Smart Playlists is one of iTunes strongest, and probably most under-used features. You can make an automatic playlist with nearly any criteria you want – a particular word in the title, the number of times a track has played (or not played), how you’ve ranked a track (either good or bad) and so on. iTunes comes preloaded with a few smart playlists, one for ’90’s Music’, ‘Recently Added’, and ‘Top 25 Most Played’. Well, you can also make a Smart Playlist to make all of your podcasts play one after another, which is the point of this rambling.
I’ve got roughly 30 podcasts that I subscribe to. Most are fairly short, coming in at under 10 minutes in length (C|NET, Slate, Onion Radio, various NPR shorts). While it’s pretty easy to pick out and play a single podcast on the iPod, it becomes cumbersome when you’ve got a dozen episodes to listen to because you have to let a single podcast run thru to the end, have it go back to the main menu, and then navigate manually to the next program to want to listen to.
You can make a Smart Playlist that puts all of your unplayed episodes into one playlist and they will all run in one long really good radio program. Go to File -> New Smart Playlist
You should get a window similar to the photo accompanying this post (click on the photo for a larger version). Choosing the genre and play count are key – putting a restriction on the time is my personal choice. Set genre to ‘Podcast’, and play count to ‘0’. I chose to make this playlist a collection of all the short stuff because I want to make sure that I have the time to listen to a longer podcast. 20 minutes works well for what I’ve subscribed to.
Now, while this so far has been a mind-blowing ‘Oh God why didn’t I think of that’, this next revelation will just make you weep with just how amazing the iPod really is. Make sure that ‘Live Updating’ option is checked. If you’ve got a newer iPod (Nano, and I would assume Video iPods) this playlist updates itself live, on the iPod, away from iTunes. So, you can start with a jam-packed playlist and as you listen to each episode they drop out of the playlist one by one. The smart playlist works for the older iPods, but does not update itself away from iTunes. Despite not auto-updating on the older iPods this tip is most-usefull for you long-time iPod users. Your iPods don’t show what podcast episodes you’ve listened to already. Newer iPods place a dot before new episodes, just like in iTunes. For the 3G and earlier iPods this smart playlist takes the guessing out of ‘have I listened to this yet’? Let me know if this works differently on any of the various iPod models that I’ve not been able to test it on.