25 January 2017

An open thread on podcasts

I've recently seen two comment threads on Reddit (here and here) responding to the question "What is your favorite podcast?  Now I'll post the same question here, because the readership of this blog is extremely diverse (and international), and I'd like to get some ideas for podcasts to monitor and download.

I'll start.  I didn't discover podcasts until perhaps 2-3 years ago.   I sincerely wish I could have made use of them during the years when I had fairly long commutes to work.  I remember trying to make those hours more pleasant through the use of satellite radio, but nowadays recorded podcasts are essentially my sole entertainment while driving.  I download them to my desktop computer, then transcribe them to rewriteable CDs which I listen to while running errands or taking trips.

For brief rides in the car to get groceries or visit the library,  I prefer short-attention-span recordings such as No Such Thing as a Fish, and BBC programs like Science in Action, In Our Time: History, and In Our Time: Science (BBC podcasts here).

For longer trips where I can listen for 45-80 minutes, I think the best podcasts in the world are those created by the staffs at Radiolab and This American Life.

I have a dozen or so others that I occasionally sample, such as NOVA, America's Test Kitchen, TED talks, Weekend Break, To the Best of Our Knowledge, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, As it Happens, etc. (CBC podcasts here) (Public Radio podcast directory here).

And while I'm on the subject, I'm going to direct a couple gentle rants towards any readers out there who produce their own podcasts:
1) Some podcasts are reformulations of live radio programs.  During the live program phone numbers, and Facebook and Twitter access data are useful.  But call-in numbers are not appropriate in a downloaded podcast.  I gave up on "A Way With Words" after listening to phone, Facebook and Twitter  recited I think seven times in a span of 40 minutes.  Please consider editing the live broadcast recording before saving it as a downloadable podcast.
2) Another thing to edit out is idle chit-chat with callers.
"Hi, welcome to [program]".  Who's this?
"My name is Martha, and I live in Seattle.  It's a typical rainy day here right now."
"I suppose if you live there, you eventually get used to it."
"Not me - I was born and raised in Arizona!"  [giggle]
[laughter].  "So, Martha, how can we help you today?"...
3) Please don't laugh at your own jokes.  We know you didn't surprise yourself with the pun or the bon mot.  You're using your laughter as a signal to the broadcast audience to tell them they've heard something humorous.  "... and nobody knows what kind of soup was served at that dinner.  You might say it was 'souper secret.'  HA HA HA."  Please just present your material and I'll decide what's funny.
4) Don't underestimate your listeners.  Long words and technical terms are not something to be embarassed about.  If you're doing a podcast on gravity waves and the instrument that discovered them is a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, don't present that term in a different voice with an apologetic tone followed by "also called LIGO - thank goodness! he he".  This isn't seventh grade.
5) And finally, many people rigidly observe the dictum that in order to teach something you have to a) tell people what you're going to say, b) say it, and c) tell them what you said.  That structure may be useful in a long presentation, but in a brief podcast it is a waste of listener time.  And try to avoid "As I've said previously...," "As I explained earlier...," and "In other words..."
Enough for my petty peeves.  Your turn to go to the Comments and share with me and other readers your suggestions regarding podcasts that we might find entertaining or educational (or both).


  1. Do you listen to fiction podcasts? If so, Greater Boston! https://greaterbostonshow.com/about/

  2. I echo your sentiment that Radiolab and This American Life are the best. I think there are a few podcasts which show their influence and are similarly compelling. Top of this list would be "Invisibilia", though I think many episodes of "Reply All" also have the same blend of narrative and information.

    Not similar but still interesting to me is "Song Exploder" wherein an music artist breaks down how they created a song, illustrated by clips where appropriate. I find this interesting for a few reasons: the variety of creative approaches (inspiration vs calculation for example), and also what artists choose to talk about when discussing their creations. The songs themselves aren't always to my taste, but they're more interesting once you've heard about how they were made. An episode I particularly enjoyed is "The Long Winters" ep, which has a remarkable tale about how the drums were recorded.

  3. Dr. Janina Ramirez on Art History.


  4. You might enjoy RTE's Sunday Miscellany: a mix of stories and poems intercalated with music which takes up a chunk of Sunday morning in Ireland. http://www.rte.ie/radio1/sunday-miscellany/
    I tried once a month through 2012 to get them to take some of my stuff but they never bit.

  5. An outstanding podcast covering a broad range of topics is Big Picture Science from the SETI institute. (Note: episodes tagged "encore" are repeats from the archives.)

    I also enjoy Gastropod, about the science and history of food.

  6. Podcasts are my constant companion in the car. Finished most of the BBC "Desert Island Disks", Kirsty Young ones anyway, from there to No Such Thing as a Fish. While on a recent road trip with my daughter we listened to Malcolm Gladwell which she had downloaded, in particular his Revisionist History series, absolutely loved them.

  7. Futility closet is our favorite to listen to on car journeys, follows a similar format to their wonderful website, and a nice chewy logic puzzle to end the show.

  8. 99% Invisible is an excellent design podcast! I can also recommend Gastropod (Food), The Allusionist (Words), Sawbones (Medical History), and maybe Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (Science and skepticism)

  9. My Dad Wrote a Porno is...magnificent. Jamie Morton's Dad wrote a dirty book in his shed (really), and Jamie reads a chapter each week to commentary from his friends Alice Levine and James Cooper. It's some of the worst, least arousing prose you'll ever have come across, and the trio who critique it are wonderfully dry and extraordinarily funny. (It's all very, very English.) It's NSFW - but it's really not erotic. Jamie's Dad's writing is far too awful to be erotic.

    A word of warning: don't listen using headphones in public, because you *will* be made helpless with laughter and the people around you will think you're having a fit.


  10. I'll add my +1 to 99% Invisible, The Allusionist and Reply All.
    Also, though now defunct I also recommend the often crass, darkly humored Caustic Soda Podcast.

    1. Totally agree -- 99% is so smart and fun -- and has a great back catalog. Helen Zaltzman -- Allusionist -- small adventures in language -- bonus for your ears is her British accent.

  11. My favorite podcast is The History of English by Kevin Stroud (http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/). Both a historic and a linguistic tour de force.

    To loop into your 30 min paradigm, might I suggest The History of Rome? (already completed, but avail for free on iTunes)

  12. Dan Carlin's "Hard Core History" and his "Common Sense"

    1. Agreed to both. I was thrilled to see a new installment was released yesterday.

  13. While I've got several in my aggregator, I only really listen to three:

    Welcome to Night Vale - weird fiction well-written and well-performed, in a particular setting very loosely based on pop horror like the Cthulhu mythos plus a bit of dry humor. Pretty popular, so I'd be surprised if most podcast listeners had not heard of it.

    Stuff You Missed In History - the most prolific podcast I listen to, and I've still got a huge backlog to go, since it's one of the oldest I listen to (though the current very good hosts only started doing this one in 2013). It's basically what it says on the tin: obscure or not particularly broadly-tought or broadly-documented historical topics. Has a mostly US-centric viewpoint, but the hosts try to expand their topics beyond the things US history classes tend to teach, or try to add more detail to topics US history tends to downplay.

    The Smartest Man in the World - Greg Proops' comedy/talk/stream-of-consciousness podcast. Tons of different topics per show, sometimes involving audience participation from a live audience. If you've seen his comedy, it's basically that but unscripted and more rambling, which is both good and bad. Still, overall I find it enjoyable.

  14. I would like to see all podcasts have a transcript. This way, without having to spend, say, 30 or more minutes, I can read it at my leisure, etc.

  15. I live for podcasts.
    Story Collider - short stories told by scientists or with a scientific bent.
    The Moth - more stories.
    Snap Judgement - almost "Radiolab quality".
    Planet Money - stories with a financial angle. Used to be spectacular, now meh but might go back to glory.
    Criminal - odd stories sorta about crime.
    The West Wing Weekly - commentary can be annoying at times but if you were a dan of the show, it can be fascinating over a longish drive.

    I also podcast the day's news and such from KFI AM radio in Los Angeles for an overview of all that is going on in the world.

  16. You Must Remember This by Karina Longworth; a storytelling podcast about the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century, with themed seasons like "MGM Stories", "Six Degrees of Joan Crawford", and my favorite, "Charles Manson's Hollywood".
    Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast! "Gilbert talks with the show business legends, icons and behind-the-scenes talents who shaped his childhood and influenced his comedy" Very vulgar and funny.

  17. I'll second the suggestion of Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Also, I'm surprised nobody has recommended Marc Maron's WTF podcast. It's a twice-a-week interview with an artist, author, musician, comedian, actor director or POTUS. Marc is one of the best interviewers out there. Last Sunday's episode was a fascinating chat with Martin Landau.

  18. THE MOTH!! Absolutely nothing beats it. Oral heaven, Sir.

  19. I love this post! So many different things to check out. We always listened to This American Life and Car Talk on long car trips, but I have a secret soft spot for radio plays. Done right, they're a really wonderful alternative to TV. Any recommendations?

  20. I can't believe no one has mentioned BBC4's In our time


    There are more than 500 of them covering everything from history of philosophy to hard physics

  21. I've seen all my regulars in here already, but I'll add Mortified, where people tell embarrassing stories of their past. (http://getmortified.com/)

  22. I'm the cohost of a podcast called, "the Curiosity Hour Podcast". We spend about an hour with a different guest each week where we discuss the meaning of life, courage, authenticity, and we try--imperfectly, but ardently--to avoid superficialities.

    It's been an incredible honor to be able to talk to the guests, and learn from them.


  23. Some additions to the list...

    1. Marc Maron's WTF is fantastic I think. If you listen for a while, it's a nice little dive into humanity through conversation with well know folks... Really really good.

    2. Skeptics Guide to the Universe (The SGU) is also a great show that speaks to a reality based approach to the world.

  24. A few to add:

    -Radio Diaries
    -The Memory Palace
    -Lore (folklore)
    -The Dollop (a bit crass, but they tell stories from american history you've probably never heard)

    Pop Culture:
    -Imaginary worlds (my favorite - about sci fi worlds)
    -Song Exploder (artists dissect songs)
    -Studio 360 (WNYC "high culture" podcast)
    -Pop culture happy hour (four critics from NPR discuss pop culture)

    -You made it weird with Pete Holmes (Silly comedian interviews celebrities and then talks to them about childhood and religion/spirituality)
    -How to be amazing (Michael Ian Black is an incredible interviewer)

    -Sleepover (three strangers with different problems stay overnight in a hotel and try to help each other solve them)
    - Judge John Hodgman (John Hodgman settles people's disputes)
    - More Perfect (limited run series from Radiolab on the supreme court)
    - Our Debut Album (limited run where two comedians try to write a hit song in one hour)
    - The Big Listen (podcast that introduces you to podcasts)

    Already mentioned but still want to give props:
    -Criminal (probably my second favorite podcast, explores what crime is and presents various aspects of each crime in an investigative journalism format)

  25. I would add that getting the NPR app is a great idea. Lots of content on there...

  26. Quirks and Quarks is a CBC podcast that talks with Scientists about their current research and will often have guests on to discuss science topics that are currently making headlines

  27. My favourite podcast has to be the one that first got me into podcasts in general: SrslyWrong. Wonderfully philosophical and deliciously funny at times. I realize it might not be for everyone though, as it's usually more than an hour of talking, sometimes twice as long, but it really widens my range of thinking.
    Other than that, I cannot believe nobody mentioned Oh No Ross and Carrie so far. That one's a classic! Investigating paranormal and pseudoscientific claims armed with nothing but humour. They recently did a multi episode story about "infiltrating" Scientology. A must hear!

  28. I have two I quite like, both under the Chicago Podcast Collective. Blurry Photos is hosted by David and Dave and "explores the unexplained and explains the unexplored." They cover a wide range of odd phenomena while skipping the common stuff. They have improv backgrounds so there's a lot of comedy in addition to information. Blastropodcast is hosted by Dottore Ballardo (aka Mark Soloff) and covers various science topics through interviews. Mark is also an improv alum and plays with words in a dizzying fashion. He doesn't bleep anything so probably not safe for work. He also does something called Muffed Movies in which he and a friend or two retell a movie. It's better than I'm describing it. :^)

    For excellent skepticism, don't miss Oh No Ross and Carrie. They investigate outrageous claims like alternative medicine, scientology and other such stuff.

  29. Lots of good recommendations on here already. I'm a big fan of 99% Invisible, and Reply All.

    For Fiction: Tanis (tanispodcast.com) is a great story about mystery, blended with historical facts.

    For comedy: The Worst Idea of All is agood one. Two comedians watch and review the same terrible movie every week for a year.

    True Crime: check out My Favorite Murder.

    When Fargo Season 3 comes out (in a few months!) listen along with Aw Jeez (http://www.npr.org/podcasts/446873217/aw-jeez-a-fargo-podcast)

  30. Gotta add a couple more. Our Fair City is classic radio drama about an alternate future with mole people, rogue scientists and an evil corporation. It may have drawn inspiration from the Zen Broadcasting System. Not a podcast but a company with a wonderful treasure chest of audio adventure. ZBS fills its shows with sound effects and pulls you into its locations, whether real or imaginary. If you want to make your ears and mind happy, check out ZBS.

  31. Some favorites, including some already mentioned:

    Current Events -
    Common Sense w/Dan Carlin
    Politically Re-Active w/ W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu
    Maeve In America
    This American Life
    Radio lab

    Comedy -
    Comedy Bang Bang
    You Made It Weird w/Pete Holmes
    Doug Loves Movies
    WTF w/Marc Maron (Some overlap with the above)

    History -
    Hardcore History w/Dan Carlin
    Our Fake History
    My History Can Beat Your Politics
    Iroquois History and Legends
    History of Alchemy
    The Eastern Border

    Mythology -
    Myths and Legends
    Pleasing Terrors

    Other -
    Sword and Scale (true crime)
    Mysterious Universe (aliens, Magick, cryptids, obscure religions/philosophies, and strange obsessions with obscure female Japanese pop stars who may in fact be a current male KGB member)

  32. What a very enlightening thread, thanks for all the recommendations. Have bookmarked most of them for closer perusal.

  33. The Infinite Monkey cage is a good science podcast with Brian Cox. I've been listening to Costing the Earth as well on BBC4, really varied series on humans effects on the planet.

  34. No one's mentioned my favorite yet: Peter Adamson's "History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps"

  35. I really enjoy the History Chicks (generally 40-60 minute biographical episodes) and NPR Politics Podcast (20-30 minutes 1-2x a week that distill most of the political goings-on in the US)

  36. The History of Rome -- as much blood sex betrayal and gore as Game of a Thrones, but absolutely true and meticulously sourced. Rome from its founding to the end of the western empire.

  37. I listen to some that are mentioned above and will check out some others. Thank you. I also like CBC's Ideas & Tapestry, Let's Find Out and Discover Library and Archives Canada.

  38. My regulars:

    Rachael Maddow (why watch? No commercials)
    Bob and Chez Show (liberal riffing by writers)
    Cognitive Dissonance (liberal riffing with lots of swearing, by people with day jobs)
    Trumpcast (just to keep some perspective, from Salon)

    NPR-ish stuff:
    99% Invisible (popular on this thread for good reason)
    Radio Lab (older stuff is worthy of going back for/again)
    TWIT (This week in tech)
    The New Screensavers (more variety, from TWIT guys, better than TWIT)
    Freakonomics (did no one call this one out yet? Great for tywkiwdbi fans.)

    Coverville (cover songs)
    Roadhouse (weekly blues show)

  39. My thanks to everyone for this outpouring of suggestions. I've added a few to my iTunes feeds. Unfortunately I probably now need to get a job that requires commuting for an hour a day so I will have more time in the car to listen to all this material...

  40. Add http://www.attaboyclarence.com/podcast/ !


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