Podcasting Church 2

Podcasting Church 101107

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.


In 1996, my former college roommate got a new job. He’d always wanted to be a dj, so knowing that a friend of a friend worked at a local station, he went down to the station, resume in hand, and somehow landed the job. When he started, they showed him a binder that had an outline for every show on the station.

After seminary, I found myself working at a local television station. After a couple of months I started to notice a certain flow to the news. The producers kept an eye to the time and schedule to see if some of the minor elements could be dropped or needed to be left in. Each commercial break was mapped out to the second. When I ran the cameras on the floor, I could go to the restroom, get a cup of coffee, grab my jacket and get back to the studio before I needed to count down for the anchors all in 1.5 to 2.5 minutes. They didn’t make it up as they went along. They knew how long each segment was and how long each commercial break was and what went in each.

Now that you’ve decided on the genre of your podcast, your next step is to create the format. When I created “Tech, No Babel” in 2005, I used this experience to create my format. I gave it away a little in the open. The announcer would say that the show was “your weekly source of news, perspectives, tips & tricks.” When I sat down to record a show, I’d divide it into those pieces.

Opening Tease

Since it was on the internet, I’d create shows that varied from 15-30 minutes. Each show began the same way, I’d tease my three topics. On 9/27/2007 (for example), I started with “On today’s ‘Tech,no Babel’: Hop into the Stream, Honey it’s Time, The New Gradients, and much, much more.” The topics for the show were video streaming, deciding to buy a new computer, and whether you should stop with a moving background or take it up a notch. I wanted the topics to be provocative, but I also wanted people to know if the episode was helpful or not during the first moments.

Open and Close

Next, I would play my open. In 2005 when I started, I wanted the show to have a younger feel. I also wanted it to feel professional. I looked around and found an unsigned band called “Fireflight”. I emailed them and asked for permission to use one of the songs on their website. They wrote back and gave me permission. A couple of years later they hit the Christian music scene and I couldn’t have been happier for them.

I emailed a friend that had a great voice and asked him to record a voiceover for me. I felt like having another voice added a level of polish to the podcast. He sent me the file and I put them together.

I created another version of just the end of the song and used that as the close of the show. I wanted a firm end to the show. I wanted to create a place where the audience could know that the show was almost done.


I almost always started with a few introductory remarks. This piece frankly, never really gelled the way I’d hoped. On the Geeks and God podcast, the original hosts always would say, “Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Geeks and God podcast. I’m Rob Feature and with me as always in Matt Farina.” Matt would say, “Welcome to the Geeks and God podcast hopefully we can help you out with your church or ministry.” I like the continuity of that.

Transitional element

After the greeting, I’d tease the topics again ending with “but first” and introduce the first topic and then I’d have a transitional audio piece before continuing on.

Segment one

I’d speak on the first topic for 5-10 minutes based on the notes I had. I’d end by teasing topic 3 and saying, “but first” topic 2 “after this”. I didn’t have a ton of advertising, but I’d sometimes put a commercial here.

Segment two

Next I’d speak on topic two again for 5-10 minutes and tease the final topic. This second spot was usually either a podcast promo or a thank you to “Fireflight”.

Segment three and end

Finally, I’d continue with the last topic and either roll the close or come back with with final comments before rolling the close. I always ended with, “Until next time, go out and change eternity.” That was my challenge to the audience to make something of their lives.

It all looked like this:


On today’s “Tech, No Babel”…




Welcome and transitional element


Segment 1


Commercial 1


Segment 2


Commercial 2 (podcast promo)


Segment 3


Commercial 3 (fireflight promo)


Final comments



This is just my format. I never had more than one commercial per show. You’ll notice that if I had, that would have been 1:30 of commercials per 15:00-30:00 of content. That’s much lower than you’d find in network or most cable television. Commercials in podcasts tend to be highly targeted because podcasters target people interested in small niches of hundreds or thousands, not millions.

Church podcasts might not be sponsored, but could be underwritten by the church with promos for specific ministries, other churches, maybe the pastor’s blog, or big events like a Christian concert or outreach activity.

I do recommend and open and greeting no matter the genre. This provides a sense of identity. I listen to 6-10 hours of podcasts a week. Most of them are from a single network which starts with a network id. Since I really like those podcasts, I’m happy every time I hear the beginnings of the network id. I feel the same way about several of the individual shows. I love hearing their start; it’s familiar and comforting.

Podcasting Church

Podcasting Church 101106

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.

Why you should (and shouldn’t) podcast.

From time to time, I’ll hear someone say something like, “You shouldn’t try and get someone to believe in your faith.” That always struck me as odd. Inherent in the statement is two contradictory ideas. First, what any person believes is so important that you should let them believe it. Second, what a you believe is so unimportant that you shouldn’t care if someone else disagrees with you. For a Christian, this makes no sense. We feel like God Himself has asked us to tell people about Him. Because He’s so wonderful, it’s something that most of us want to do.

When the Good News was first taken around the known world, there were certain advantages that it had. The Romans had built a series of roads that were both extensive and generally safe. There as a common language–Koine (or Common) Greek that everyone spoke. There were pockets of Jews in most major cities, so people had heard of the concept of a single God.

Today, the internet is a series of roads that allow generally safe transfer of information. People tend to know English or are able to translate from it using tools like Google Translate. The proliferation of American media throughout the world means that many people are at least peripherally familiar with some aspects of Christianity.

Since the missionary call is so central to Christianity, it’s natural that new communication media be used to spread it’s message. This has always been the case. The codex form of book is thought to have been invented for non-linear (unlike scrolls) access to the scriptures as well as easy concealment from the authorities who were unhappy about the spread of its message.

When Gutenburg invented the printing press, the Bible was the first and most often book printed by it. Early films often included Biblical and moral messages. Radio and television often included recorded messages from nationally know pastors and local church services. With cable television, came public access further democratizing the delivery of messages which were in often local churches.

Now, many churches have internet campuses and most have websites. The barrier of entry is so low now that a recording of a message can become a podcast that can be heard anywhere in the world in minutes.

So should your church podcast? Maybe. This probably sounds opposite of where it might have sounded like I was leading you. It really shouldn’t. Let’s rewind to right before the invention of moveable type and the printing press. Making copies of books was so expensive in the old days that only the best books were copied. If I wanted a copy of a book, I had to have someone make a copy by hand. This could mean months or years of their life.

This changed with the printing press. A person could get a copy of a book in hours or days. This meant that less valuable books could be made. You don’t make a book on pregnancy when someone has to spend months or years copying it; you ask a few ladies who’ve been pregnant and call it a day. I’m not saying that’s not a valuable subject, but that it’s easier to ask other people than to get a copy of a book on the subject. After the printing press, it was easier to print books on different subjects and many would be printed because they could be, not because they should be.

We have that kind of problem today. Look for blogs on any subject. You’ll find them. They’re dedicated to disc golf and red-headed women’s eyebrows and toenail fungus and car spark plugs. It costs virtually nothing to make content. The democratization of media means the problem isn’t too little media. It’s too much.

Public access television suffered the same problem. Often churches, intent to get the message out, would repurpose their service without changing anything. It often was poorly taped with poor lighting and sound. Since these stations were mandated by law, but not funded, they often had substandard or older equipment so the quality of even well-made video still would often suffer. Whatever the cause, the message suffered by association.

I fear that new media could suffer the same fate in a decade when the how is much less prohibitive. There will be a time when technology will be as uncontroversial the codex book form. Since the cost of distributing media is so low, churches that do harm to the message may not hesitate to send the media out nonetheless.

This is a cautionary note, but it should be treated as such. Most people who will read this book should do their best to be creative in distributing the Good News. Love should compel us to tell others about how incredibly good God is and how much Jesus loves us.

If love motivates you and you’re willing to do a little more, to try a little harder, in the hope of reaching someone that no one else can reach, you should podcast. Like the book or the printing press or film or radio or television, the internet is powerful. It enables you to communicate with people that you couldn’t normally talk to in places and times that you couldn’t go.

If anger, hatred or judgmentalism motivates you, please don’t share that with a world that expects it. Please don’t reinforce stereotypes. Please don’t.

Podcasting Church 4

Podcasting Church 101105

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.

There are certainly levels of audio production beyond what I’ve discussed in the previous section, but this is just an overview. If you want to go beyond the scope of this advice, please seek the advice of a competent engineer or consultant to add the subtleties that take a basic installation to a professional one. I don’t claim to be that person, I’m an enthusiast who has practical experience in these areas that I want to share.

Video Killed the Radio Star

So audio isn’t enough for you? You need to take it to the next level? Maybe video will satisfy. One quick piece of clarification: the audience will forgive bad video before bad audio. Start with the audio. If the audio is excellent, slowly adding to move from good to great is permissible. If you

have excellent video, but the audio is lacking, make the audio a priority.

I recently was watching YouTube and saw a video on lighting for photography. It was quite informative, but what concerned me was that the audio changed. As the speaker introduced the concept. He looked fine, but sounded hollow, distant, and echoey. I chalked it up to bad equipment. He was a photographer doing a video after all, so that seemed permissible. Unfortunately, things changed when I heard him describe what he was doing setting up the lighting rig. Suddenly his audio was full and beautiful. He sounded wonderful. For a moment I thought my memory was failing. Surely the bad audio of earlier was a trick of my memory. Just then he resumed talking on camera, confirming my earlier assessment.

Consistently bad would have been better than bad-good-bad. That made me wonder why he hadn’t stuck to the good microphone. Maybe it was too bulky in his mind. Maybe he didn’t think he could sync the audio from his audio recorder to the video on the camera. Maybe he had a thousand good reasons, but now I’m still wondering why the shift?! Worse still, I’m forgetting his content because I’m wondering about his production.

This brings me to one of my underlying rules: “Never let the message be overshadowed by production–good or bad.” In this case, I don’t remember the message because of bad production. The opposite is also true. I once had a producer at church who saw a star wipe that I did during practice just for fun. She said, “That’s so cool. Can we do more of that?” I disagreed that it was a good thing, but knew that she wanted flash/eye candy. I stopped her and told her that I wanted the message to be the message, not the video transition. I’m for flashy in flashy’s time, but not for no reason.

If audio starts with a microphone, video starts with a camera. Today the choices are exceptional. A DSLR can shoot video that George Lucas would have drooled over in 1999. The Red camera is a few thousand dollars, but equals Hollywood cameras in most respects. Even the lowly Flip HD camera takes video that’s much higher definition than $100,000 studio cameras from only a few years ago.

Let’s start with the camera. So what separates a Red from a Flip and between a studio camera and a DSLR? Glass, the sensors, storage, and connections are all factors. First, a small HD cam can be great for certain situations, but especially in low-light and situations that require editing and live switching, it’s less ideal. Smaller cameras make some sacrifices that the casual observer might not see, but seasoned professionals can instantly pick out the differences. A mechanical zoom is essential in the field. Magnifying the image before it gets to the sensor will almost always be preferred to simply enlarging the pixels so the image appears larger.

A larger sensor will always outperform a smaller one in low-light situations because the amount of light that hits the sensor. Let’s say one sensor is 1/4 the size of another. They’re both in the same environment, shooting the same thing at the same time. You might think they’ll get an equivalent image, but if light is low, there is actually more light hitting each pixel on the ccd or cmos sensor. As such, the subtleties of lighting are more easy to reproduce.

For storage, most cameras use some sort of solid state memory. Imagine that one has a fixed amount. The other has swappable cards. This means the down time between long shoots is virtually eliminated as a card can quickly be swapped out and the footage moved from it later instead of importing all of the footage from the camera in between shots or when the camera fills.

For simple video podcasts or heavily edited ones, a great camera and a good eye are all that you need to get a great product. Editing takes tons of time. I had one of my pastors ask how long it took to cut out 10 minutes in a sermon. My answer was about 5-6 minutes (minimum) for each minute we took out. We took out 10 minutes and it too about an hour. I’ve been editing since 2000, so it was fast. Potentially, it could have taken hours. For this reason, let’s concentrate on a live-to-tape shoot. This can take a 20 hour editing project and reduce it to mere minutes.

For a live-to-tape shoot, connectivity is absolutely essential. If you run a couple of cameras through a switcher, you have to consider how to get your signal from the camera to the switcher. In the analog world, this was often quite easy. Composite, svideo, or component each offered increasingly better bandwidth for image transmission so you’d choose the best for your situation.

Now with digital video consumer formats like HDMI don’t provide such flexibility. HDMI was designed for a constant handshake between two displays for the purposes of copy protection, not ease. HD-SDI is a better choice if you have it, but often the equipment with HD-SDI is professional requiring other professional components end to end.

Often these cameras have an analog output meant to display video on a monitor. This is a good choice for prosumer switchers and older SD units. Component especially has the bandwidth to transmit 1080p despite what the MPAA would have us believe.

At it’s most basic, you can start with a single camera. As I write this, a nice 3 ccd SD camera upscaled to HD can often be mistaken for native HD when shown in widescreen mode. When your delivery mechanism is the internet and most video is shown on smaller devices and not full HD 42″+ screens, few people will be able to tell the difference.

A few years ago, every church that did video used either a Videonics MX-Pro or an Edirol (now Roland) V5. These entry-level switchers produced a clean switch in signal. To accomplish this, they would use on-board “frame syncs” to sync the video of two of the sources to enable a clean switch that a passive push button video selector couldn’t produce.

Switcher technology that moved more toward computer and HD resolutions soon followed. Since churches tended toward displaying video on projectors capable of higher resolutions, better switchers always produced better results.

Almost as important as cameras and switchers for a live-to-tape video podcast is an array of monitors. In a small setup, fewer people need to do more jobs, so one person that can operate all cameras on static shots and choose between shots, is an essential. A bank of monitors enables a single person to glance wherever she wishes and see all shots at once. In a television studio, lights tell the director and technical director as well as floor crew and talent what camera is on and what will be next. These tally lights prevent mistakes in communication and perception.

No studio would be complete without adequate support for the cameras. Our eyes and brains work together to minimize shake in our vision, but cameras are much more susceptible to distracting movement. The standard piece of equipment for this is the tripod. If no movement is required, make sure the tripods can support the cameras and be locked into position.

When movement is required, better tripods with fluid heads are essential. I’ve used $5 tripods and I’ve used pedestals costing over $100,000 and the latter is like dancing with a professional. Movement is easy and fluid. Movements are limited by your imagination. If you plan episodes that require movement (like a worship service or musical performance), you may not need a top of the line pedestal. Don’t expect to spend less than a couple hundred for the bare minimum. It’s better to get a better tripod that you don’t have to fight with than a super nice camera that shakes and shudders with every movement. The only thing to watch out for is that your tripod isn’t too big for your camera. Bogan and Manfrotto are the brands to look at for the best bargains in prosumer tripods. They just go up from there (in both cost and function).

Depending on location, video lighting is a must. The exception to this is for outdoor shoots where God’s provide superb lighting in the sky. CommandN, one of the the earliest video podcasts, has shot nearly episode outdoors (in Canada even in the winter) for this reason. With a creative eye( and some practice), your light kit can be as simple as halogen work lights, some can lights, and some foam core to bounce the light off of.

As with everything, the more you spend, the easier it is to work with. The next step above the hardware store special is a portable light kit like the ones manufactured by Lowel among others. These kits might contain quartz, incandescent, or even fluorescent fixtures. Make sure you get a video light kit as photo light kits often have strobes meant to light the area for a fraction of a second.

If you have the flexibility of having a permanent studio, you can install theatrical lighting. A lighting designer can help you evenly light your subject using pars, fresnels, ellipsoidals, and other fixtures. Other than LED and fluorescent fixtures, these tend to be hot and power hungry, so a qualified electrician might need to do some work to make sure every episode isn’t punctuated by a sudden loss of power. Because of the heat, you might need to call your HVAC contractor as well. Building a studio can get expensive fast, even for the enthusiast.

Now you need a mechanism for recording, editing, and adding graphics and preproduced video elements. Remember that in a live-to-tape scenario you want to have the completed product when taping ceases. In a low budget situation, these functions are typically accomplished with a couple of computers.

Editing, compression and transcoding are the heaviest lifting done in the process. You want your best computer tasked with this job. I’m primarily a video editor so I’m very opinionated about the tools for this job. It can be done by a PC running Windows and Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, or even Windows Movie Maker. In your position, I’d spend the money on a good Mac and Final Cut Studio instead. I switched from the PC to the Mac for Final Cut. It’s stable and works well with without endless hours tweaking settings. There’s nothing worse than having a completed episode that is too big to be distributed, but can’t be compressed because some setting needs to be tweaked or some piece of spyware or virus has clogged your machine.

In church production, we have the advantage of many great software packages for presentation. Easy Worship, Live Worship, Mediashout, and my personal favorite ProPresenter will handle this task if you can match resolution between your computer and the cameras, switcher, etc. PowerPoint is adequate to the job, but presentation software is often just what you need.

Finally, this needs to all happen somewhere. A set can be as simple as a background and a chair. I’d challenge you to watch what comes out of Hollywood and New York that’s similar to what you’re trying to do for ideas. Maybe an office setting for weekly words from the pastor. Maybe you’d choose a practice room for worship insights with your worship leader. Make it fit, but don’t put a dark-skinned person against a white wall or vice versa. SD cameras can’t handle the contrast. HD cams are better, but these extremes are often used for certain stylistic reasons.

You can easily set up a studio spending millions, but careful planning can get something basic for much less. I’m planning to rework my home studio using pieces I’ve collected for years and hope to do so for almost nothing. It’s really up to you, your budget and the time you have, but video is much more complex than audio so keep that in mind as you plan what you’ll be doing.

Podcasting Church

Podcasting Church 101104

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.


I used to work in local television. Since my background was church tech, I was always curious about the engineering behind the video. When I started, all commercials were run off of a GrassValley video server. I made sure I learned how. It’s actually surprising how much equipment is needed for professional broadcast and how little for even a high-end video podcast.

A Face for Radio

So let’s say you want to do audio only. Maybe your content is best in audio form or you just want to get started. Either way, you can start very simply by plugging a microphone into your computer’s sound card. You’ll need some audio recording and editing software to make this work.

There are several pieces of software, but let’s start where most podcasters start–Audacity. Audacity is an open-source project that allows for modest recording and editing. People have edited audio professionally find it limited, but the price is right. It’s cross-platform, running equally well on Macs and PCs.

I should mention that Apple’s GarageBand which is free with new Macs (or can be purchased with their iLife suite), has some features that have been added with podcasters in mind. Add to this the capabilities to create the AAC files with auto-advancing stills, and you have a powerful tool for audio editing newbies.

I’ve purposely omitted talk of computer hardware because my experience tells me that computers built in the last ten years tend toward more than enough power to do the recording and modest editing that most audio podcasts require. Should you run across a computer with no audio input or a bad audio card, replacements are available along with usb “cards” like the Griffin iMic which can cheaply fix this issue.

Let me note here that interference can ruin an otherwise great recording. A noisy power supply on a computer is a common culprit. Should you run into a situation where plugging your mic into the sound card results in interference, a usb mic or a usb sound card will often fix this. We’ll cover other sound problems later.

Don’t hesitate to buy circumaural (around your ears) studio headphones. These are often much more expensive than you’d think if you’ve never done professional audio before, but the ability to provide some isolation from outside noise during the recording and editing process can be invaluable. Sony makes entry-level headphones that provide better sound reproduction than the free ones that came with some other device, but won’t break the bank. For the sensitive ear (or really deaf ones) much more expensive headphones might be required.

A good microphone is a necessity. To start off, on a limited budget, you can begin with a computer headset mic. This shouldn’t be the goal, though. There really is a reason why some microphones cost $5 and others cost $200 and others $2000. With the future in mind, let’s look at some of your choices.

While there are others, there are two types of mics that you should look at for audio podcasts–dynamic and condenser. Dynamic mics as their name suggests, produce sound as a result of movement. In this case, there’s a diaphragm that that moves in response to the sound from your voice. These mics are rugged and require more sound to produce a signal. When you think of a handheld mic, the Shure SM58 is likely the one you think of. It’s an industry standard and has been used by bands and public speakers for years. The 58 or a similar mic usually runs about $100 (give or take) and will serve you for years.

Condenser mics, in contrast to dynamic mics, require power (either supplied by an internal battery or phantom power supplied by the audio mixer or sound board). These mics require less sound and generally reproduce sound across the audio spectrum more evenly.

If you’re serious about audio, you should know that radio people swear by the large-diaphragm mic. This type can be either a regular dynamic mic or a condenser-type, but has a larger diaphragm which produces a more full-bodied sound. For male voices especially, there’s nothing like a large diaphragm mic to produce that warm tone.

A basic show can be created with just these tools. It can be just that simple. In fact, quite a lot of podcasts are that simple. I’ve created shows with this basic system. The power of audio podcasts comes when you add hardware to speed up your process.

It’s possible with most audio editing software to add compression, a gate, and add audio effects and prerecorded elements, like a show open and close. This isn’t how it’s done live, though. The reason is that editing takes time. Every piece that can be done without editing saves you time. When I was in television, we called it live to tape. We’d record a news segment as though it was live and be done when it was done. By contrast, editing together a show would take easily twice as much time, but often much longer.

In natural speaking, we have quiet moments and loud moments. Imagine that this is a wave. The loud parts are the top of the wave. The quiet parts are toward the bottom of the wave. Now imagine you could shorten the distance between the two so that there was less difference between quiet whispers and loud yelling. This might not be all that desirable in some circumstances, but imagine that you’re listening to a program and you adjust the volume to a comfortable listening level. Now the person speaking starts shouting. Your ears begin to bleed, you’ve just ruptured your eardrum. Okay, so that doesn’t happen all the time, but you can imagine it happening and even an uncomfortable drop or raise in volume is too much. A compressor fixes this.

This does introduce a problem though. All sounds are not equally important. God in His wisdom, has created our brains to filter unimportant sounds in 3D space. A recording is flat, though. A speaker’s nervous tick of tapping the desk might be acoustically a similar volume as their whisper, but a microphone doesn’t know this. In fact, if you compress the sound so that quiet sounds are less quiet in reference to the loud ones, this problem is compounded. This is where a gate comes in.

A gate is set so that a sound has to be a certain volume for a certain duration for it to pass to the next stage. This means that often quiet background sounds in a properly gated set-up aren’t audible at all. Be careful, though because too much off this can cut off parts of words only letting through the loudest sounds. This produces an unnatural staccato sound.

De-Essers are a nice addition if you know that the “s” and other sibilant sounds are a problem, but often a simple pop-filter (which will also quiet the plosive sounds like “p” and “t”) will passively prevent them.

A single mic can easily be run through a couple of hardware “effects” before going into your computer for recording. When you add a cohost or prerecorded material, this becomes more complex. This is where a mixer or “sound board” comes in. This piece can be as simple as a couple of channel Behringer Eurorack UB502 or as complex as a 48 channel digital board with on-board effects. Either way you can take multiple inputs and combine and mix them for a single output.

All of these pieces affect the sound, but how do you add preproduced content to something you’re recording. You could record and then add the audio later, but if you’re trying to save time, why not do it live? Today, this is much simpler than in the past. Imagine that you have an mp3 player. Plug that into a mixer with your microphone and set up a playlist with the pieces you want to use. Now, cue up your show open, play it and pause at the end. Turn up your mic and you’ve got a basic episode.

For a moderate “studio”, this is great. To take it over the top, you really need a dedicated space. Ideally, this space would be engineered to reduce outside sound and standing waves. Another great way of reducing sound is also to get rid of anything that produces sound unnecessarily. Start by replacing your computer with a device that will record sound. A couple of entry-level choices are the Zoom H2 and H4. These provide on-board mics that can be used in a pinch, but also include a place to plug in an external mic or a mixer.

Podcasting Church 2

Podcasting Church 101103

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry

What is a Podcast?

I spend a lot of time online. I’m a little old for it, but since the internet started hitting mainstream when I was in college, I’ll claim the term digital native. I cut my teeth on kermit and my college’s unix mainframe when Gopherspace, Telnet and Pine were terms and tools that all internet users had to use.

I remember when I found a video clip of the Coca-Cola Polar Bears on a Usenet group and spent all day on the 9600 baud connection on in my dorm downloading it. It took about 8 hours to get that postage stamp-sized video, but for me it was the dawn of an era of media online.

Times have changed from when a dial-up connection to a mainframe yielded a day’s worth of work for 30 seconds of video. Now sites like YouTube.com and Vimeo.com deliver prerecorded snippets of old commercials, original content and cat videos. Increasingly, people are streaming their own shows live with services like Justin.tv or Ustream.tv. This is services provide services that would have been unthinkable only 15 years ago.

If you look at comments, you’ll see people talking about episodic video content as podcasts. The similarities are striking, but there are some differences.

By its very nature, Youtube and Justin.tv content isn’t meant to be downloaded and consumed later, even when the internet connection is sketchy or non-existent. I you miss an episode of live content, you miss it unless it’s redistributed another way. It’s almost as if we’re in the days before the VCR when if you missed an episode of a sitcom you had to hope that that was the episode that would be rerun, except there are few streaming channels that have reruns.

YouTube has the advantage of archiving and with ubiquitous 3G and greater connectivity it promises availability, but there are still network issues. While you can subscribe to content, notification of new content is less than optimal. This isn’t an indictment of these services. All delivery mechanisms have their limitations which are counter-balanced by other others. I say this just to point out that what’s available and how to use it.

This is where podcasting steps up and waves its arms wildly screaming “pick me, pick me”. A podcast can be embedded in a website like live or flash, but can be downloaded when your connection is stable to be enjoyed whenever and wherever you want.

Like the “dead tree” editions of newspapers in the previous century, the subscription feature of a podcast delivers the content when you aren’t awake, at home, or unable to immediately engage it. If you’re on vacation for two weeks, when you return the last two Episodes of Twit are waiting for you. Whenever you wish to come back, you can top off your knowledge of tech news with Buzz Out Loud. You don’t need to be there, it’s waiting for you, always ready for the next free moment to fill your brain with information or entertainment.

Once you like a show and subscribe to it, you need never go back to the website to check if it’s updated, it tells you. A show on hiatus for weeks months or even years can return with fresh content even if you think the host has moved on. The power of the asynchronous nature of the podcast means that a busy podcaster can create content well in advance and push out the weekly episodes every Monday as he is in the middle of the woods, onstage, or at home asleep. Likewise, it’s possible to create a new episode every eight days and post them when done.

All of this is made possible as a result of something called an rss feed. Think of the rss feed as a shopping list that your computer checks against the media it has and goes to get anything missing from the list. When I started podcasting in 2005, this was something that you created with external software or by hand. It was something of a black science that made sense to the insiders, but not to people who had no background in web development and coding. We’ll talk in depth about the content of your RSS feed for those of you that love geeking out with code and want to tweak aspects of it, but thankfully, you really don’t need to create rss to have a podcast, there are tons of other way to get that.

Audio, Video and Text?!

Now you know that you can deliver media this way, you might be thinking that there are tons of things that you can deliver this way. “Wouldn’t it be cool if people subscribed to my feed could get flash animations, sound effects in wav format and a Microsoft doc of notes?” I don’t know about cool, but it’s a possibility that RSS 2.0 with enclosures (the specific flavor of rss podcasts use) could potentially support, but the software to retrieve the content probably won’t.

Because podcasts are meant to be consumed on portable devices (and to some extent on set-top boxes) the supported formats are generally limited. I picked my examples above carefully to include things you might think you could podcast, but that generally aren’t.

In my experience, the most popular content type is audio. Since Adam Curry (yes the same one from Mtv in the ’80’s) pioneered the use of the technology, it’s roots in radio were established from almost the beginning. Like modern day Tesla’s and Marconi’s, early enthusiasts pieced together studios in their basements, garages, spare bedrooms, and even cars. My own studio was based on a sound board I rescued from the garbage during my first video job, my laptop, and the cheapest professional mic I could find (which my wife bought at my request for Father’s Day 2005). Early podcast advice included where to place headset mics to get the best possible sound from a microphone that might have come free with your computer.

There are two formats that are widely supported for audio content are mp3 and aac. The first is pretty universal, playing in most audio software and on most players. The second is one that Apple uses almost exclusively. ACC or m4a allows for changing screens at predetermined points in the audio and also smaller file sizes. Many shows offer both due to these advantages, but to also provide support for non-iPod devices.

Attempts at video followed. Some were awful while others approached the level of network tv. In the early days, the advantages of video podcasts were balanced by the disadvantages of needing to watch video on a laptop, tethered to a location.

This all changed when Apple announce the iPod with video. With Android, iPhones, iPod touches, etc., we take this for granted now, but when it happened, this addition opened up podcasting to video in a new way. Now, you could have your own tv channel (actually video playlist) that showed content you wanted to see, not just what happened to be on.

The format for video tends to be MP4, Quicktime, or M4v. Video is much more flexible since different players support different formats. Some video podcasts have tried to provide long lists of compatible formats, both SD and HD, of avi, Quicktime, and others. This can quickly become tiresome so podcasters have tended to shrink their offerings sooner rather than later to bare necessities.

Finally, suppose you wanted to write up notes, or step by step instructions about a task. Make Magazine is great at this. Their video podcast often comes with a schematic or instructions on doing the projects described in the video.

For this, Apple and other manufacturers have adopted pdf as the standard. Since pdf is typically read-only (without special software), and isn’t reliant on fonts installed on the user’s computer, it’s a great format to send a digital copy of a highly formatted document which will look the same (generally) across computers and locations and can be printed on home and small business printers with little difficulty.

There are other formats and other possibilities, but for compatibility, it would be best to keep to these.

Podcasting Church 1

Podcasting Church 101102

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I’m starting today, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.

It’s May of 2005. I’m pretty unhappy with one fact in particular. One of my favorite shows is dead. The ScreenSavers has been replaced by something called Attack of the Show on G4TechTV. The show that used to have good help and how-to’s now has fun, but not nearly as education topics. I mentioned this to a friend who told me that the guys from the old TechTV had gotten together to start a podcast. I didn’t know what that meant, but I did know that I didn’t own an iPod, but that I wanted to hear tech news and tips, so I started to research.

Eventually, I found something with no name (because the Leo Laporte and his friends had been warned not to use their original idea “Revenge of the ScreenSavers”. In the following weeks, this show became TWIT (This Week in Tech).

At first the technology was hard to use. You had to download a special piece of software called a “podcatcher”. They were few in number and fewer on the Mac. About the time that I was going to give up, something unexpected happened. Apple released an update to iTunes that added podcasting.

Once I’d added a few podcasts, it became obvious that this was great medium. By it’s very nature, it was time shifted. The barrier to entry was low. It was portable. I loved it.

Having listened to quite a few podcasts, I started to think about creating one of my own. An interview on Podcast411 gave me two pieces I needed. First, I heard someone advise to podcast on your passion. Second, he said “just start. It doesn’t matter how good you are because you’ll be bad.”

In July 2005 I started “Tech, no Babel”. It started bad and it’s not great, but I hope that it helps people. How does talking about communication technologies help people? I think it’s obvious when you see it.

In 2000, my life changed when I realized that I was uniquely made especially to be someone who does technical things to help advance God’s plans. I used to feel broken, without a niche in life. Now I feel that there’s a specific plan for me, a plan that helps lives and eternities change, a plan that will happen when the time is just right. I pray that this book is part of that plan.

In early 2001, I saw it for the first time. Jim is his name. He credited a video I made with being something that helped him come to know Jesus. In 2007, my church started an online campus. It was something that we wouldn’t have been able to do except I’d heard on a podcast about a new service called Ustream.tv. A group of people who wouldn’t go to a church can go online and hear about the love of Jesus and that they can get a do-over, safe in the knowledge that they can’t make Him stop loving them with the mistakes they will make.

Tech is power. It enables us to do things that would have been magic or science fiction just a few years ago. I can make my own radio show in my sitting room off my bedroom in Nicholasville, KY. After some preparation, I can send that anywhere in the world, or rather people from all over the world can listen to it almost immediately.

For almost no money, someone can take a private passion and turn it into a message seen world wide. Time zones aren’t an obstacle. Your audience can listen whenever they want. This democratizes speech in a way that we have never before seen in human history. I can be heard by more people than a king or president just a few years ago.

Now the limitation isn’t getting it distributed. The internet has changed that. Now the limitation is standing out. Amongst the din of millions of voices, how will your message be heard? It might not, but what if it is? What if 1000 people listen to what you have to say? What if people from the other side of the earth pick up an idea and use it? It’s impossible to imagine what could happen.

This book is about my journey from confused seminary geek to Christian Technologist just as much as it’s about how your church can leverage the power of the internet as a tool for good.  The same technology that teaches terrorists to build bombs or shows teenage boys porn can be used to change a life.  I pray you’ll join me on this journey as I write both the how and the why.