PALESTINE, Texas — When Darren Cary tires of listening to music at work, he uses his computer to download “The Catholic Cast,” a program several states away in Cincinnati, Ohio. The program isn't broadcast by any of the secular or Catholic radio networks. It's recorded and uploaded onto the Internet from educator Jayson Franklin's home.

Welcome to the world of podcasting.

“Podcasting is extremely entertaining as well as informative,” said Cary, a quality assurance specialist with a document conversion company. “They are creative and witty, and that really wins me over, as opposed to other more traditional programs.”

Merging technology with faith, Catholic pods are turning individuals into “broadcasters,” just as blogs turned them into online journalists.

Pods, short for podcasts, allows individuals the ability to record their own radio-style programs, interviews and commentaries on their Apple iPod (a portable digital audio player), and then post them online, allowing listeners around the world to download and listen to them at their convenience in their cars, on their home stereos, or on their computer at work.

One of the most popular Catholic podcasters is Father Roderick Vonhögen, a priest from the Archdiocese of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Listeners at the Web portal Podcast Alley (www.podcastalley.com) have consistently rated his program among the Top 10 for the past three months. It reached No. 1 in April.

As Pope John Paul II was laid to rest and Pope Benedict XVI was elected, Father Vonhögen gave listeners a first-hand report on Rome's goings-on through his podcast, “Catholic Insider.” In addition, Father Vonhögen comments on popular culture and teaches about the faith. More recently, he has introduced a popular “praystation podcast” that provides listeners with morning and evening prayers taken from the Liturgy of the Hours.

Largely unheard of just a year ago, podcasts have risen dramatically in recent months. Listeners can now choose from more than 12,000 shows on topics ranging from farming to religion. Even the Vatican has jumped into the fray, making its “Vatican 105 Live” broadcast available through a podcast feed.

Listeners access the podcasts through directories such as Podcast Alley, where listeners can subscribe to and download new programs as they become available. What they lack in professionalism, they often make up for in homespun charm.

Jayson Franklin's foray into podcasting began shortly after Christmas.

“My wife wanted an iPod, so we pooled our various money gifts and I purchased one,” said Franklin. While doing research on the Internet for a way to convert Internet Real Audio files for mp3 players, Franklin stumbled onto podcasting.

“There were some cool evangelical Christian non-denominational shows, commentary and sermons, but there wasn't anything Catholic,” said Franklin. “I thought that was a shame.”

Franklin coupled his computer skills with his knowledge of the Church and put together his podcast, “The Catholic Cast.” The program first aired in January and has been airing weekly ever since.

“I was the first Catholic to do a specific Catholic show,” he said.

Franklin estimated that he has more than 200 subscribers. Father Vonhögen has more than 2,000.

“Personally, it's a synthesis of my love for gadgets and my love for Jesus,” said Franklin. “It allows me to have an outlet to share my love for Jesus and the Church.”

Franklin uses his podcast to introduce listeners to new Catholic music and for guest interviews —among them, his grandfather who is neither Catholic nor Christian — to talk about issues of faith.

“Jayson often has debates with his grandfather who is stubborn yet intelligent. I enjoy the banter between them,” said Cary, a convert from the Church of God. “He also introduces me to a lot of music that I wouldn't know of otherwise.”

Podcasting is more than a personal audio show. Catholic podcasters are using their skills to bring attention to current news, just as Catholic bloggers shed light on topics such as the sexual abuse crisis.

In the weeks and months leading up to Terri Schiavo's death on March 31, podcasters joined their efforts to highlight Schiavo's plight. A group of podcasters known as Disciples With Microphones banded together to produce “Podcasts for Terri.”

Michael Kreidler, a homebound man who suffers from the effects of Lyme's disease, was able to record and air a personal audio reflection on Terri Schiavo from his home. Disciples With Microphones hopes to do more of that, bringing National Public Radio-style broadcast standards to Catholic radio for the purposes of evangelization.

Podcasting also allows for the creation of regional shows, such as Cross Signals, a weekly podcast from Seattle that is directed at youth, or a program with broader appeal such as Brian Noe's daily Scripture readings.

“As limited as Michael McNamara's Cross Signals is, there are only a limited number of people in Seattle,” said Franklin. “If his show catches on, he could have millions of listeners.”

Short-Lived?

Those inside and outside of radio question the future of podcasting, and what impact, if any, it may have on radio broadcasting. While those in Catholic radio are optimistic about the possibilities, they are also cautious.

“I think that podcasting could help Catholic radio,” said Mike Jones, vice president and general manager of Ave Maria Radio, which produces programming that is carried on more than 80 stations across the country. “We, as Catholics, need to embrace every media platform possible. We're so far behind the eight ball, and the secular culture and media platforms are so expensive to acquire and maintain, that we need anything we can use.”

Jones, a programmer, said that technologies such as the iPod allow listeners to customize what they listen to.

“Someone could download just the first hour of Dr. Ray Guarendi's radio program for playback later,” explained Jones. He added that it's possible that iPods could die a quick death because of emerging cell-phone technology. With the advent of roaming wireless connections, it will eventually be possible for audio to be streamed from the Internet to almost anywhere.

“Using my cellular phone, eventually I'll be able to audio stream nearly any radio station in the country, 24-7,” said Jones.

In response to podcasts’ popularity, some radio stations have developed podcasts of their own, as have some print publications, corporations, and politicians.

“Podcasting is decentralizing audio and where we get it from,” said Franklin. “It takes media out of the hands of the few and puts it into the hands of the many. With new media, for better or worse, everyone has a voice.”

“If there's a platform, we should stand on it and scream the Gospel,” said Jones. “Whether podcasting can sustain itself, that's up to the future.”

Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

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