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Podcasting: The radio-free radio experience

Have an opinion? Or a joke? If you upload it, someone, somewhere, might download it.

By JAY CRIDLIN
Published April 28, 2005


PALM HARBOR - The sun is setting, and Mark Cuebas and Walter Anaruk are chilling in the garage, sipping Negro Modelos and talking Bucs football.

"Okay, fine, but the fact remains, they've got two question marks at quarterback," Anaruk says.

"Griese is not a question mark!" Cuebas retorts.

This goes on for nearly 20 minutes. Then the brothers-in-law edit a recording of their debate down to 16. Within hours, the whole thing is up on Anaruk's Web site, where others can download it onto digital music players.

It's called "podcasting," and it may be the first big cultural breakthrough of the iPod era.

Think of a podcast as an audio blog: Your opinions, music, skits and weekly musings wrapped up in a tidy MP3 or sound file, ready for download to an iPod or desktop. Your own personal radio show that listeners can tote anywhere and listen to at their convenience.

"We've had samples on our Web site for quite a while," said Matt Cowley, who produces a popular improv comedy podcast with his WMNF-based troupe Offramp. "Now that it's called "podcasting,' and the notion is that you listen to it while you're at the gym, all of a sudden it's trendy."

Nearly a third of adults with iPods and MP3 players have downloaded podcasts. A Google search for "podcast" yields more than 6-million results.

That's remarkable growth, considering the word barely existed a year ago. Former MTV VJ Adam Curry is widely credited with popularizing the format through software that downloads sound files directly to one's MP3 player. Thousands of podcasts have sprouted up since the summer.

Michael Oster, a New Tampa podcaster who's worked in audio mixing and engineering for years, has posted plenty of field recordings on his Web site. A couple of months ago, he started calling them podcasts. Almost overnight, his site traffic doubled.

"There was now a name for this kind of thing," Oster, 37, said. "I thought, well, since I'm already doing it, I just need to modify it a little bit to fit into the podcasting realm, and push it as that."

Not that there is any single "podcasting realm" - which is one of the aspects podcasters find so appealing. There is no Federal Podcast Commission, no corporate radio giant dictating topics and playlists. Content can be as niche as niche gets; some topics listed on Podcast Alley - the Billboard of podcasts - include quilting, "gay sexcapades," and Florida Gulf Coast University hockey.

"I change my format any time I feel like it," Oster said. "One day it might be field recordings, the next day I might be ranting."

The shows can be as high- or low-tech as podcasters like. Ian Bernard operates a syndicated Libertarian talk show from Sarasota that airs in markets such as Kansas City and Providence, R.I. But he's found more success by making his radio show, Free Talk Live, available for download in podcast form. It ranks among the top 20 shows at Podcast Alley.

"It just seemed like a natural evolution of giving away our archives," Bernard said.

Giving away an archive represents the challenge for podcasting. Sure it's fun, and maybe even popular, but does it have a future as a commercial enterprise?

"The radio theater world is not a terribly commercial one right now," said Cowley, whose podcast is one of the few offered by a sizeable radio station. "We'd love for it to become one, so we can all retire to swimming pools in Malibu. But at the moment, we're just trying to develop an audience."

Richard Lucic, associate chairman of the computer science department at Duke University - which handed out iPods to last fall's incoming freshmen class - says subscription-only podcasts are unlikely to take off anytime soon since there are so many free podcasts.

But he sees potential for some limited advertising, either on a podcaster's Web site or through brief "station breaks" every 15 minutes or so.

"Companies will recognize that people are listening, and see some path to profit," Lucic said.

Anaruk and Cuebas have day jobs and don't really approach it as a professional enterprise; they use $8 microphones. Anaruk doesn't even own an iPod. Oster, a professional sound engineer, makes a little money through the sale of Internet advertising; he updates his podcasts regularly so fans will keep coming back and his hit count will increase. And everyone who visits his Web site is a potential client.

Commercial radio isn't going anywhere, but many believe podcasters will eventually eat into its market. Lucic, for example, says he hasn't listened to the radio since he discovered podcasting in October.

"It's going to continue to grow as people are able to take their laptops around with them, and even smaller computer systems - say, download it right to their cell phones or PDAs," Oster said. "There's going to be a much bigger opportunity for this type of entertainment."

And there's always the chance, however unlikely, that some faraway radio executive will stumble across a podcaster's Web site, fall in love with an amateur voice and call with an offer to appear on the radio.

"It's definitely a dream job, and an outlandish one at that, but, you know . . . what if?" said Cuebas, tossing a football to himself in Anaruk's garage. "I'm sure that's every podcaster's dream."

Jay Cridlin can be reached at cridlin@sptimes.com or 727 893-8336.

SOME TAMPA BAY PODCASTS

AREA 51 (www.area51show.com): This irreverent comedy show, produced by a group of radio professionals and friends in St. Petersburg, ranks among the top 10 comedy podcasts and top 40 overall at Podcast Alley (www.podcastalley.com)

EXDRUNKALOG (www.calebism.com/wordpress): Artist Caleb Fiske, who goes by the handle Caleb de Floriduh and contributes to Area 51, also produces this podcast centered around his recovery from alcoholism.

CRUSHING GRAPE (www.crushinggrape.com): A wine podcast produced from the garage of Walter Anaruk of Palm Harbor and his brother-in-law Mark Cuebas of Clearwater.

THE DIFFICULT LISTENING CHANNEL (www.michaeloster.com): Michael Oster, a New Tampa sound engineer, posts field recordings and his own daily musings.

FREE TALK LIVE (www.freetalklive.com): A Sarasota Libertarian talk show that ranks among Podcast Alley's top 20 shows.

OFFRAMP (www.offrampaudio.blogspot.com): A comedy podcast from WMNF's improv voice-acting troupe, which produces the Sixty Second Radio Hour (www.sixtysecondradiohour.blogspot.com)

FIELD POSITION (www.fieldposition.com): Another Anaruk-Cuebas podcast; this one deals with football.

RELIGIOUS PODCASTS: Bell Shoals Church of Christ (www.bellshoalscoc.org) in Brandon and Seminole Presbyterian Church (www.seminolepca.org) in Tampa offer downloads of their sermons.

DIGITAL FLOTSAM (www.digitalflotsam.org): P.W. Fenton of New Port Richey caught the attention of "podfather" Adam Curry himself with this well-produced podcast, an eclectic mix of stories, music and interviews.

LIVE FROM THE HOUSE (www.houseofgigs.net): After three years streaming Web casts from their Web site, House of Gigs, Jon Boutelle, Duncan Taitt and Jerry Nolan created this podcast devoted to local and independent music from around the country. They're working on adding three more podcasts, including one on the Tampa Bay music scene.

[Last modified April 28, 2005, 13:35:26]


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