Yale joined the ranks of Dane Cook, Bill O’Reilly and the Blue Man Group last week with the launch of its first official podcast.

Distributed free through Apple’s iTunes Music Store, a podcast is like a radio show that can be played on computers, iPods and MP3 players. Yale’s podcast includes lectures and speeches given at the University by professors, alumni and other notable guest speakers. The 20 Yale podcasts posted on iTunes come from a wide range of Yale’s schools and departments, such as the School of Architecture, the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the School of Medicine, as well as alumni and friends of the University.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”14782″ ]

Early response to the endeavor has been quite positive, said Helaine Klasky, Yale’s spokeswoman. According to Klasky, the podcast has received over 50,000 hits in its first week and has been met with much excitement throughout the Yale community.

“We have been thinking about launching this type of feature for some time,” Klasky said. “Once we started approaching faculty about participating, they were very excited … and alumni have long expressed an interest in this type of program as a way to stay connected with the University.”

The lectures currently available on iTunes were recorded over the past six years. The oldest lecture in the series — “American Democracy: Exploring its Roots” — was delivered in January 2001 by Anthony Kronman, Sterling professor of law and then-dean of the Law School. Seven of the 20 featured lectures were given as part of the September 30, 2006, launch of the Yale Tomorrow Campaign, the University’s effort to raise $3 billion over the next five years.

In addition to these lectures, the podcast also features speeches given on campus during the 2005-2006 school year by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Bob Woodward ’65, an assistant managing editor of the Washington Post who broke the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s.

Klasky said the content of the podcast will continue to evolve over time and will soon include recordings of professors and other faculty made specifically for the podcast.

“For the introduction of the podcast, we recorded many lectures from Reunion Weekend and the Yale Tomorrow Campaign launch,” Klasky said. “We are continuing to choose from these lectures and have also begun creating our own podcasts … For all the lectures, it is important that they stand alone — it is never necessary to follow a series in order to appreciate a single recording.”

Making these lectures available to the public will help to increase Yale’s visibility and widen the audience for lectures with typically limited attendance, professors said.

“I think making the podcast is a great idea,” engineering professor Mark Saltzman said. “Not everyone is able to attend lectures and seminars, and this is a way to provide a wider distribution of ideas and new research findings.”

Saltzman’s lecture, “Biomedical Engineering: What It Is and Where It Is Going,” is available for download.

Barry Nalebuff, a professor at the School of Management, said the podcasts are a “great development” that allow Yale to share lectures that otherwise would have been lost. But Nalebuff, who also has a lecture on the podcast, said he is unsure why the Office of Public Affairs has only included audio material. Massachussetts Institute of Technology has put many of its entire courses on the Web, he said.

“My only question is why the OPA hasn’t included the video version when it exists,” he said. “That way, you can see the slides [during the lecture].”

Klasky said 10 more lectures will be added this week and another 20 will be available by the end of the year. During the next calendar year, there will be approximately one update per week, she said.

Students offered mixed opinions about the introduction of the podcast.

“I think it’s kind of useless,” Leah Franqui ’09 said. “I’m sure the information is interesting, but if the lectures are not specifically academic, I don’t see how they benefit the Yale community.”

Others said the podcast should not be so limited in its scope.

“It sounds great for people who don’t go to Yale,” Zak Sandler ’08 said. “It would be nice, however, if the podcasts included student performances and speeches as well.”

The Yale University podcast is currently the 88th most popular podcast in the iTunes Music Store.