Andrew Huey

podcasts and podcast clients

The pandemic has caused some changes in the way I’m consuming podcasts. (This is, of course, one of the more trivial changes caused by the pandemic, but this blog is all about trivial concerns.) I used to listen to tech podcasts during my commute; I don’t have a commute anymore, so I’m not burning through podcasts like I used to. And I used to listen to music podcasts at my desk during the day. I still do that, sometimes, but since I have full unfettered internet access at home, plus full access to my personal music collection, I mix things up a lot more, sometimes listened to streaming radio, sometimes to old CDs, and sometimes to music podcasts. Earlier in the pandemic, when the weather was nicer, I’d sometimes listen to various podcasts while out for long walks, but I’m not really doing long walks anymore, so now the backlog of podcasts is really piling up. I hardly listen to any “talk” podcasts anymore, except for a couple of humor ones. (I’ve really needed humor over the last year or so…)

This has all got me to rethink which podcasts I’m subscribing to, which iOS podcast client I should be using, and how I should be consuming them. My old system, in place since I switched to Overcast in 2015, is to subscribe to a number of podcasts, organize them into playlists in Overcast, and listen to them in in chronological order, oldest to newest. I had a few themed playlists, one for tech podcasts, one for humor podcasts, one for long music podcasts, and one for short “song of the day” music podcasts. That all worked out pretty well. I always had something to listen to, offline, downloaded to my iPhone.

Overcast, by default, keeps just the 5 most recent episodes of any given podcast available offline. (You can change that to a larger number, of course.) If you don’t listen to them, they drop off and get replaced by newer episodes. (But it does keep track of older episodes that you haven’t listened to, so if you’re listening to stuff in oldest-to-newest order, you’ll sometimes see older episodes greyed-out at the top of your list.) For me, lately, it was getting to where I was always just listening to stuff that was a month or two (or three or four) old. I started to get tired of that, and started to feel like it was a waste to have Overcast keep downloading episodes, then just deleting them and replacing them with newer episodes that would just again get deleted later. (I know, I have unlimited internet access at home, so it doesn’t hurt anything to download podcasts just to delete them later, but it still seems wasteful somehow.)

I’ve also been thinking about the best way to consume single episodes of podcasts that I don’t want to subscribe to, and random podcast-like audio files. I’ve been using Huffduffer for that, and it usually works well, but not always. Overcast has a facility for uploading files to the web that can then be downloaded into the client, if you’re paying $10/year for Overcast Premium, but it’s somewhat limited.

This all got me thinking about how I could switch things up. I read somewhere about how Castro uses a kind of inbox metaphor to let you sort through new episodes of your subscribed podcasts, and queue some of them for later listening, and dismiss others that you’re not interested in. That sounded more like the way I want to listen to stuff now. Castro (if you’re paying for their “Plus” level) also has a facility for “sideloading” files that sounded a bit more flexible than Overcast’s. (It can also rip the audio from a video file and save that to Castro, and that sounded like it might come in handy. Huffduffer can sometimes do that too, but it’s a little clunky.)

And, since I was looking at new clients, I looked into Pocket Casts too. Pocket Casts is kind of interesting. It was acquired by NPR (and a few other public radio organizations) in 2018. But now, apparently, they’re looking to sell it back off. So I’m not sure what the future of the app will be. Like Castro and Overcast, it also has a Plus tier that gives you the ability to save files to the cloud and listen to them in the app.

Overcast, Castro, and Pocket Casts all support importing and exporting OPML files, so it was easy for me to export all my subscriptions from Overcast and import them to Castro and Pocket Casts. Actually, Overcast exported both my active podcast subscriptions, plus other podcasts that I wasn’t currently subscribing to, but hadn’t actually deleted from Overcast, so it wound up being a list of 35 podcasts. So that gave me a bunch of stuff to play with in Castro and Pocket Casts.

I like Castro, but I quickly discovered that it doesn’t support anything like the playlist functionality of Overcast. So there’s no obvious way to group podcasts together. If I wasn’t listening to both talk and music podcasts, I probably wouldn’t be bothered by that, but I really like to keep those separate. So I guess Castro isn’t really for me.

Pocket Casts does support something like playlists. They call them filters, and they’re probably a little more powerful than Overcast’s playlists. I set up “long music” and “short music” filters, and they worked exactly as I wanted them to work. Pocket Casts also has a “new releases” filter that is kind of like Castro’s inbox. And there’s an “up next” queue similar to Castro’s. So it seems like there’s not much I can do with Castro that I can’t also do with Pocket Casts. And, if I was going for the “Plus” tier, Pocket Casts is $10/year, while Castro is $19/year. So, if I was determined to switch away from Overcast, I’d likely go with Pocket Casts.

Pockets Cast Plus also has desktop apps for Mac and Windows. While those aren’t strictly necessary, they would come in handy. My current method for listening to podcasts at my desk is generally to use AirPlay from Overcast to send them to AirServer, which works, but isn’t perfect.

But, in all this messing around with apps, and reading reviews, and thinking things through, I think I’ve realized that I can reconfigure Overcast to work for the way I’m consuming podcasts now, and not bother switching. Here’s what I think I’m going to do:

  1. For podcasts that I’m still fairly interested in, I’ll keep subscribing to them, but switch my playlists from oldest-to-newest to newest-to-oldest. When I see episodes at the top of the list that I’m not interested in, I’ll just delete them. And I won’t stress about getting through the whole playlist. It’s fine to let older stuff drop off. It’s not hurting anybody.
  2. For podcasts where I’m only occasionally interested in listening to specific episodes, I’ll leave them in Overcast as inactive, and just peruse them occasionally and download specific episodes.
  3. I might put together a new “queue” playlist that doesn’t include any podcasts in particular, and just load single episodes of random podcasts into it. (Which is apparently something I can do, but didn’t realize, until I started messing around.)

So, yeah, I probably overthought this whole podcast thing. I took some screenshots of Castro and Pocket Casts, and will include them below. I could probably write another blog post about which podcasts I’m currently listening to, and what’s been getting me through the pandemic, but I’ve already spent too much time on this one. I’m not sure if any of this will be helpful to anyone else, but (as often happens), writing this post has helped me figure things out, so it was worth my time.

Castro screenshots

Pocket Casts screenshots

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