Personal Podcasts

Intrigued by something I saw on Matt’s site, I spent some time last night downloading software for catching podcasts. Ten minutes later, I had Adam Curry’s voice carrying through iTunes. I picked out a few seemingly interesting feeds, set them up to sync with my new iPod, and went off to bed.

A podcast, briefly, is an audio file that is distributed through normal blog newsfeed formats, complete with metadata like title, author, date, and the like. To create a podcast, I record my radio show into an mp3 file, then add a link to it in an RSS feed. To “catch” a podcast, I can use any of a handful of readers that pick up these feeds, download the file, and create playlists in my player-of-choice (in this case, iTunes) so it can sync with my portable music player (here, my iPod). It’s new and growing in popularity – see some of the related links at the bottom of this post for more details.

Listening to my programming this morning, I started thinking about what I wanted from podcasting. While I can keep up with the new podcasts as they sprout up, that’s not quite as personalized as I’d like. I’d like to be able to create personal podcasts – audio shows that I want to have but are not suitable to share to the world, either for my privacy (first idea below) or because the content is not mine to distribute (second idea below). The two ideas that came to mind are:

  • Text to MP3 conversion – Imagine extending my mail reader so that it not only downloads my email, but converts the body of the message into an audio file that I can listen to on the bus or in the car. Or, use this to scrape and convert my daily reads that don’t have a podcast into an audio format. I haven’t come across a text-to-speech converter that’s easy to use, sounds relatively like it’s speaking English, and is free yet, but I can see all the pieces that would be needed.
  • Traditional radio on demand, podcast to me – One of my pet peeves at the moment is that I chronically miss NPR’s weekend programming like Car Talk. Either I’m never near a radio when our local NPR affiliate plays the programming, or I can’t stop and focus on the radio, or something else interferes. I had originally solved this problem with a TV/radio tuner card for my computer and some scheduling software to wake up and record my shows. This worked, until I got married and now have a 12 year old son who wants to play computer games during the shows. Almost all, if not all, NPR programming is available as Real Audio streams. I’ve got some ideas on how to record those streams and convert them to mp3 files.

Implementation should be straightforward once the mp3 files are created. All that is needed is to write the correct RSS file using file:// links to the audio files, then set up that feed as a file:// feed in my podcast reader. I haven’t had time to really spend on this yet, but I’ve got a couple of ideas competing for how to record the Real Audio streams.

Related Links:

  • Podcast.net, the emerging open directory of podcasts
  • Podcasts.org, another collection of resources regarding podcasts
  • iPodder.org, straight from the horse’s mouth (in this case, Adam Curry, creator of this concept)

UPDATE: Neither of the ideas I had for caputring a Real Audio stream have worked, so I’m back to square one with that. Suggestions are welcome.

Also, it struck me that this might seem a bit of overkill – once I have the mp3, then I can just add it to iTunes, and save the trouble of podcasting it. The key here is that I want to script and then schedule the process. This should only involve the minimal amount of manual work from me to get this content – the more automated, the better. Once I have the process worked out, the next step is to stitch it all together to be as seamless as possible.