After using my iRiver MP3 player on my commute and at the gym for several months, I can understand why the iPod's shuffle feature is so damn popular. While I love being able to pick and choose anything from my music collection any time I want, in practice it's difficult for me to decide what to listen to for 30 minutes. I'm notoriously indecisive, so having all of my albums available all the time is actually a problem for me. My MP3 player does have a shuffle mode, but it's inferior to the iPod's version (one of the drawbacks to my iRiver player vs. the iPod). So I pick and choose from shorter albums or classical music that's suitable for the subway. I find myself listening to lots of Bach and Bob Dylan. I can't really go wrong with either one.
The other problem is that when I'm at work, I have a similar dilemma. I may have large chunks of time to listen to longer albums or symphonies, or I might get phone calls or stuck in meetings, thus breaking up those great 80-minute Bruckner symphonies. Until January I listened to WQXR.com at my desk, so I always had classical music on tap. But WQXR just changed their Internet streaming provider to AOL radio, so I can't listen for hours at a time anymore. And with the departure of Drake & Zeke from the radio, I'm left without any of my old Internet radio standbys.
Lately I've been listening to podcasts. For those who don't know what all those kids are into, podcasts are short radio-like programs that you can listen to on your PC or iPod. With the right software and the magic of the Internet, new shows automatically download to your PC and sync to your MP3 player. There's a wide selection of shows on nearly any subject over at Podcast Alley. Some of the ones I listen to, like the Dawn & Drew Show, are just people sitting in their living rooms talking about whatever is on their minds. Others, like the Rock & Roll Geek Show or the Engadget podcast, are on specific subjects. And a few are MP3 versions of broadcast radio shows. For example, this week I discovered the Raven 'n Blues podcast, an MP3 version of a weekly blues radio show in the UK. Most of these shows are between 30 and 60 minutes, perfect for my commute. I get to sample new music, learn more about what's going on with technology, or just listen to another married couple bitch about how cold it is in Wisconsin. Podcasting could be to talk radio what blogging might be to print media. And like my interest in blogging, I've considered making my own podcast, though the problem with that idea is that I have nothing of interest to talk about. And there's a steeper startup curve to podcasting (microphones, software, audio editing skills) than there is for blogging. For now, I'll stick to listening, but maybe in a few months or a year I'll be ready to start talking to my three readers. Aside from the occasional phone call, that is.