podcast." You can also ask Google to "Listen to the latest episode of..." as well as stop, pause, resume, and "Recommend a podcast". To listen to the next or previous episode, say, "Next episode" or "Previous". Click here for some other useful commands related to podcast listening.
In Your Car
If your car has a USB or auxiliary port (headphone jack), you can connect your phone to the car's speakers with a cheap cord or, in some cases, the USB charging cable. From there, simply play your favorite podcasts through your preferred smartphone app on you rphone.
Newer cars are Bluetooth-enabled, which allows you to pair your phone with the car's entertainment system wirelessly. First, verify that your phone has Bluetooth — look in your device's product manual or search this database for your device. Check your car manual to find the easiest way to pair your vehicle's media system with your device. (Make sure Bluetooth is turned on and "discoverable".) After you've successfully paired your device, you should be good to go for future trips.
Most cars model year 2016 and newer come equipped with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. These platforms often have standard podcast apps pre-installed — including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you think you have one of these platforms but aren't sure, try talking to your car. Say,"Play 'Rosecast, Bachelor recaps with Rim and AB' podcast”. If that doesn't work, pretend something is wrong with your car so other people don't give you weird looks.
Bonus: Podcast Discoverability Tools
Another big barrier to entry for people who want to start listening to podcasts is finding shows they’ll like — and new shows once they're in a routine.
The New & Noteworthy section of Apple Podcasts has some good recommendations, but it's mostly limited to new shows with big names attached. (It's all politics, maaaan.) You'll hear about those anyway.
While some apps have good recommendation algorithms, our favorite tool to find new podcasts to listen to is Podchaser.
On Podchaser, you can follow creators (both hosts and guests) to see when they appear on new episodes, browse user-created lists, and review individual episodes as well as shows overall. In your personalized Feed, you can see what your friends are listening to and what they recommend. The Podchaser database lives up to its billing as "the IMDb of podcasts". And no, they don't pay us to say that.