Now that iPods have become as ubiquitous as water bottles and cell phones, trend chasers are eager to know what's humming under all those headphones. Some audiophiles are tuning in to Bad Day or Coldplay, but more and more are listening to podcasts--downloadable audio programs--that are offered free on iTunes. Here's a guide for the podcast perplexed, with pointers on some of the most popular shows.
NEWS Among the hottest podcasts are versions of TV and radio current-events programs.
BBC RADIO: FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT These nuanced first-person accounts of life around the world present a carefully polished antidote to routine, rapid-fire radio news.
NPR: MOST E-MAILED STORIES This show highlights the public broadcaster's catchiest stories as determined by what listeners are sharing with one another. Recent topics have ranged from low-interest loans to Star Trek fanaticism.
COMEDY Laughing at podcasts no one else hears can draw strange looks but sometimes can't be helped. Among the funniest:
THE RICKY GERVAIS SHOW One of few podcasts to charge a download fee ($7 for the second season of six half-hour episodes), this hilarious show was iTunes' most popular when it was available free.
ONION RADIO NEWS The 1-min. satirical segments written in the style of the Onion's parody print version are silly but amusing and blessedly concise.
ANOTHER HIT: The Sound of Young America from maximumfun.org
TRAVEL Before you set off for distant lands, brush up on your language skills and prepare yourself for the sights you'll see.
ROUGH GUIDES ITOORS This series includes a literary stroll through London, a musical jaunt in Prague and a walk through Impressionist-era Paris. Listen on the plane or as you tour the cities.
THE FRENCH POD CLASS Dozens of free sessions for both beginning and intermediate language learners are supplemented by lesson transcripts and exercises that can be downloaded and printed.
ANOTHER HIT: Lonely Planet Travelcast
MUSIC If you're interested in keeping up with the newest music, these podcasts offer short samples from a broad array of genres.
ITUNES NEW MUSIC TUESDAY 15-sec. clips of fresh tracks from an eclectic array of bands (such as Pearl Jam, the Dixie Chicks, Death Cab for Cutie) fill these 10-to-15-min. podcasts.
KCRW MORNING BECOMES ECLECTIC Band interviews are interspersed between full-song performances on this show out of Santa Monica College.
FURTHER AFIELD You can find podcasts covering poetry, video games and everything in between.
PODFINDER The brainchild of Adam (The Podfather) Curry, who created the Web's first podcast, this is a sampling of shows on subjects as diverse as winemaking and Catholic philosophy.
43 FOLDERS Merlin Mann's program, ostensibly about personal productivity, is entertaining and informative. Listen first to the episode titled "How to Leave a Voice Mail Message."
Here's How to Hear Getting the latest podcasts is quick, easy and--except for the player--free