Every now and then
I get asked about podcasts that I can recommend, usually on Twitter, and most recently by James Tierney. Unfortunately, linking reams of podcasts on Twitter isn’t practical so I thought to make a post that I can update and give to people whenever I’m asked. I’ve split them into rough categories, so you can skip to ones you think might interest you. And of course if you have any recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments!
The Guardian Football Weekly
Much thanks to my friend Dino for putting me onto this one. No-one does sports commentary like James Richardson and his crew of fairly ladsy pundits. Half the enjoyment of the Premier League every year is listening to these guys talk about it without the bias and hyperbole that sports blogs usually possess. They also do really well to cover the other leagues and tackle (hurr) issues outside just the goals and results of the leagues, e.g. there was a lot of talk about the Spanish economic crisis and how that influenced/was reflected in the sport.
Gamers With Jobs
I don’t watch a lot of video game streams or review channels on YouTube because invariably the streamer is a) trying so very hard to be funny or quirky or whatever it is that the mostly-13-year-old demographic that video game streams cater to, or b) just not very good at communicating the information I want to know about the game. Anyway, the best thing about GWJ is that they are literally gamers with jobs; they’re in the roughly the same space as me and have much the same attitude to games that I have. For example, when one of the GWJ guys says they’ve been hammering a game, it’s usually followed by “I’ve put, like, eight hours into it this week!”. They don’t just talk about games though, with commentary about gaming issues, etc. also making the cut.
Roman Mars has not only one of the coolest names in the business, but also one of the most relaxing speaking voices in podcast land. He also produces this awesome podcast about design and design choices that we take for granted as consumers. Hence the 99% invisible part; these things are generally mostly ignored, but once pointed out by the adroit reporters, become so obvious and so interesting that they can make a simple commute down the highway a lesson in how design decisions affect all of us.
This American Life
If I need to tell you about this, maybe you should just start with them and go from there. You’ve got around 500 episodes to catch up on and they won’t listen to themselves. Truly some of the best and most powerful radio that has ever been produced. And of course, Ira Glass, what a dude.
They went a little bit off the rails recently, but the last couple of episodes have been back to their best. And there’s still a back catalogue of really top-shelf, interesting episodes in the first three seasons that combine scientific discoveries, philsophical conundrums, and an interesting audio style thanks to Jad Abumrad’s musical background. Radiolab kept me enthusiastic and sane on so many walks down Parramatta Road while interning at COSMOS magazine.
If you’ve read the Freakonomics books, then you’ll know what to expect from the Stephen/Steven duo. Dubner and Levitt present interesting problems or questions and then tackle them (with help from other researchers and professionals) with an economists eye. This often means bringing in metrics that you wouldn’t ordinarily think of being influential, especially when it comes to emotional issues such as parenting and behavioural psychology, or broader, more global issues. Again they’ve got an awesome back-catalogue, so there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into.
Start the Week
Start the Week with Andrew Marr soon to return after having suffered a stroke. The subject matter varies, but ranges from art to science to politics, depending on what’s going on in the world. The guests are chosen to suit and are almost invariably incredibly well spoken and knowledgeable about the subject being discussed. Plus it’s British! Not sure why this is, but the rest of the podcasts in this section are all American. Weird.
Two of the coolest, most enthusiastic book lovers in Melbourne talk books and bookish things with a variety of guests. There’s a focus, mostly incidental, towards younger guests (‘emerging guests’, perhaps?) which gives this podcast a really fresh sound. Plus both JoJo and Maddy are really great friends, and it comes across in their banter. I <3 these guys so damn much. P.S. You can even find me as a guest in the archives a couple years back!
Necessary & Sufficient
The premise is an intriguing one: host Evan Forman sends a guest an envelope with two index cards. On those index cards are written two words. The guest opens the envelope live, and the discussion starts. O.K. full disclosure here: I only started listening to N&S because Tim had been on the show, and he went ahead and recommended that I be a guest. But when I started listening, I mainlined about 50 episodes in two weeks. It’s supremely interesting stuff, seeing what connections people make between two words.
Momentum is an all-digital imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, and Podmentum is their (slightly-awkwardly-named) podcast. While you might anticipate that a book publisher’s podcast would be all about pushing books, it’s really not. They tackle different questions in the publishing industry, pop culture, and of course, sexy politicians. It’s irreverent, awesome fun. Put it this way, when I want to digitally publish anything, I’m going to shoot these guys my manuscript.
Dan Savage is the be-all and end-all of sex advice columnists. This is his podcast. Probably not to be listened to if you are homophobic/most-things-o-phobic, or a little squeamish with anything more than vanilla sex.
Slate’s Culture Gabfest
Pretty much the be-all and end-all of culture podcasts. Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner talk about anything and everything that has been happening in pop culture that week. Movies, music, film, books, world events, twerking, you name it, they talk about it. The best part of their analysis is that it never comes off as condescending, and they’ll offer the same level of discernment when discussing Woody Allen’s latest movie as they do Miley Cyrus’ incident or organic chicken farming. It’s fairly U.S.-centric, although they do reach out every now and again. Very much a must-add.
NHR Pop Culture Happy Hour
I haven’t listened to this one as much as Slate’s, but there definitely seems to be a slightly more upbeat vibe to their discussion. There’s usually one more person — quartet to Slate’s trio — and for some reason this gives it a more raucous feel. Which, I should add, doesn’t mean that they can’t debate and deride with the best of them, it’s just a little bit more fun.
My Brother, My Brother, and Me
I have yet to make it through an episode of this podcast without laughing out loud, sometimes to the point of embarrassment in front of my colleagues at work. The premise of the show is that the three Mackelroy brothers do their very best to dispense advice to Yahoo Answers questions. But the real joy is that these brothers just love making each other laugh. Slightly NSFW sometimes, and it can take a few episodes to fall into the rhythm of their humour, but this is one of those podcasts I listen to when I need a break from the more serious ones on my playlist.
The Penny Arcade podcast that gets recorded when the creators of the comic are, well, creating the comic. Just like PA TV, itt’s a glimpse into the work process of two guys that know each other and their workflow incredibly well–as they should, they’ve been doing it for over a decade. I just really love listening to the process they go through of tossing ideas around, and spitballing until they get a comic idea that they can go for.
New Yorker Fiction
These are all getting the same description because they all do basically the same thing: tell stories. The New Yorker Fiction podcast is the giant amongst them, and Deborah Treisman is always an amazing host. Clarkesworld is read by a breathy Kate Baker so if you find that kind of delivery annoying (which I sometimes do) then maybe steer clear. Selected Shorts is read by actors and actresses and so the deliveries can really make the stories pop. But they’re all worth a listen, for sure.
Here are recommendations that people have given me, but I haven’t listened to yet/enough to list properly. I’ll move them up once I can recommend them myself. (:
From James Tierney: Guardian Australia Politics Weekly, Crikey Calling, 360Docs, All in The Mind, Cherchez La Femme, Download This Show, Killing Your Darlings, Meanjin, Notes for Coode Street, Off Track and Paper Radio.
From Bronwyn Mehan: Bound Off, Paper Radio, Little Raven, and her upcoming podcast Earworms.
And of course…
mine. The Toothsoup Science Pod aims to take recent scientific discoveries in various fields and make them understandable for the lay person. Have a listen!