Podcasting: The latest trend in talk

Posted: Feb 22, 2006 12:05 AM

It’s no secret that conservatives rule the radio waves. Between Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the dozens of other right-wing hosts, we leave the Left in our dust. Increasingly though, radio is not the only talk venue where conservatives are making their mark. Dozens of conservative organizations are hopping aboard a new trend called podcasting.

What is podcasting? Strictly speaking, it’s a subscription to audio content that downloads automatically onto your computer – and onto iPods as well, if you have one. Podcasts currently range from broadcasts of your favorite radio programs to archived lectures from policy experts. Besides the quality of the content, I see three main reasons for folks to discover the world of podcasting: it’s free, it’s easy, and it makes commute or exercise time productive and fun.

I’ll get into the technical how-to’s later. But first let me tell you what I’ve found when surveying the conservative community’s use of podcasting.

Radio programs

Radio show archives seem to be the most prevalent podcasts in the conservative community. Rush Limbaugh offers them for a fee, and Laura Ingraham requires payment for more than a ten-minute segment. However, many others are available for free.

Social conservatives have several programs from which to choose. The American Family Association offers two daily shows: The AFA Report, in which AFA Chairman Don Wildmon looks at current events; and Today’s Issues, which features a mix of current events and special guests. A recent episode of Today’s Issues, for instance, focused on the issue of adultery; with Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome author Nancy C. Anderson sharing how her marriage was restored after an affair.

Another choice for social conservatives is Family Research Council’s Washington Watch Weekly, hosted by FRC president Tony Perkins. The most recent episode of the weekly program examined the implications of the State of the Union address upon family issues, and featured Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) discussing legislation to regulate RU-486, the “abortion drug.”

For those of you who are more interested in foreign policy or national security, you might want to try Danger Zone, sponsored by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Carlson hosts the weekly show on terrorism.

Special Events

For many years, organizations have offered streaming audio or video of their recent events. Now, however, these events are often available by podcast, making it easy to catch up on-the-go when you weren’t able to attend in person.

The Ashbrook Center is located in Ashland, Ohio, so most Townhall readers were not able to hear Karl Rove discuss conservatism, Steven Hayward discuss Winston Churchill, or Bill Sammon discuss George W. Bush's presidency.  However, all of them are now available via podcast.

The Heritage Foundation, where our offices are located, is known for having some of the best policy events in D.C., but often I can’t pull away in the middle of the day for an hour or two. But my commute is that long, so on my next Metro ride I’ll be able to listen to Charles Pickering discuss his judicial confirmation journey, or former CIA Director R. James Woolsey argue in favor of wiretapping.

Other events now available online include America’s Future Foundation roundtables for young conservatives, and the Ashbrook Center’s seminars for history teachers.

Stand-alone Podcasts

A few organizations are bravely recording material for podcast use alone.  Ironically, it’s the purposefulness of these broadcasts which makes me like them the most.

The Ashbrook Center has recently launched a series of short interviews hosted by Ashbrook’s executive director, Peter Schramm. The interviews, ranging from 10-17 minutes, feature noteworthy guests such as Steven Hayward, Bill Kristol, and Powerline Blog’s Scott Johnson. Each one so far has been both fun and educational, and if you’re looking for a place to try out podcasting, this is the one I would recommend.

FreedomWorks and America’s Future Foundation are also venturing into this arena. FreedomWorks’s podcast on cable franchise reform last summer was so successful that they’re ramping up to do more. And America’s Future Foundation has just started hosting monthly roundtables primarily for podcast use.


Some publications are adding podcasts to supplement their online written content. For instance, TCS Daily (formerly Tech Central Station) offers interviews related to articles they’ve published. Topics so far include energy prices, climate change, trade, and decision-making.

Many other organizations, such as Human Events, Americans for Limited Government, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, are offering supplemental audio content that can be downloaded individually – but that is not yet available via podcast.

How to Get Started

I’m still a novice when it comes to podcasts, but I’ve found iTunes to be a very easy software package to use. You can download iTunes for free at www.itunes.com.

Once you’ve downloaded iTunes, there are two ways to subscribe to podcasts:

  1. In the menu on the top of your screen, select “Advanced” and then “Subscribe to Podcast.” Using this option, you will be able to enter special URLs that are offered by podcasting organizations. For your benefit, I’ve compiled several at the bottom of this column that I believe you’ll enjoy.

  2. From the iTunes homepage, you can also select “Podcasts” in the lefthand menu. This will open up a database of thousands of podcasts that you can either search or browse. I’ve listed some podcasts to search for at the bottom of this column as well.

If you want to change the default download times and occurrences once you’ve subscribed to some podcasts, it’s easy: From the iTunes homepage, select “Edit” in the top menu, and then “Preferences.” Pick the Podcasts tab on that page, and edit your defaults to reflect your listening choices.

Is it Worth It?

This may seem a bit complicated, but if you enjoy listening to talk radio, stick with it. A little bit of due diligence in the beginning will pay off in the long-term, since everything will be downloaded automatically from here on out.

And the benefits aren’t just for the listeners. John Couretas, the Director of Communications at the Acton Institute, believes podcasts have been worthwhile for his organization. “We were one of the first conservative think tanks to launch podcasts,” he says. “We began using them in March 2005 and are getting about 200 hits a day. We include lectures and radio interviews in our feeds, in MP3 format. We're accessible via iTunes and recently got our first review, a rave. Podcasts have great potential. But like any other media channel, it's not the technology that matters, it's the content.”


Podcast directory

Below is a list of some of the best podcasts I’ve found in the conservative community. I have divided up the list between “manual subscribe” (where you manually add the URLs to iTunes using the first option listed above) and “automatic subscribe” (where you can search for a podcast from the iTunes database using the second option listed). You’ll note that some are available only one way, and some are available both.

Manual Subscribe
Automatic Subscribe: Search iTunes database for:
  • “Acton Institute Podcast”
  • “AFA Report”
  • “AFF Radio”
  • “AFF Roundtable Podcast”
  • “AFR Today’s Issues”
  • “Ashbrook Events Podcast”
  •  “Bluegrass Policy Blog” (Bluegrass Institute is the free-market think tank in Kentucky)
  • “Cato Institute Event Podcast”
  • “FRC – Washington Watch Weekly”
  • “FreedomWorks”
  • “Peter Schramm’s ‘You Americans’ Podcast”
  • “TCS Podcast”
  • “Teaching American History Podcast”