Awesome Stuff: Podcasts To Listen To

from the something-a-little-different dept

Normally, each Saturday we use the awesome stuff post to highlight interesting (and sometimes not so interesting) crowdfunding projects. But every so often we like to shake it up with something different. This week, I’m going to discuss some of the podcasts that I regularly listen to, and see what suggestions other folks have for good podcasts as well. For a long time, I didn’t listen to any podcasts at all, and wasn’t quite sure how people found the time. But that was before I had a commute and a dog. Those two things leave me a fair bit of time to listen to podcasts now. In case you’re wondering, I listen to podcasts using Pocket Casts, which is (by far) the absolute best podcasting app I’ve found to date (after trying a bunch). It has the combination of features and user interface that make it just about perfect. Some apps have good features, some have decent UIs, but Pocket Casts was the only one I found that really had both.

Also, I tend to listen to podcasts at a super high speed rate. Pocket Casts lets you speed up podcasts up to 3x speed (which is a true 3x, unlike some others that call something 3x when it’s really 2x), which is about the limit I can do (another app I tried let you go up to 6x, and any higher than 3x was impossible). I know some people insist that anything above 2x is hard to keep up with, that’s not really true. It takes some practice and training, but after a little bit it’s not that hard. Given the right conditions (i.e., when I have little else to concentrate on and a very clear recording without strong accents), I’ve found that I can easily keep up at 3x speeds. When I’m driving, though, I tend to have to drop it down to about 2x, since I can’t concentrate as much on the audio. Either way, at 3x speeds, taking the dog for an hour long walk and getting 3 hours of education and entertainment… is kind of amazing.

The podcasts I listen to tend to be a mix of educational, entertaining… and just random. I’m not, in any way, suggesting these are “the best” podcasts. They’re just the ones that I’ve ended up subscribed to. I’ve left out the music podcasts, because they’re generally quite specific and I know musical tastes vary tremendously, so they didn’t seem as interesting.

News / News-like / Economics: Some of these are hard to classify, but they tend to be shows more focused on news or economics that I just find to be interesting.

  • Fresh Air. For the longest time I completely avoided this NPR stalwart, so this is a relatively recent addition to my subscriptions (maybe a year ago) but Terry Gross really is an astounding interviewer and has really interesting guests. The podcasts are easy to listen to at 3x too, so it’s really just about 15 minutes a day.
  • Planet Money. Mentioned here many times. Always interesting short podcasts about economics-related news. The original team appears to have all left, and the show has changed over time, but it’s still really interesting.
  • EconTalk: Economist Russ Roberts interviews lots of really interesting folks and always has tremendously interesting takes on things. While I often (though not always) agree with him economically, what I think is even more interesting is his willingness to bring on those who he disagrees with and have very open and honest (i.e., non-judgmental) conversations with them, while frequently being willing to admit to his own biases and knowledge limits.
  • Freakonomics: Usually good, though not always as interesting as it feels it should be. Often feels like it takes a bit too superficial of a view on things, which is too bad. Feels like it could dig deeper on some stories.
  • London School of Economics Public Lectures: This one can be totally hit or miss. I’ll generally give all of its podcasts at least 15 minutes (5 minutes at 3x speed) to see if it’s worth listening to the rest. When they’re good, though, they can be really fascinating.
  • On the Media: Near and dear to my heart because they sometimes have me on. Or because it’s awesome and covers the same sorts of topics we cover. Yeah, probably more because of the awesomeness of it.
  • TLDR: A spinoff from On The Media from two of the producers there, it’s short and sweet and once a week, digging up really fascinating random stories about strange and wonderful things on the internet. If you’re not listening, you’re missing out.
  • The Bugle: From John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, I wasn’t sure whether to put this in the news or entertainment categories, because it’s hilarious. It’s also just back (as of yesterday) from hiatus since Oliver’s been so busy with his HBO show.
  • Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: Also, not sure if this is entertainment or news, but it usually keys off of news, and I still find it amusing, though I feel like this is the kind of show my kids will mock me for listening too when I’m older. It feels like an old person’s show.
  • Stuff You Should Know: A great podcast where the two hosts, Josh and Chuck have great chemistry with each other as hosts, and the topics are really well covered. When they’ve touched on things I actually know about they do a really good job, so I assume that’s true of many other things as well.
  • Stuff You Missed In History Class: Another great podcast from How Stuff Works folks, with hosts Tracy and Holly picking up interesting, if less well known, stories from history.

Story Telling: I don’t know what it is, but I love story telling in a whole variety of forms. I love telling stories. I love listening to stories. So I somehow have collected a bunch of podcasts that are forms of story telling.

  • This American Life: Still amazing story telling. Some episodes are hit and miss, but when they hit (and there are a lot more hits than misses) they really hit. The gold standard for audio story telling.
  • Radiolab: When I first started listening, I thought it was a little like This American Life on speed, because they seemed to edit out every single pause or silence, but over time I’ve found it to be something different and wonderful all on its own. Really touches on a variety of stories that are almost always amazing. I almost always feel like telling someone else about the episodes after I hear them.
  • Re:Sound from the Third Coast Festival: They find great stories from around the globe and put them into a podcast. Some really random stories, but often quite interesting.
  • The Moth: If you like storytelling and don’t listen to The Moth, you’re missing out. The Moth has become a massive institution these days. If you want to know my absolute favorite Moth story ever, it’s this one about a scientist robbing a bank, except better than that (randomly, I almost rented that guy’s apartment via AirBnB one time, but that’s another story).
  • Snap Judgment: Another story telling show on NPR with some really great stories.
  • Risk! Podcast: A story telling podcast which is decidedly not on NPR, and the host promotes that it’s story telling for stories that could never be on NPR — so they tend to be a little bit more on the out there side of things. There are some great stories on there, but sometimes the selection can be a bit weaker than some of the other shows.
  • StartUp Podcast: A brand new one from Alex Blumberg, who worked for This American Life for fifteen years and was the creator of Planet Money. He’s now doing a podcasting startup, and is documenting the process in a podcast. I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life around entrepreneurs and so far (in just three episodes) this is the most honest take on what it’s like to be an entrepreneur that I’ve ever heard. It’s amazing. I can’t recommend it highly enough. He’s telling the stories about entrepreneurship that we all go through, but which almost no one talks about.
  • Serial Podcast: This is a brand spanking new one, and there’s only a short preview, as the first episodes don’t come out for a few weeks. But it’s a new podcast from some of the folks at This American Life, where they’re trying to tell a long story in a serialized fashion — so over the course of a bunch of podcasts, they’ll dig super deep into a story. Think of it (maybe) as a season long This American Life. It sounds fascinating.

Entertainment: These are just other podcasts that don’t necessarily fit into other categories, and tend to be more on the jokey / entertaining side of things, rather than serious, though some of the interview podcasts can get pretty serious.

  • Smodcast: One of the first podcasts I ever listened to, from director/story teller/generally awesome funny man Kevin Smith and his buddy/sometimes producing partner Scott Mosier. It’s just generally whimsical and entertaining, but also great. The last year has been wonderful as Kevin turned one of their whimsical discussions (walrus yes!) into a new movie called Tusk which just opened (so go see it).
  • Hollywood Babble-On: I listen to a lot of Kevin Smith podcasts these days, but Hollywood Babble-On is probably my favorite. Kevin and another friend of his Ralph Garman talk about entertainment news. They make a hilarious pair. This is apparently on its way to becoming a TV show.
  • Edumacation: Another Kevin Smith podcast with another friend, where Kevin tries to learn stuff. Sometimes successfully. Often not. The show itself is pretty funny though.
  • Jay & Silent Bob Get Old: Yes, one more Kevin Smith podcast. This one with his old buddy Jay Mewes. This started out as an “intervention podcast” to help Mewes stay off drugs by telling the story of his past, but has turned into something different and amazing as Mewes more or less came out of his shell. This one is more sporadic these days, but still great.
  • WTF Podcast: Comedian Marc Maron’s amazing podcast. Hands down the most fascinating interviews. When I first started listening to it, I only listened to guests that I knew, but honestly, so many of the interviews were astounding that I now listen to them all. Maron’s interviewing style is unlike anyone else’s — and he’ll often insert his own insecurities into the interview (less now than in the past), but somehow it works in a way that it shouldn’t… but always does.
  • The Nerdist Podcast with comedian Chris Hardwick (and sometimes his friends Jonah Ray and Matt Mira). It’s hard not to compare it to WTF, as they often interview the same people, but in very, very, very different ways. Where Maron’s podcasts sometimes feel like therapy sessions, Hardwick’s feel like hanging out with friends.
  • Kevin Pollak Chat Show: Another comedian interviewing more guests. Pollak’s shows go super long and super in-depth, interspersed with random games and jokes. This one often depends on the guests, but the guests are good more often than not, and Pollak is entertaining.
  • The Daily Show Podcast… Without Jon Stewart: A pretty new podcast (just three episodes) which is kind of a behind the scenes at the Daily Show. So far the episodes have been really interesting (and funny).

That’s about it. Looking at that list, it sure seems like a lot, but it’s really not as crazy as it looks (at 3x speed). Not that I really have time for any more, but I’d love to hear what other podcasts people listen to.

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: Podcasts To Listen To”

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GMacGuffin (profile) says:

This is useful stuff. Radiolab seems to come on the radio while I am driving, and generally have to finish it via podcast later or I feel incomplete.

But mostly, kudos on getting the dog out regularly. Every morning my dog and I have to negotiate a gauntlet of neighbors’ dogs frantically barking at us from behind fences and closed doors — driven nearly insane by inactivity and inattention. It’s sad.

Mark Zip (profile) says:

My weekly listens:
TWiT (This Week in Tech) – Quality depends on the guests, but it generally moves right along and hits most of the points it should.

Security Now – Security “guru” (opinions differ) Steve Gibson reviews the week’s net security news. The second part of the show is alternately given over to listener Q & A and larger, often quite technical, subjects.

Guardian Football Weekly – Twice a week review of the football (soccer) scene. Mostly EPL, but also La Liga, Champions League and others. Lots of puns and often quite well argued football punditry.

TWiG (This Week in Google) – Not really that much about Google, more about the cloud in general. Also, given that recognized curmudgeon Jeff Jarvis is a co-host, a fair amount of discussion about old media dinosaurs. Gina Trapani, the other co-host, brings the developer’s perspective.

AAA (All About Android) – News, apps, hardware.

TWiL – (This Week in Law) – IANAL, but the discussions here are consistently interesting. Most guests are practicing lawyers or professors. Smart people talking about the intersection between tech and law. (TechDirt often cited)

Roderick on the Line From the FAQ:

Why in the HELL would I ever want to listen to this? You should listen to our show because it is funny, plus it will help you.
John Roderick is an opinionated polymath who knows literally everything and who genuinely wants to help set everyone straight. Plus, he can’t understand why anyone would even be allowed not to hear everything he has to say, and Merlin is mostly tolerant of this.
Merlin Mann is a fairly dim blabbermouth who knows literally nothing but who genuinely wants to help John set everyone straight. Plus, he knows how to post things on the internet, and John is mostly tolerant of this.

WTF – As you cite above

The Vergecast – After a hiatus, this one just came back last week. “Show about technology, culture , technology culture and culture culture.

NY Times Popcast – Production sometimes just a little suspect. But the the content is usually interesting, with a roster of critics thinking carefully about music and “the industry”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Umm

Sorry, I was the AC poster up there responding on my phone so I was trying to keep the message short…it was not my intention sound angry. The “best podcast in the universe” thing is a reference to one of short little jingles they regularly play.

Anyway, the podcast (hosted by John C. Dvorak and Adam Curry) focuses on news media and government actions that don’t get a lot of coverage, native advertising hiding as news, and the back half often goes into some strange conspiracy and cover-up theories floating around the internet.

It’s a lot of fun that I rotate in between more common podcasts that I listen too, many of which were in your original list.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Umm

Because The No Agenda Show covers politics and current events it is the type of show people either love or hate. What is interesting from a Techdirt angle is that the show is 100% listener funded using a donation style “Value for Value” model. While there is not to my knowledge any where to go to see a full tally of their income Adam Curry (Yes the VeeJaay From back in the day when MTV played Videos) does not have another ‘day job’. During each show donators above $50 or producers are thanked along with the amounts. The show does not have nor does it seek corporate sponsorship or advertising. The audio only shows run a little longer than 3 hours and are streamed live with the podcast released later in the day Thursdays and Sundays.

99guspuppet says:

Don't drive where I drive

I am rolling my eyes and thinking your vehicle should be painted bright orange with flashing lights. With no sense of irony ( apparently ) , Mike talks about being unable to concentrate sufficiently while driving to be able to understand 3X speed podcasts. Golly …. does that mean that Mike has to look under the dash for the iPod he dropped on the floor while he is driving 235 kph while passing an old folks home that has let out for lunch ? ( Please don’t lecture me on the “correct” usage of irony …… eye m bzy changing de Engrish Langweech. 99guspuppet

Whatever (profile) says:

Two things: Listening to audio too quickly may put you in a state where you learn or accept things without thinking. It may be beneficial if you are trying to learn a specific skill, but it may impede your critical thinking skills while listening to these things. Great for Comedy perhaps, but not so much when it comes to other things.

Second thing: Techdirt “lite” is broken. While the layout is somewhat lighter than the regular site, it does insist on download the full post of every post. That includes things like documents displayed in the posts. So while this post is a nice 10 liner on the regular site, it’s MANY MANY page long scroll to get past on mobile, making it less than mobile friendly. A post the other day had about half a dozen videos embedded in it, and while the videos themselves don’t load, the poster image and the player itself does get loaded in. Certainly not mobile friendly. Is there a way to work to make the lite version to be in fact lite?

Benjamin Meyer-Plutowski says:

Podcast "Radio Coffeehouse" and "The Sporkful"

I recently discovered the podcast “Radio Coffeehouse” ( It seems to me that the producers try to emulate the intellectual atmosphere of Vienna’s Coffee Houses. They’ve aired only one episode so far, about language. They interviewed really interesting people from academia, which give their insights on how language shapes our identity. Some future episodes, for example on the Miranda Rights, are announced.
Another great podcast is “The Sporkful”, a show about food. I loved the episode about really spicy food and why we like it, or the one about vegetarianism.

Roger Barr says:

what I listen to

Against the Grain
Best of the Left
Coast to Coast AM
Commonwealth Club
Corbett Report
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Dave Emory WFMU
Documentary of the Week
Guns and Butter
The Moth
New Yorker; Outloud
Fresh Air
Peter B Collins (free & subscription – great news commentary)
Science Friday
Security Now (internet security)
Stephanie Miller show
TED talks audio
This American Life

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