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Podcasting Hacks

Jack D Herrington
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
ISBN:0-596-10066-3
453 pages
£ 17.50
Published: 2nd September 2005
reviewed by Gavin Inglis
   in the December 2005 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

Gone are the days when you were cutting edge because you had a blog. Now, you need your own internet radio show. Podcasting is the powerful combination of easy-access audio production and global web publishing, with a little help from the syndication capabilities of RSS. O'Reilly's new book is a manual to the creation and ``broadcast'' of audio shows using the web.

Although in the Hacks series, and compiled at speed, this is a surprisingly comprehensive work. Rather than focus on the technical aspects of podcasting, it takes a wide view and attempts to cover the entire process from concept to delivery.

The first chapter introduces podcasts and takes a new listener through the process of locating and playing them. Linuxheads may become irritated at the focus on iTunes, then soothed by the Perl listings for a command-line podcatcher and the re-broadcaster which generates RSS directly. The hacks here go as far as listening to podcasts on a PDA, or even the Playstation Portable.

Chapters two and three is where this book really begins to shine. There is a whole mini manual to creating broadcast-quality journalism, from breaking down the responsibilities of the producer, writer, engineer and host, to choosing appropriate hardware and getting the best performance from it. Reducing noise, training your voice to sound natural when recorded... much of the technical content here is studio wisdom for the enthusiastic geek with an IT background but no experience in audio production, and it is pitched at an appropriate level. MP3 encoding is covered too; most users of LAME will not have considered its low- and high-pass filters and how these could be of use.

More than sixty pages are devoted to considering particular show formats, from a regular news, sports or politics show right down to a ``beercast'', which is almost certainly what you imagine it to be. One interesting idea is to record commentary to films, so the listener can simply synchronise their DVD playback with your programme. A timely warning is included against allowing the film soundtrack to leak into your commentary and thus infringe copyright. A later section covers how to obtain permission to play commercial music legally on your show.

One aspect that will be no doubt overlooked by many eager podcasters is that of publicity. Chapter seven covers this, with a rundown of podcast directories and some less obvious marketing ideas. Funding and connecting with the wider podcasting community are given a little space.

The last essential read is chapter eight, which covers audio editing. This ranges from choosing appropriate software to tweaking the EQ and using plugins to produce an ideal sound. Although this section does cover the free audio editor Audacity, it could have used an extra hack with more detail on this, probably the most popular piece of software used in podcasting production.

This book is well positioned as a fascinating and comprehensive guide to something which is, after all, an emerging phenomenon. It would make a great present for someone who is considering podcasting but doesn't know exactly how to start. Of course not all the hacks will be of interest to everybody, but it's hard to imagine a prospective podcaster who wouldn't find Podcasting Hacks of value.

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