(this program suspended in 2008)


(above: Charles Rosen, Quarry and Crusher, early 1930s, oil on canvas, 40 x 31.9 inches, James A. Michener Art Museum, Museum purchase funded by George C. Benson in honor of his friend, John Horton. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons*)


Podcasting, developed in 2004, allows audio shows to be sent to listeners' computers and other devices for later listening. Listeners can download shows, previously captured from the Internet into their computers, to iPods or other MP3 players for listening at a convenient time. According to podcastalley.com "Podcasting is not unlike time-shifted video software and devices like TiVo, which let you watch what you want when you want by recording and storing video, except that podcasting is used for audio and is currently free of charge."[1]

An article by Matthew Fordahl for the San Diego Union Tribune says: "For listeners, podcasting offers a diverse menu of programs that can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime. Unlike traditional radio, shows can be easily paused, rewound or fast-forwarded. The listener doesn't need to be near a PC, unlike with most forms of Internet radio."


What can Podcasting do for a museum?

Podcasting allows a museum to provide audio content to patrons in a familiar radio-type format, not over the airwaves but via the Internet from patrons' personal computers or MP3 players. Content can include companion guides to special exhibitions, the latest event schedules, interviews with lecturers and other speakers, discussions of upcoming exhibits, and interpretive discussions with curators. Audio content can even be recorded over a telephone, without the need for an onsite interview. A podcast relating to a museum exhibit can be retrieved from the Internet and later replayed in the exhibition gallery as an audio guide. With an assortment of podcasts, a museum can have a nearly free Internet-based "radio station." (left: iPod image courtesy Apple Computer)


Museum initiatives

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is among the first major visual arts institutions to take advantage of new podcasting technology with the posting of three podcast programs.

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum's first podcast was an overview of its Granville Bruce: Old Texas exhibit, produced by Buster Ratliff, PPHM Operations Coordinator. It includes a gallery talk by PPHM Curator of Art, Michael Grauer. Personal impressions of the exhibit are expressed by Shianne McCracken and Ryan Brantley, both students at West Texas A&M University and employees of the museum.

The Grace Museum creates MuseCasts for the benefit of visitors to the museum. The Grace plans to add pod casts regularly to their web site, and upcoming programs will include gallery lectures, docent-led tours of the galleries and audio "eavesdropping" on The Grace's popular Children's Museum.

The Orange County Museum of Art enabled individuals to use iPods and other MP3 players to better appreciate its Villa America: American Moderns, 1900-1950 exhibit on display June 4 - October 2, 2005. The OCMA web site contained a 25-part audio tour of the exhibit which could be downloaded by individuals before visiting the exhibit. The museum also made iPods available onsite for the use of visitors.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art launched a multi-faceted pilot podcast program in November, 2005.

The The de Young Museum in San Francisco initiated a podcast series in December, 2005. The Museum's Web page on the service explains:

Produced in collaboration with Antenna Audio, this series of free monthly audio segments offers news, features, and hidden treasures from the de Young museum.
Each free 10-minute audio piece includes information about current and upcoming exhibitions and public programs, and interviews with artists, museum visitors, curators, conservators, educators, and others. Each month, the podcast will feature a new series of entries and unique stories that allow visitors to explore unusual areas of interest and provide an in-depth sense of life inside the de Young.

The podcasts are MP3 files archived on the Museum's website. They are available as RSS feeds or by download.

Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesley College has a podcast page on its website. The Museum says:

You can listen to the files now or download them and then visit the museum to experience our collection and exhibitions in person.


If you are visiting the museum and you don't have an iPod or mp3 player you can borrow one of our iPod nanos at the museum information desk (valid ID or driver's license required).

The Art Institute of Chicago announced in December, 2006 the inauguration of its podcast "magazine," the Art Institute of Chicago Musecast. The podcasts can be listened to online at the Art Institute of Chicago's web site, or downloaded via iTunes to individual computers and MP3 players.  Podcasts are available free through the iTunes music store

How does it work?

To create a podcast a museum uses software such as Apple's GarageBand to create MP3 audio files. Voice and music tracks can be recorded and mixed for a professional presentation. The content is then uploaded to a server for time-shifted distribution to users' computers and MP players.

According to The Grace Museum,

In layman's terms, podcasting is radio broadcasting for the Web. Podcasting is somewhat different than radio in that the person has the ability to fast-forward through any content he/she doesn't want to hear. Podcasting got its name from the fact that many people download these "shows" to their iPods (an MP3 player manufactured by Apple) for listening on the go.

Visitors to the museum have the opportunity to download to their MP3 player audio segments posted on the museum's web site prior to visiting a related exhibit. The page containing the MuseCasting section of the museum's web site says:

We want you in our galleries with headphones on! Here at The Grace we strive to bring you the best podcasted programming possible. Follow the link to the exhibits where podcasts are available!  

The museum's downloading instructions for visitors are: "To download: right-click on link; save target to desktop; load on MP3 player; bring to The Grace!"

The Texas Association of Museums has on it's web site an informative podcast telephone interview on podcasting with James Yasko, curatorial assistant at the Grace Museum. Mr. Yasko explains that the museum was able to create its podcasts without buying additional equipment, in fact with no budget allocated for the podcasting programs.

TAM also has on it's web site a telephone interview between TAM Director Jack Noke and Gary Chapman, director of the The 21st Century Project at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, about new technologies and the role of technology as museums seek new ways to serve their audiences. Dr. Chapman discusses downloaded podcasts, RSS and other topics of interest to museums. For instance, visitors can call a number on their cell phones and listen to a pre-recorded audio segment while at a museum. The Austin Museum of Art is noted by Mr. Noke as an example of a museum lending patrons a cell phone during a tour of an exhibit in lieu of specialized hand devices.

Podcasting also uses a technology called Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, which automatically feeds updated content directly to users' computers. In late 2004 the popular My Yahoo service of Yahoo introduced a RSS feature. Other distributors of Web content are following the lead of Yahoo. Listeners enter the museum's RSS feed address into a program such as iPodder. With each update, new content is automatically sent to listeners' computers and connected digital media devices. Podcast Alley adds that "Before podcasting you could of course record a radio show and put it on your website, but now people can automatically receive new shows, without having to go to a specific site and download it from there." As the usage of iPod-like devices grows, this type of content delivery will become increasingly popular.

WGBH/Boston, which regularly produces podcasts, introduces the RSS and download options as follows:

We'll offer one full-length lecture each week for automatic download to your iPod or other mobile device through our RSS|Podcast feed (click on the RSS|Podcast link at the bottom of the left menu bar and copy the URL into your aggregator).
You also can manually download any of the following lectures to your desktop by clicking on the link and then selecting the MP3 version.

WGBH then provides a link to a page explaining RSS Feeds and Podcasts.

The Walker Art Center's New Media Initiative Blog entries by staff member Brent Gustafson includes "Podcasting: Next Steps" in which he contemplates creative applications:

"The other thing Garrick and I talked about was user tours. The idea is you could comment on an artwork after you hear about it when you dial Art on Call. It would save this as a voicemail, which automatically archives it to MP3, and we could pick the best comments to create user tours. This would allow people to choose multiple "versions" of the same tour. You could pick from the artists tour, the Teen remix, or the user tour of the same show, each having a different perspective on the work. Thankfully this has already been in planning from the beginning as an option to potentially pursue, so the groundwork is there, it's just a matter of getting the time, support, research, etc to actually move forward and do it."

Brent Gustafson is a New Media Designer at the Walker Art Center. "Garrick" refers to Garrick Van Buren, founder of Working Pathways, Inc

Podcasting cost savings versus"streaming" on the Web

When content producers use "streaming" technology to deliver shows to listeners' computers, a special server is needed. The cost of streaming on the part of the museum is based on the amount of bandwidth used each month. As the audience grows so does the cost of streaming the shows. [2] Podcasting does not use a special streaming server and does not have this variable bandwidth expense.


Transcription service

CastingWords transcription services, founded by Rachel Richard and Nathan McFarland in November 2005, offers inexpensive transcription services for podcasts. As of November, 2006 the transcription fee structure was:

URL Podcast transcription at 42 cents a minute. Podcasts are made searchable.
Uploaded file transcription at 75 cents a minute. Transcripts are not searchable.

The per minute price quoted is based on the length of the audio received by CastingWords, not the amount of time it takes to complete the transcript. However this is the price for podcast quality audio

All transcribing of MP3 or MP4 files is done by people, not machines. Transcriptions are delivered in plain text, HTML and RTF formats.

WAV files may be converted to MP3 files using iTunes. CastingWords says:

If you have a .wav file, you can easily convert it into MP3 using iTunes. Just open it up using iTunes, then right-click (control click on the Mac) on the song. Choose "Convert Selection to MP3". To figure out where iTunes saved the new MP3, choose File - >Get Info, then look at the Where section at the bottom of the Summary tab.

In a April 5, 2006 article the New York Times said that "...Casting Words, is taking advantage of the Amazon service, known as Mturk, to offer automated transcription using human transcribers for less than half the cost of typical commercial online services."


TFAO financial assistance

TFAO may reimburse museums for the expense of transcription of podcast files to text and online publication, and asks applicants to send a letter of inquiry by email to TFAO, and upon TFAO's acceptance of the letter of inquiry, the museum and TFAO work together on further steps leading to project funding.



1. The technology can also be used to deliver pictures and videos. See Podcasting and Vodcasting: A White Paper by Peter Meng, Technical Business Analyst, University of Missouri for a well-prepared 13-page primer on the subject.

2. Streaming does not allow for a show to be saved on listeners' computers.


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