updated 6/6/2005 9:49:34 PM ET 2005-06-07T01:49:34

Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs called podcasting "the hottest thing going in radio" on Monday and promised to make it easier for audiophiles to create and distribute the digital recordings.

Amateur and professional disk jockeys have established more than 8,000 podcasts, downloadable audio files that focus on everything from electronic gadgets to movies and astronomy. They can be played on computers or digital music players, such as Apple's popular iPod.

Business Week, Forbes, Disney and Sirius have podcasts, as do hundreds of individuals including wine aficionados, baseball fans and political junkies.

Productions range from stream-of-consciousness rants to slick shows and, unlike conventional radio broadcasts, podcasts have no time limits, deadlines or government oversight.

At a technology conference on Monday, Jobs previewed iTunes version 4.9. The software allows users to click on and subscribe to different podcasts, then automatically delivers the shows to any connected iPod — far less cumbersome than the third-party applications many listeners now need.

The newest iTunes will include a directory of podcasts, and creators will be able to register their shows with Apple's iTunes Music Store.

"We think it's going to take podcasting mainstream, to where anyone can do it," Jobs told the gathering of software developers.

Jobs' support for podcasting could make the phenomenon more popular, particularly if the iTunes store becomes the Internet's de facto repository of podcasts. Since its launch two years ago, the store has sold more than 400 million songs.

Last month, Jobs said podcasts on iTunes would initially be free. But he's been coy about whether Apple would allow podcasters to sell premium content through iTunes — a move that would make Apple's music service compete against Audible.com and other sites that feature unique content.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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