Podcasts are for radio what Netflix is for TV and movies. You can listen to anything you want on demand, but for free! Learn how it all works here.

How to Get Started Listening to Podcasts for Free

Podcasts are an incredible medium that is completely changing how we engage with audio entertainment. What Netflix did for movies and TV, podcasts are doing for radio. Salesforce.com recently shared that podcast listening is on the rise and most podcast listeners are educated and affluent, a group of people that anyone should aspire to be a part of. If you are curious about this whole podcasting thing but don’t know where to start, check out this guide designed to get you listening to awesome shows in no time!

Podcasts are for radio what Netflix is for TV and movies. You can listen to anything you want on demand, but for free! Learn how it all works here.

What is a podcast?

For the uninitiated, let’s start with the simple question: what is a podcast? A podcast is like a blog for audio. Each podcast is hosted on a website, and new episodes show up in a feed, with new shows at the top and older ones falling to the bottom.

Beyond that, there are few rules in podcasting. Most podcasts are audio only, though some feature video. This guide is focused on audio only podcasts, like my Personal Profitability Podcast.

Podcasts range from a few minutes long to several hours. My favorite podcasts span the gamut. The shortest show I subscribe to, Laracasts, has episodes around 5 minutes long. The longest show I subscribe to, Hardcore History, has episodes that can pass four hours in length.

Most shows I listen to are around 20 minutes to an hour long, with most common times around 25 minutes or 45 minutes. I mostly listen to shows focused on news, online business, science and technology, and a few that are just fun and funny. Here’s a snapshot at what I have on deck on my phone:

Podcast Addict Screenshot

I also listen to podcasts on my laptop with iTunes. Which brings us to our next topic… how do people listen to podcasts?

How do people listen to podcasts?

Podcasts work anywhere you have a phone or computer, so you can listen to podcasts literally anywhere. Over the last month, I have listened to podcasts while working at my computer, in my car, while out on a walk, on a plane, in a doctor’s office waiting room, in the library, and probably some other places I’m forgetting. In other words, almost everywhere I go podcasts follow. In fact, my very favorite place to listen to podcasts is the shower, where I have a small Bluetooth speaker hanging from the showerhead.

Depending on how you use your phone and computer, there are a few options for “podcatchers,” a sometimes-used term for programs that you can use to subscribe to a podcast. Most podcasts allow you to listen right from the website, but the best option is to subscribe with a podcasting app.

Here is an example of a podcast player, which is similar to what I use on my podcast posts on this site:

On desktop and laptop computers, the most popular method to subscribe and listen to podcasts is iTunes. Once installed on Mac or Windows, iTunes gives you access to the largest podcast directory where you can discover and subscribe to podcasts in a couple of clicks. On iPhones, you can use iTunes to sync podcasts from your computer.

I use an Android phone and use Podcast Addict to subscribe to shows (the screenshot above is my Podcast Addict app). The app isn’t the most simple to use, but it has tons of options to customize your listening experience.

If you want to listen through an app in your web browser that you can access on any computer, ShortOrange has you covered. When I had a full-time day job and wanted to sync my home and work listening, I used ShortOrange.

This is by no means an extensive list of podcast apps. There are dozens of options on computers, phones, and the web. These are some of the most popular and what I use myself, but don’t feel limited if you don’t like iTunes or Podcast Addict. There are plenty of other options.

Where do people listen to podcasts?

I already mentioned where I listen to podcasts, but I admit most people don’t listen in the shower. I think it is a brilliant use of “wasted time” where you are just standing around, but most people listen at home, in their car, while walking or exercising, or at work. These are places you typically might be listening to music or the radio or use headphones anyway.

Listening at home is easy on your computer or phone. I often listen to music podcasts while working and business and science podcasts when I don’t need to focus so much on something else. I’ll press play and turn up the volume on my laptop, throw on headphones, or put my phone on speaker to listen. Here’s that Bluetooth speaker I use in the shower from Amazon Basics. It is less than $15.

My car is about ten years old, so I don’t have Bluetooth built in. However, I do have an auxiliary plug. I got an Mpow Bluetooth Receiver, which currently runs $16 on Amazon.

You can use any earbuds or headphones for podcasts, but my current favorite is a pair of TaoTronics Bluetooth Headphones, which run around $30. All in, I’ve spent less than $60 for my favorite podcast listening tools. However, the first few years I was a podcast fan I only listened on my computer in iTunes. Whatever works for you is how you should get started.

Great podcasts for beginners

Now that you know how to listen to podcasts and where most people listen, what should you listen to? There are so many podcasts for such diverse interests you will never have a shortage. There is even a popular podcast about a guy who’s dad wrote a terrible erotica novel, which is read and dissected in the hilarious show My Dad Wrote a Porno.

Here are some of my favorites by category that you may want to subscribe to in your favorite podcast app.

Podcast Families

Before we dig into some specific recommendations, primarily based on what I listen to myself, it is important to understand a little bit about the business of podcasts. Most podcasts are supported by advertising and while there are many independent podcasts, like my podcast, some come from established families or companies that are 100% focused on podcasts. Here are some of the biggest and most popular. Best of all, they are all free!

  • NPR – National Public Radio turns many of its shows into awesome podcasts. In addition, there are some podcast only shows from the NPR family. The wider net of NPR shows includes shows from WBEZ Chicago, home of This American Life, and WNYC in New York.
  • Gimlet Media – Gimlet was founded by Alex Bloomberg, a former NPR staffer who worked on This American Life. Starting with breakout hit Startup, Gimlet produces very high quality, well produced shows.
  • Carola Digital – Adam Carola has several claims to fame including The Man Show and Loveline with Doctor Drew. After parting ways with Westwood One, where he was a daily radio show host, he founded Carola Digital. Carola Digital shows are typically formatted similar to radio with guests and fun banter. Shows feature Adam, Dr. Drew, celebrity hosts, and shows from members of the Carola Digital staff.
  • Podcast One – Podcast One is one of a few large umbrellas that hosts many podcasts. This allows them to produce high quality shows without worrying about as much of the business and advertising. Podcast One includes over 200 podcasts.
  • Radiotopia – Radiotopica is similar to Podcast One and comes to us from PRX. This family of curated podcasts is focused on the cutting edge of what we can do with audio.

Business and finance

Business and finance podcasts can help you learn to improve your side hustle, start or grow a business, or get a better understanding of how companies operate in general. As a personal finance blogger, I had to feature these first!

  • Personal Profitability Podcast – From yours truly! This podcast focuses primarily on entrepreneurship and includes episodes on personal finance.
  • Smart Passive Income Podcast – Pat Flynn, a friend and online business idol, shares so many actionable tips in his show that you should listen with a notepad standing by.
  • Planet Money – This show comes from NPR’s radio show of the same name. 20 minute episodes are released a few times a week.
  • The Tim Ferris Show – Self-employment and fitness guru Tim Ferriss interviews successful and interesting guests in his hit show.
  • Startup – This podcast from Gimlet Media follows Alex Bloomberg as he founds Gimlet, and later episodes include features on other businesses trying to go from zero to awesome.

Science and technology

If you have embraced your inner nerd, your next stop should be science and tech focused podcasts. These don’t benefit my work very much, but they do benefit my mind. And I find them very enjoyable. Expand your mind with these four favorites.

  • Science Vs – Another show from Gimlet, this podcast features a hilarious Australian host who dives into controversial topics with an eye on the science. Episodes have included a look at global climate change, artificial sweeteners, ghosts, and gun control.
  • Every Little Thing – Can you tell I’m a fan of Gimlet? Here’s another Gimlet show, but this one has a different twist. It focuses on somewhat off-the-beaten-path questions and digs in deep to get a better understanding. Episodes have features America’s government stockpiles, man versus viruses, and how Senate rules came to be and keep us from chaos.
  • Undiscovered – From a non-profit organization that produces Science Friday, this weekly show focuses on how science happens behind the scenes. Recent episodes I listened to talked about how scientists go to Antarctica on the hunt for meteoroid fragments and if six degrees of separation is a real thing.
  • Science Friday – I have subscribed but have admittedly not yet dived in to this popular show. It comes highly recommended and focuses on an array of scientific topics. If you want a dose of science to kick off your weekend, join me in discovering this show.

News and current events

While the internet, TV, and radio will probably always be the fastest way to get current events, podcasts are making their way into this listening segment as well. I subscribe to both of these shows from NPR to get a daily news fix without wasting time watching TV or subscribing to a newspaper like it’s 1994.

  • Up First – A newer show from NPR, Up First is about 10 minutes long and goes over top news stories of the day. If you are a current events junky, get your fix here. It is perfect for that shower speaker I mentioned above.
  • NPR Business Story of the Day – In about five minutes, get one major business story that’s making waves on Wall Street or elsewhere. Publishes five days a week based on a story on NPR. Sometimes there is a little overlap with other NPR shows I enjoy, in which case I just skip that episode.

General awesomeness

One of my favorite aspects of podcasts is the ability to tell a story in a meaningful way that you can connect to on a different level than with text and a different imagination than video. This list contains some of my favorite podcasts. I subscribe to all of them.

  • S-Town – If you only listen to one podcast, listen to mine! If you only listen to two, make this your second addition. I have spent many hours listening to podcasts, and this one may be my all-time favorite. It tells the story of a man named John in a small Alabama town that he calls “Shit Town.” The story involves murder and intrigue. I can’t say more than that without spoiling it. I can’t emphasize enough how amazing this show is. There are only 7 episodes, so it is a great way to get your feet wet without diving into podcasting completely.
  • This American Life – From WBEZ Chicago and NPR comes This American Life, a long running radio show turned podcast from Ira Glass and his awesome team. I had a chance to tour the studio last year while attending the Podcast Movement conference, and it was amazing to sit in the room where they record the amazing show.
  • Serial – Serial is actually the show that spawned S-Town. The first season follows a true crime story of a high school murder in an East Coast Suburb. The second season traces the story of infamous soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Don’t miss season one. I enjoyed season two but was less impressed.
  • Hardcore History – Dan Carlin hosts Hardcore History, which goes deep into interesting historical topics. The show is released irregularly, but it is worth the wait. Recent series of episodes focused on Gengis Kahn and Mongolian history. I loved the series on World War I titled Blueprint for Armageddon. Episodes are regularly over three hours long, so don’t expect the entire thing in a sitting unless you are on a road trip. Recent episodes are free. Older episodes are available for a fee.
  • The Adam and Drew Show – I grew up listening to Adam and Dr. Drew on Loveline on the radio. While Adam moved on to new pastures, they are back with a similar show to the original Loveline format, but with no censors. Get a dose of politics, news, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, plus some talk about business and hustling, in this fun show.
  • Mortified – Radiotopia member show Mortified is based on the stage show where people read embarrassing stories and entries from their personal diaries they wrote as a kid. This show is hilarious, as are the live events.

Electronic dance music

I know most people are not dance music fans like me, but I thought I would share this as well so you know that music podcasts exist. These shows from top DJs around the world are typically released weekly or monthly and feature new, hit songs from producers spanning the globe. I like to listen to these in the background when writing and doing other computer work because I don’t really have to pay attention to enjoy it. I setup a station in iTunes that automatically plays all of my EDM podcasts from oldest to newest.

Podcasts are free, fun, educational, and entertaining

I love podcasting so much that I am a podcast creator, podcast listener, and will be headed to Podcast Movement, a conference all about podcasting, for the second time this year. Podcasts are amazing!

If you are a podcast fan already, what are some of your favorites? Let us know which podcasts we should be listening to in the comments below.