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That new podcast begging to be downloaded? Could be your local exterminator

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The iPod classic. (Courtesy of Apple)

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Funeral director Rob Heppell hosts the "Funeral Gurus" podcast. (Courtesy of Rob Heppell)

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Funeral director Rob Heppell hosts the "Funeral Gurus" podcast. (Courtesy of Rob Heppell)

Tim Totten is not a traditional businessman. And it’s not just because he sells decorative quilts that adorn funeral gurneys. It’s the marketing technique he devised to gain exposure for his company, Final Embrace, “the leading manufacturer of quilted mortuary cot covers in the United States and Canada.”

To get funeral directors interested in brightly colored quilts with names such as “Quiet Garden” and “Welcome Home,” Totten turned to his Web site, where he dispenses funeral home marketing and management tips on-line and via a podcast.

He’s not the only member of the funeral industry to go digital. The National Funeral Directors Association has a podcast, and there is a Canadian funeral director with a podcast and videocast called “The Funeral Gurus.”

“One of the best ways to get people to look at your own product,” said Totten, who is based in Eustis, Fla., “is when we share other free information.”

Podcasts, which are audio programs that can be downloaded to iPods and other media players, are already used by networks and broadcasters like National Public Radio, MTV and Comedy Central. But business people from an array of niche fields, including the pest control, martial arts, auto detailing and pork industries, have also discovered podcasting as a way to reach their own, very specialized audiences.

“Right Look Radio,” a podcast for auto detailers, advises listeners on marketing, hiring and maintaining a professional appearance (“You know all these guys putting earrings in their eyebrows?” one host said. “That’s great on the weekends. During the week, lose the metal”).

“SwineCast,” a podcast for the pork industry, promotes itself as a show that “brings together the best people in the swine community to discuss their experiences and provide timely information on productions, management, market and business issues.”

Some people host podcasts for fun, or to discuss industry news, business practices and new products. For others, it’s a marketing tool.

“It’s something that helps promote your business, helps market it,” said Ted Demopoulos, a technology consultant for businesses and co-author of a Web site called "Blogging for Business.” “If I was starting a new business in a niche area, podcasting would be something I would strongly consider.”

But revealing too much helpful information could be a mistake for business owners who podcast with hopes of drawing customers.

“The error that many businesses do is they give everything away for free,” said Leesa Barnes, author of the book "Podcasting for Profit,” “If you’re given a whole ice cream scoop as a sample,” she asked, “would you even be bothered buying the scoop?”

Rob Heppell, a funeral director from Victoria, British Columbia, began “The Funeral Gurus” podcast last year. Heppell’s goal is to inform funeral directors about new trade practices. He also wants to teach the public about the industry, which he said, people only hear about on television shows like “Six Feet Under” and “Family Plots.”

“Everyone was telling the story of the funeral industry,” Heppell said. “I felt that we should have a voice.”

His episodes aren’t all business. Once, he interviewed a funeral director who posed in the “Men of Mortuaries” calendar (found at www.menofmortuaries.com) featuring shirtless funeral workers posing in a graveyard, holding shovels.

“You’re being a little humble here,” Heppell said to the guest, “because some of the people in the industry know you as Mr. March.”

The show also addresses difficult topics, such as cremating the wrong corpse. It came up in an interview with Mike Kubasak, a funeral consultant from Mesquite, Nev.

“Cremation, unlike burial, is irreversible,” Kubasak said on the podcast. “We have to make sure we are dealing not only with the right person but the person who has the legal authority to authorize cremation.”

The fact that podcasts are portable is a draw for funeral workers, who say multi-tasking is essential during busy days. Bryan Chandler, a funeral director from Caldwell, Ohio, said he listens to Totten’s podcast at work. “I would be embalming while I’d be listening to it,” he said.

By disseminating free advice, podcasters also serve as no-fee consultants. Kevin Case, who hosts “Black Belt Radio,” a podcast for karate instructors, said he started his show for that reason. Case, who lives in Edgewater, N.J. and has taught karate for 25 years, said he paid expensive consultants and took bad advice from sales people earlier in his career. Once, he spent $3,000 to place an ad on grocery store coupons but only received two new students.

His goal with the podcast is to help listeners "not make the same mistakes I made,” Case said.

His advice has helped James Perkins, who runs a karate school in Kansas City, Kan. To retain students, Perkins follows some of Case’s advice, which includes sending postcards to clients who stopped attending class, holding parties when students advance in skill level, and using scented candles in the classrooms to disguise body odor.

“My retention rate has gone up probably forty percent,” Perkins said. “It’s really helped.”

Business owners aren’t the only people producing podcasts for niche industries. Brad Harbison, managing editor of Pest Control Technologies, a trade magazine based in Richfield, Ohio, began podcasting in 2006. Show topics have included a decline in pest control inspections caused by the slumping housing market, advice for controlling stinging insects, and observations about rodents from a columnist of the magazine, Dr. Bobby Corrigan (who noted that global warming may be increasing the rodent population because rats and mice are surviving milder winters).

“Our full strategy,” Harbison said, “is to drive readers back and forth between the Web site and the magazine.”

He averages about 200 listeners per podcast and once reached a high of 647. One listener, Stoy Hedges, the director of technical services at the Terminix headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., said the podcast provides quick information on the evolving pest control industry.

“A few years back, we didn’t think about bed bugs,” Hedges said. “Now, just about all we think about is how better can we control bed bugs?” When a new topic pops up and people want to know about, podcasting “is just another technique of getting information out there.”

E-mail: aln2115@columbia.edu