I spend a fair amount of time each day listening to podcasts, mainly in the car getting to and from work, and over time have settled into a nice list of podcasts I obsessively listen to. The ones listed below are the ones I feel are worth talking about and giving a try if you haven’t already.
They are by no means the only podcasts I listen to; I enjoy listening to Radiolab, Reply All and Serial among others, but others have heaped enough praise on them already, and so I don’t feel a need to add to that.
Consider giving these a listen if you haven’t already - some are funny, some informative (most are both), and I generally consider the time given listening to them well spent. There is a strong North American slant in this list, mainly due to the amount of funding and support organisations like PRX and NPR receive compared to equivalent organisations in Europe and Australasia. Hopefully the next time I compile a list like this there will be a bit more diversity to it.
A series of vignettes from American history, mostly small moments told from perspectives often overlooked in the main narrative. The Brooklyn Bridge is an amazing feat of engineering, but the story of the miners who dug the foundations adds another level to the story. The story of three friends from Georgia who ran over an alien in 1953 gives an interesting snapshot of the time with a thought provoking conclusion.
Narrator Nate Dimeo is wonderful and has a way of putting you right into a moment - when he describes a hot, sticky July evening in Georgia you can almost feel it. Someone needs to get him to narrate their audio book, he has the same even-but-not-monotonous story telling voice that Stephen Fry does. I could listen to him read just about anything, but the quality and depth of material in The Memory Palace means I try not to listen to this in the car. I want to sit quietly somewhere and just savour the experience.
I don’t remember when I first started reading Futility Closet (the website of the same name that this podcast draws much of its material from), but my feed reader tells me that I have been subscribed since I set it up - so at least since Google Reader shut down. The website is ‘an idler’s miscellany of compendious amusements’, and the podcast follows a similar form. Each week Greg and Sharon Ross describe a particular odd story from history, such as the eventual ratification of the 27th amendment to the Constitution of the United States and a ruse perpetrated by the British Naval command during World War Two, as well as a lateral thinking puzzle
A podcast about the science and politics of food that I’ve only started listening to recently and I’m finding very interesting. Some of the episodes could do with being a little bit shorter - there are bits where I feel things are being over-explained in order to pad for time - but in general very interesting and informative. Good episodes to start with are the discussion about why some people find coriander unpleasant and the history of mezcal.
LoadingReadyRun in general is probably a subject for a future post, but this is probably a good place to get an appreciation of the sort of comedy they produce. A drive-time radio show from the fictitious town of Nsburg, Thurpston County, the show has rapidly build an extensive cast of characters and back story, so you are going to have to listen from the beginning. Graham has described it as ‘scripted-improv’; the performers don’t have much prepared in advance, and workshop the jokes in one recording session which is then edited down into the final 12-ish minute episode.
A weekly InfoSec news podcast presented by Patrick Grey. This has quite a strong technical lean to it, so I will forgive you if you’re not interested. I will sometimes skip the sponsor interview spot - where Patrick interviews someone from the company that is sponsoring the episode - depending on the content. A lot of them aren’t strictly advertisements, Haroon Meer from Thinkst talking about Canary Tokens in episode 396 for example, but some of them I find less interesting. The clear highlight of the show is the news section, usually co-hosted by Adam Boileau (Metlstorm, of Kiwicon fame) is very entertaining - as well as being informative. As a general rule, you probably want to avoid being talked about on the Risky Business news segment.
The fact that Adam Savage is mainly, and in many cases exclusively, known as the co-host of Mythbusters is a bit of a shame - I greatly enjoy the show - however in service of the show you loose a lot of the depth to his character. The way he talks about the cross-over between art and science, about making and engineering and film, and about his time at Industrial Light & Magic is great to listen to. He simply a genuinely interesting person, that friend-of-a-friend who has been more places and seen more things than you - seemingly without actually trying to - but is still ready to share his knowledge and passion if you just ask. Some recent episodes that are good to start with are The Significance of Billiards and talking about The Mythbusters Finale
99% Invisible has a lot in common with The Memory Palace, but instead of vignettes from history, it tells the stories of the little - and sometimes big - parts of the world that have a large impact, but gain little notice or notoriety. It focuses on the larger picture, dealing with structures and systems more that people and moments; Reefer Madness, which describes the history of the shipping container, being the exemplar of this. 99% Invisible does occasionally delve into more historical stories like Structural Integrity, which explores the near-fatal design flaws in the CitiCorp Center building in Manhattan and the efforts made to fix them, but it strikes a tone more along the lines of ‘Investigative Journalism’ rather than ‘Grand Storytelling’.
My comparison to The Memory Palace is maybe a bit unfair - they are both great in their own right - and I do enjoy listening to them both.
It is a deep source of shame that I only recently discovered The Bugle, having been a fan of John Oliver for quite some time (Last Week Tonight is the most consistently funny of the fake news/comedy current events genre), but at least coming into it late I’ve got an extensive back catalogue to listen to. ‘An audio newspaper for a visual world’; John and co-host Andy Zaltzman address the issues of the day with the requisite angry satire that both John and Andy are known for.
I discovered The Bugle at a slightly awkward position, where it has just returned from an almost year-long hiatus, and switched from its previous weekly schedule to a monthly one, so the back catalogue covers events that are well out of date by the time I’m listening to them, and the most recent episodes on the feed are largely ‘clip shows’ from older episodes as well as some of Andy’s’ solo work. Episode 292, in which they cover the results of the most recent British general election, is a particularly funny episode, and it is interesting to hear John talking about a subject he would never be able to cover on his show. The Bugle has been running for 7 years now, and it is neat to see the seeds of Last Week Tonight in the show.