Podcasts -- online radio shows produced by radio stations and amateurs alike -- grew in popularity with the rise of the iPod and iPhone, but you don't need an Apple device to start listening. Despite their mystique, podcasts are made up of regular audio files, usually MP3s, tied together by a feed that directs a podcast downloading program, or podcatcher, to the files. To tune in, find a podcast's feed address on its website, or use a program like iTunes or PODCASTS! that provides a categorized list of shows.
Over 1 billion podcast subscriptions take place through the iTunes Store, which catalogs free podcasts from around the Web. To download a podcast in iTunes 12, open the Store and click "Music" to change the category to "Podcasts." Browse or search for a show and press "Subscribe" to add it to the Podcasts section of your library.
To add a podcast that isn't listed in the iTunes Store, press "Alt-F" to open the File menu and choose "Subscribe to Podcast." Enter the podcast's feed address to subscribe.
The self-proclaimed "most downloaded Windows Phone podcast application," PODCASTS!, is free on the Windows Store for Windows 8 PCs. As a Windows app, PODCASTS! works across desktop PCs, Windows RT tablets and Windows phones, making it a good choice if you use several of these devices.
The app's home screen lists popular podcasts. Open one and click an episode to play it, or right-click (tap and hold on touchscreens) to pick "Download Episode." To add a custom podcast feed, right-click the app's background, choose "Settings" and pick "Add Podcast."
VLC Media Player
One of the most popular music and video players with over 1 billion downloads, VLC Media Player has some of its most useful features tucked away, including the ability to stream and download podcasts. Open VLC's playlist by pressing "Ctrl-L," mouse over "Podcasts" in the left-hand menu and click the "+" icon. Enter a podcast's feed address to see its episode list. Double-click a show to start listening, or right-click one and pick "Save" to download it.
VLC's saving process takes a bit of getting used to: Clicking "Save" takes you to the Convert window. Pick "Dump Raw Input" and press "Browse". From there, enter a file name as you would when saving a Word document, but make sure to include the audio file's extension. Most podcasts use the extension .mp3, but always use the same extension that appears at the end of the Source entry on the Convert window. Finally, press "Start" to download the file.
Download Podcasts Manually
If you don't want to install any software, you can download podcast episodes using your Web browser and play them in any media player -- even one that doesn't have a podcast feature, including Windows Media Player. To start, visit a podcast's feed address, which usually ends in .xml. Each episode in the list has a link to an audio file, such as an MP3.
In Internet Explorer, click a link to reach a "Save" prompt. In Firefox, right-click the link and pick "Save Link As." Chrome requires an extra step; rather than display links directly, Chrome displays the full address of each podcast file. Copy the full address -- usually beginning with http or ftp and ending with .mp3 -- into the address bar and press "Enter." Once the show starts playing, right-click the window and choose "Save As."