Podcasting university lectures

This morning’s to-do list contained ‘set up podcast of university lectures’. It didn’t sound very difficult. A classmate uses a rather cool Olympus gadget to record each week’s talk, and I knew it should be easy enough to get these online. Of course, I also knew that ‘easy’ jobs always turn out to be way more complex than is reasonable. Except, not this time. In fact, it was worryingly easy.

  1. The original files were in WMA format, and I wanted MP3 to ensure maximum compatibility. Lame, the daddy of all MP3 encoders, just spat noise – possibly in disgust – so I used WinFF. It probably would have been possible to convert them straight to MP3, but I needed to edit first without losing quality so converted them to wave.
  2. Audacity handled the 600mb wave files without a problem, so I trimmed the lectures and stripped two 30min film excerpts, then re-saved as another wave.
  3. I like Lame, so I used its (undocumented) ‘voice’ preset to encode the wave files into roughly 56kbps MP3 files, which shrunk the 1gb .wav down to 30mb. That’s just silly. I couldn’t detect any quality difference, albeit only using computer speakers. Old stalwart Winamp handled appropriate ID3 tags.
  4. I knew little about setting up podcasts, but an easy solution presented itself when I remembered that WordPress can handle all the feed technicalities. I shoved a basic install onto an old domain name idling on a kind friend’s bandwidth-friendly server and created a post for each podcast, linking to the MP3 file in each. WordPress figures out from this that you’d like the file added as a media enclosure, and creates a podcatcher-compatible XML feed. In theory this was all I needed to do.
  5. Just to be sure, though, I dropped the feed into the I-can-do-anything-with-feeds FeedBurner, which cheerily provided browser interfaces etc., download numbers, etc.. I was able to subscribe in iTunes thirty seconds later – it worked first time!

It sounds more complicated than it was. The only problem was with the WMA conversion, but it took all of a minute’s googling to find WinFF. All the above is completely legal – rare, when working with video/audio encoding tools – and, apart from the web-hosting, free. I’ll have to watch the bandwidth – I reckon the 20 students in my class should be ok, but if the 60 full-timers find it I could be in trouble.