Podcasts have kept up with the times remarkably well for an audio format invented before mobile internet was even a thing. The days of hard-wiring a click-wheel iPod to your laptop just to swap in a new playlist are long gone. Nowadays, an ever-expanding library of podcasts is just a click, tap, or voice command away if you’re within hearing distance of Alexa.
However, unrestricted access to this vastly expanded podosphere has its drawbacks. Podcasts have never been more popular, but with so many devices to listen to them on, including phones, tablets, watches, smart speakers, and even glasses, it’s difficult to keep track of what you’ve already listened to or where you left off.
Improve your intellect.
Full disclosure: I’ve been told that I’m a professional podcast listener. And almost every podcast I listen to is played in some way by an Amazon Echo device.
To be honest, it can be a little dicey trying to persuade Alexa to play the right podcast. It isn’t as natural as, say, playing music. When you ask Alexa for a specific musical artist, album, or song, she usually gets it right, even if you misspell a word or two (try asking for the “Scooby Brothers” and I bet Alexa will rightly cue up the Doobie Brothers).
But if you’re suspicious about any of the podcast details, and sometimes even if you’re not, Alexa is prone to going off the rails and fast. I’ve got a solution for when that happens, but first I’ll show you how to get to your favourite shows using only voice commands. If you master these tips and Alexa still messes up your requests, I’ve included a foolproof workaround near the end as a last resort.
When requesting a specific episode, ask for it by date rather than episode number or title.
First, let’s go over the fundamentals (I’ll get into choosing your preferred podcast provider in a moment). The majority of podcast issues with Alexa arise because, unlike music, which has fixed titles, podcast names vary widely. Of course, there’s the title of the show (“the podcast”), but some podcasts title individual episodes and are constantly adding more. Others simply assign numbers or dates, with no continuity or consistency. (It’s no surprise Alexa is struggling.
To access a specific podcast, you’ll need to provide Alexa with at least two, but sometimes three, pieces of information:
The show’s or podcast’s title: Alexa isn’t a mind reader, so begin here.
The exact date of the episode you want to hear: if you want something other than the most recent or the most recently listened to.
To avoid confusion, the host’s name is: Some podcasts have names that are similar or the same.
You’d think that coming up with a title would be the easiest part, but have you seen how many podcasts TED produces? Or how about the New Yorker or Vox? CNET, too, produces a slew of podcast shows. You could also add the word “podcast” to the title, as in “Alexa, play Morbid podcast.”
Otherwise, you might end up listening to a Swedish metal band from the 1980s rather than a popular true-crime podcast both titled Morbid.
To binge a show, begin with an earlier episode and Alexa will play them back to back until you reach the most recent.
The only consistently effective way to find a specific episode of a podcast with Alexa is to include the date. Specific episode numbers or titles are likely to result in an error message, so open your favourite podcatcher app and drill down to find the date of the episode you want (if you’re binging, for example). “Alexa, play the TED Radio Hour from March 19,” for example, will play that specific episode. (See the next section for instructions on how to proceed from this point.)
Finally, there are several podcasts with similar or, in some cases, identical names to other shows, and Alexa, in my experience, always chooses the more obscure of the two when you ask for them. Fans of Sam Harris’ Making Sense podcast may find themselves in a similar predicament if they listen to a financial podcast called Making Sense as well.
In those cases, you will want to add the hosts’ name to Alexas’ query, such as ‘Armchair Expert with Dax Shepherd’ or ‘Making Sense with Sam Harris.’
Because Amazon Echo devices lack play, pause, and scan buttons, you’ll have to use voice commands to control podcasts.
Moving around within a podcast is a fairly simple and intuitive process. In general, if you simply say what you want to happen, such as “Alexa, fast-forward three minutes,” Alexa will respond with the expected result. To take a rest, summon Alexa and say ‘pause,’ then ‘play’ or ‘resume.’ You can even scrub to a specific point in the podcast by saying, ‘Alexa, go to 31 minutes, 15 seconds,’ and the podcast will jump right there.
Navigating a podcast’s catalogue becomes a little more difficult. For example, if you ask Alexa to play a show you haven’t heard yet without specifying an episode, she will usually play the most recent episode. Some podcasts, particularly binge-worthy mini-series like S-Town that unfold in a specific order, will begin with the oldest episode of that podcast.
When shifting between episodes, Alexa employs very specific terminology: ‘Next’ always means ‘next most recent.’ That is if you’re hearkening to the most recent episode of a podcast and say, “play next,” Alexa will respond, “You’re listening to the most recent episode.” In that case, the command you’re looking for is “previously play.” This also means that Alexa will stop playing episodes after the most recent, so if you want to binge most shows, start with an older episode. Alexa will then automatically play the next most recent episode, followed by the next until you reach the most recent episode.
That isn’t to say I don’t use Alexa to listen to podcasts using the aforementioned commands. When I’m in the kitchen, I usually play Armchair Expert (“with Dax Shepherd, in case you’re wondering). I might listen to Lore at my desk and just let it run. Alexa handles the task admirably even when my attention is only partially focused on the podcast that is playing.
But not when I’m driving, and especially not when I’m lying in bed at night. I require my queue. That’s when I decided to remove Alexa from the equation almost entirely (keep reading to learn how I do it).
Connect via Bluetooth and control the audio with your phone for complete control of your podcast listening experience on an Amazon Echo device.
When my podcast demands exceed Alexa’s capabilities, I use Bluetooth to connect my phone to an Amazon Echo device. It’s not my preferred method of listening to the audio on an Alexa speaker. When I’m lying in bed, I’ll frequently continue to scroll Reddit or read the news on my phone, and if I want to watch a video, for example, the audio overtakes the current podcast, which means going back to my podcast app and resuming the show that was playing after the video finishes.
But it’s the best solution I’ve found so far, and it works well enough.
If you’ve never used Bluetooth to connect your phone to an Alexa speaker before, start here:
1. Request that Alexa connect to your phone by saying, “Alexa, connect to my phone.” “Searching,” Alexa will say.
2. Go to your phone’s Bluetooth settings and scroll down to the list of devices in pairing mode.
3. Select the Amazon Echo device (it will have a name similar to “Echo Dot-X1Z”).
4. You’re in like Flynn when Alexa says, “Now connected to,” followed by the name of your phone.
5. To disconnect from your podcast say ‘Alexa, disconnect from my phone,’ and then wait for Alexa to say ‘Now disconnected from,’ followed by the name of your phone.
All you’ll have to say from then on is, “Alexa, connect to my phone.” “Searching,” Alexa will say, before playing a tone and confirming your phone is connected. If this process fails (which it always does), you may need to go into your phone’s Bluetooth settings and select the device you want to connect to from your list of (previously) paired devices. If you have a lot of Amazon Echoes, you’ll have to remember which three-digit alphanumeric combination corresponds to the one you want. Alexa will remind you after a few minutes of futile searching if you forget.
By linking your preferred service and making it the default, you can pick up where you left off no matter what device you listen to podcasts on.
I primarily listen to Apple Podcasts, but you might enjoy Spotify as well. If you’re agnostic about podcasts, I’d recommend checking out Amazon Music’s podcast service. Regardless of which device you use, if you connect your Alexa account to your preferred podcast provider, you can resume listening from where you left off even if you switch from an “iPhone to Echo Dot” and back again. Of course, this does not affect your Up Next queue.
Here’s how to connect a podcast service and determine which one Alexa should use as the default:
1. In the Alexa app, tap More in the lower right corner, then Settings approximately halfway down the screen.
2. Go to Alexa Preferences and select Music & Podcasts.
3. If you’ve never linked a podcast service before, tap the plus sign (+) instead of Link New Service.
4. Tap the service you want to add, then tap Enable to Use and sign in.
5. Return to the Music & Podcast settings menu and tap Default Services at the very top.
6. If the service you want isn’t listed at the bottom, under Podcasts, tap Change.
7. Select the service you want to be the default.