I quite like Apple products.

I’m very keen on Apple…

I’m an Apple fanatic. Hardware, software, accessories. You name it, I love it.

There’s just one fly in the ointment – in fact it’s a tarantula.


I absolutely detest iTunes.

I’ve tried and tried and tried to even like this software/service, but I just can’t do it. I can’t even barely tolerate it.

For long enough I thought that Microsoft must have smuggled someone into Apple’s iTunes department.

Then I blamed myself…surely it must be me…there’s some kind of genius in this I’m just not seeing. But no, I’ve had to admit, Apple has a weak spot, an achilles heel, a chink in their armor, a nightmare piece of software.

How can it be so difficult to sync data, photos, podcasts, and mp3s between my Macbook and my itouch/ipad/iphone? Why can’t I just add an mp3 file to iTunes and find it the next day? Why do backups of my calendar and contacts result in either multiple lost appointments or thousands of entries for my plumber? Why is there a nerve-shredding software update every three days? Why are the software updates so monstrously HYOOOOJE? Why does it take 4,356 steps to turn an mp3 lecture into an Audiobook file that I can then listen to at 1.5x or 2x speed? Why do you need fairies’ fingers to scrub back a few seconds to re-listen to the last sentence? Why does my heart sink every time I try to sync? And how many finger combinations do you need to delete just one file?

But….a few months ago, I read about iOS 5, iCloud, wireless syncing and everything automatically backed up to the cloud from every device, and I thought, “Thank you, Steve, what a priceless legacy.”

But what a mess! Seven weeks and multiple experiments later, I gave up.

Downcast, I discovered Downcast.

Now this $1.99 App is not a complete answer to the syncing idiosyncracies of iTunes, but it’s a huge step forward for syncing podcasts, lectures, sermons, etc.

  • Quick iPhone installation with a tiny footprint
  • Simple, oh-so-very-simple, podcast subscriptions
  • Categorized podcast choices
  • Automatic downloading and syncing
  • Single tap for listen speeds of 1.25x, 1.5, 2x, and even 3x (good for American ears listening to Scottish preachers)
  • Single tap scrub back 15 secs and 30 secs
  • Single click social media sharing
  • Easy access to previous podcast episodes
  • No wires!
  • No need to sync with iTunes!!!!

But what about those audio files of sermons and lectures that you come across from time to time on various blogs and websites? Downcast is working on a way to incorporate these into the App, but, until then, Huffduffer is a good workaround:

  1. Open free Huffduffer account
  2. Set up a podcast feed in Huffduffer
  3. Subscribe to your Huffduffer podcast feed in Downcast

Then, when you see an mp3 you want to listen to, add the link to your Huffduffer account or use Chrome/Safari bookmarklet. It’s relatively painless and, unlike iTunes, does not feel like self-torture.

And at last, I am regularly listening to some of the great audio podcasts out there. Two of my favorites so far are Freakonomics and This American Life. I’ve also enjoyed some episodes of The Entreleadership Podcast, and Thinking in Public. Any others you’d recommend?

Unless I’m missing something however, I don’t think Reformed Christians have yet mastered this media opportunity. Our “podcasts” tend to be either sermons or long-form, high-level discussions of theology/philosophy (e.g. Thinking in Public, White Horse Inn). There’s definitely a place for that, but there’s also got to be some way of utilizing the podcast format in a more effective and “popular” way.

Any ideas? What would be your ideal Christian podcast?

  • http://www.olivetreemusicacademy.com/ Andy Gruswitz

    Hi this is Andy from the HRCNJ. I really enjoy listening to RadioLab from WNYC. The audio production of each episode is impeccable, and often hilarious, and though they come at topics from a completely different worldview, they really make you think… about anything from the concept of randomness (episode is called Stochasticity and is a must hear) to how they made the Lincoln tunnel. I like how it always gives a broader perspective on what it means to be human. Not a 100% true perspective, but even in those moments it makes you double check yourself whether you really disagree with them or not.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Andy, I’ll have a listen to Radiolab. Sounds like something I’d enjoy.

  • Seth Huckstead

    Sitting here during my lunch and reading your blog [FYI] :)

    I would love to see a podcast from a Reformed Perspective like TAL (without the vulgarity of course). Interview real people and tell a story about God’s working in your life. I have heard of a decent podcast called the Connected Kingdom, but they haven’t released anything for a while.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      What’s TAL, Seth? CK did a bit of what you ask for, but we find it difficult to have worthwhile guest interviews in such a short timespan.

  • Michael D.

    I do the same thing with Instacast and Huffduffer. Love it.

  • Seth Huckstead

    BTW, have you tried Spotify? Its desktop application can replace iTunes for music/audio playback. It might do more. The problem is that every music type application is built like iTunes. Apple needs to split up iTunes into different services. Let music be music and let the app Store be an app store. It violates the very principles of Apple’s design strategy.

  • Dave Leland

    Funny you wrote this. I just abandoned iTunes for podcasting two days ago after using it for many years but I chose a similar app for my iPhone named iCatcher. Same price as Downcaster. I liked iCatcher since it provides multiple gestures to scrub forward & backward at various intervals. It also supports forward & reverse 30 second scrubs from the iPhone mic clicker hoo-ha (the official technical term).

    You can also choose to stream or download a podcast. Supports passworded ‘casts too. After using this several days I bid the iOS 5 “Music” app buh-bye for podcasting!

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Like the mic clicker idea.

  • Dan

    “Our ‘podcasts’ tend to be either sermons or long-form, high-level discussions of theology/philosophy (e.g. Thinking in Public, White Horse Inn). There’s definitely a place for that, but there’s also got to be some way of utilizing the podcast format in a more effective and “popular” way.”

    Good thought, I just don’t know what to do with it.. yet. But sometimes it’s difficult to relate theological subjects with folks who are less interested in theology or perhaps are overwhelmed by it. Perhaps if they are cut to 15 minutes or so we could teach some theological or doctrinal topics at a more introductory level (a la “Bitesize Theology”), but having more substance and biblical content than “Nooma” DVDs. For what it’s worth….

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Yes, I like what you suggest, Dan. Maybe that’s the way to go.

      • Dan

        Just checking back in – was thinking a format of 2 or more people discussing a topic in Q/A or point-counter format might be most appealing to listeners. But as you’re well aware there are matters that we increasingly take for granted over time that many have never dealt with – and the same is true for the potential listeners. I think of how I stumbled into the doctrines of grace just by listening to Romans sermons and researching the pastor’s books. Same thing in regard to church history and the Reformation in particular. As one from a non-confessional, non-denom background (and still in such a church), there are some really cool things about the Christian faith that the Reformed emphasize, so you have the capability of opening up a whole new world to believers who (like myself) may have found themselves stagnating in their practical, stripped-down-doctrine, contemporary-worship churches, and asking themselves, “is this all there is?”, or “where do I go from here?”. Serious, thoughtful consideration and discussion of God’s Word will wake people up!

  • Cicero Mukes

    Would like to hear something like The Story with Dick Gordon and a great interview show similar to Fresh Air.

    BTW…This American Life is tres bien!

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Thanks for the suggestions, Cicero.

  • Andrew

    HopeFM (a radio station in Sydney, NSW, Australia) podcasts its weekly interview show called Open House. I’m a listener to the podcasts, not affiliated at all with the show, but from the website, “Open House is a vibrant, live, three hour talk show airing across Australia on Sunday nights, exploring life, faith and culture.
    http://www.openhousecommunity.com.au They’re doing a ‘best of’ series over our summer at the moment.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      I’ll have a listen to that, Andrew.

  • Gethin

    Can’t say I’ve struggled with iTunes – I find it helpful.
    RadioLab is the first podcast that came to mind as a recommendation – wonderful stuff.
    I quite like On the Media (also from WNYC) too.

    In terms of ideas of a Christian podcast, I do quite like the White Horse Inn format – and I think it’s not necessarily too high a level – it might take a few episodes and perseverance to get into it but I remember when they were doing anniversary shows playing comments and messages – it sounded like it was helping a broad range of people, which was really encouraging.

    If there was a way of podcasting that was similar do the This American Life or Radiolab format – interesting stories – that could be interesting. Maybe a one on Church History following various stories of similar themes each episodes?

    I quite like Al Mohler’s The Briefing (and occasionally his Thinking in Public). Maybe more newsy/discussiony podcasts in a similar format to On The Media could work.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Thanks for all these ideas, Gethin. I’ll try to work through them.

  • Mitchell

    Have you checked out the Stuff You Should Know podcasts? They are by a couple of guys who work for the How Stuff Works webpage. They take a subject and do a half hour to 45 minute podcast on it in a conversational style with a bit of clean (usually) humor thrown in. I have often thought this would be a great example to base a Christian podcast on.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Thanks Mitchell. I’ll check it out.