Tips on finding great podcasts, from 'Fresh Air' to TopPodCast.com

Philly based, TopPodCast.com offers newbies a way to easily explore some of the best podcasts not available elsewhere, or in better times slots (whenever!) than you can find on the radio.

Had your fill of podcasts this week – at home, in the car, on the treadmill?

If not, is it because – fess up - you don’t know how to find them?

Or you don’t realize all the goodies you’re missing?  Docudrama series like the super-popular Serial and its follow-up, S-Town. Focused froth about food, tech, sex, business, books. Hundreds of tightly polished TED Talks.  Loosey-goosey comedy shows (like Harry Shearer's Le Show).

Podcast land also holds some home-grown Philly specialty shows – from the Free Library’s author series to the mischievous Twisted Philly , our own Not Another Philly Sports Talk Show, and the kid-friendly adventure serial “Eleanor Amplified,” produced at WHYY. 

Of course, many radio and TV shows are available as podcasts, too. (I time-shift KCRW’s weekend early-morning jazz session, hosted by Bo Leibowitz.)

And now, we’re starting to see podcast-exclusive performances from talents who’ve given up on, or been cast off by, the mainstream-media airwaves. Yes, we’re talking about you, Bill O’ReillyEt tuTony Bruno.

The number of listeners to internet-streamed and -downloaded shows has been growing at a brisk pace, doubling in the last two years to 15 percent of the populace weekly, Edison Research and Triton Digital report in the study “The Infinite Dial 2017.”

Tech-savvy young adults ages 18-34 (44 percent of the audience) and the 35-54 set (33 percent) are especially attuned to this alternative audio (and sometimes video) medium, named after the Apple iPod that first made it prominent. Teens (7 percent) and the 55-plus population (16 percent) are the demos “most ripe" for growth, said Edison’s Tom Webster.  

Each month, 24 percent of the U.S. population uses the podcast medium, which sometimes evokes Golden Age radio while challenging conventional AM-FM listening habits, just as on-demand TV services are rocking broadcast and cable TV. Tellingly, 60 percent of monthly podcast listeners are Netflix subscribers, 24 percent watch Amazon Prime Instant Video, and 17 percent use Hulu.

Once converted, podcast fans prove loyal. “I’m often running into people who tell me they listen to Fresh Air podcasts instead of on the air,” host Terry Gross said. “Some are apologetic that they’re not listening ‘live’ anymore, but I’m happy they’re still fitting us in.”

Philly’s pride, celebrating its 30th anniversary, Fresh Air was rated the nation’s most-listened-to podcast on Apple’s iTunes platform last year. Episodes were downloaded about 2.7 million times weekly across all platforms.

And that’s been without diminishing the broadcast audience. Over 6.1 million listeners still tune in the traditional way to the arts/culture/politics-minded talk show, according to WHYY's fall 2016 ratings. That was up from 5.1 million the prior year.

“The trajectory for podcasts is very favorable. It’s all part of the way consumption habits are changing, a natural evolution with 81 percent of Americans now owning smartphones – a primary way of podcast listening,” said Kurt Laufer, a Manayunk-based insider who used to steer the digital sales team for CBS Radio and TV in Philly.

Still, “40 percent of the population doesn’t know what a podcast is,” Laufer added. And the field is so crowded with shows and program aggregators (iTunes rivals like Google PlayTune-InSpreaker and Stitcher) that “it’s like the Wild West out there. As a consequence, it’s sometimes hard for people to find the shows that will resonate with them best." 

That’s one reason Laufer recently launched  TopPodCast.com, a novel “one-stop shop” where new users, whom he calls “NewPods,” can test the waters.

Not tech-savvy or smartphone equipped? The motto at TopPodCast is “No iTunes, no app, no problem!” Just enter its website address and you’re instantly in the listening zone. Tapping on the “Top 200” icon then brings up much the same hit list you find on iTunes. Clicking again selects a show and episode start. Th-th-th-that’s all, folks.

The biggest value is Laufer’s curated “90 for 90,” where he breaks down the podcast world into nine content categories, with 10 show recommendations per genre: Comedy, Sports, News and Politics, Society and Culture, Business, TV and Film, Storytelling Favorites, Crime Podcasts, and Science.

Laufer throws in personal discoveries like the recently relaunched "BTC Radio" (Business Travel Coalition) podcast hosted by Radnor-based travel industry authority Kevin Mitchell.

So what’s in it for him? As touted on the site, Laufer is raring to help advertisers place media buys on podcasts and would-be podcasters to launch shows. Podcast advertising pulled in $200 million last year. He foresees it climbing to $1 billion in a few years, with celebs like O’Reilly  “heightening the awareness of the medium, helping it go mainstream."

“New tools make it much easier to put up a podcast today than in the pioneering days” (2004-08), “when I last did a podcast,” said Mitchell. “For long-distance interviews, Skype is awesome. Kurt got me into an app called RINGR, which you email to the person you’re interviewing.  Makes it sounds like you’re both in the same room and even cuts out the pauses automatically.”

Also major: the Libsyn podcast hosting service, “which costs $5 to $15 a month, automatically formats, and pushes your podcast to iTunes, YouTube, and others.”