Probably the most popular podcast I listen to, so likely won’t be news to many of you, but without fail No Such Thing As A Fish has managed to educate and humour me with every single episode. Some are funnier than others, some are definitely more quite interesting* than others, but regardless it’s never not a wonderfully silly listen.
The people behind it were/are all researchers involved with QI (*hence the rather horrible wording) and each week each of the four panellists (aka QI elves) bring one fact that they discovered in the past week, along with some background research of other interesting and related tidbits. It sounds dull, but the four main members of the team are engaging, witty, knowledgeable and funny, and keep the entire 30-40 mins light, fast paced and mostly hilarious.
It may be a little on the geeky side, but it’s the only podcast that makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis.
Note: there is some swearing and depending on the topic, it can be quite rude, but that’s half the fun!
Hosted by Scroobius Pip, this weekly podcast is always, ALWAYS, interesting. Not only because the host is a smart guy but because he manages to put his guests at ease no matter how dark or deep the topic. He’s as adept at bringing out moments of humour and humanity as he is treading the fine lines of discussions around, for example, addiction.
And what a mixed bag of guests. Refreshingly, for every episode I’ve listened to so far, each guest realises this is a conversation about wider topics and no-one appears to be selling their latest product or pushing a certain storyline. Yes, it’s an interview, but it’s more a frank exchange of ideas and thoughts between intelligent, erudite, people.
If you’ve never seen the show then this episode by episode ‘following along’ podcast will make each moment richer.
Scrap that, if you’ve never seen the show, drop everything and watching the Pilot episode. If you enjoy that, then subscribe and listen to the first episode of The West Wing Weekly (TWWW) and if you aren’t hooked by then, well, I’m not sure I want to know you.
THE WEST WING WEEKLY is an episode-by-episode discussion of one of television’s most beloved shows, co-hosted by one of its stars, Joshua Malina, along with Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder.
Where TWWW stands apart from other podcasts is in the range of guest stars they have on the show. From the creator/writer Aaron Sorkin, through pretty much every major cast member – Alison Janney, Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe – and other people involved with the show in the background, including Snuffy Walden who composed the theme tune and some other notable guests like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It’s insightful, funny, and a real treat for fans of the show.
Part of the reason it works so well are the hosts, Hrishi brings fan-like dedication, whilst Joshua brings the actor view, both before and during his time on the show. There are also quite a few funny stories of Joshua being a complete wind-up merchant; any of the episodes with Bradford Whitley feature some delicious back-handed compliments from both sides.
I’ve found myself re-watching episodes and with all that insider knowledge and with the presenters views in my head, end up seeing so much more detail and richness in each episode. They frequently talk to members of the production crew as well, writers, directors, producers, camera operators, so there is always something different to learn and new insights to be found.
I simply cannot recommend this enough, and if you weren’t a fan of the show before, then you will be once you start watching along!
I’m not going to link to any episodes as this podcast works best if you watch the TV show in sequence.
However, for those of you who’ve already watched The West Wing before, you can skip to your favourite episodes, the Pilot, In the Shadow of Two Gun, Two Cathedrals etc…
One for all you beautiful nerds, 99% invisible covers an endlessly fascinating series of topics loosely arranged around design and architecture.
99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.
From graphic design and prop making for movies, to La Sagrada Familia, to sports bras, to emoji design, to city and street layouts, and a myriad of fascinating interviews and insights. If learning how everyday things work and exist in common usage interests you, it’s well worth a listen.
Even if you don’t think you are interested in design, if you are naturally curious about the world around you then give it a shot, the episodes are both short enough (~30 mins) and slick enough to carry themselves. You’ll learn something new everytime.
Hell, even if you only listen to one it’s worth it for the treacle thick voice of host, Roman Mars (yes, that’s his actual name).
A man that has been on the periphery of my media consumption for 20 years or so, and I admit I didn’t really ‘get’ the Adam & Joe thing at first and as none of my friends were bothered I missed that boat, but after catching some of their show on 6Music a while ago, it’s been nice to revisit Mr. Buxton (on the recommendation of a friend who is a big fan*).
Not only is he both affable and quirkly entertaining, his range of guests constantly surprises. I downloaded a few older episodes and have enjoyed every minute of them; Josh Homme and Matt Berry a favourite so far, purely because I just couldn’t place them as being mates (which they are!).
Similarly to Beautiful Anonymous, the format and content varies, but Adam is both sympathetic, positive, engaging and funny when needed.
Human beings are fascinating and the Beautiful Anonymous podcast is a fascinating sight into the life of that weeks caller. Some people come on and talk about how they can’t visual memories, one told of her escape from a violent abusive relationship, and a recent favourite was a German caller who was picking cherries in Australia and handed the phone to a ‘bushman’.
1 phone call. 1 hour. No names. No holds barred. That’s the premise behind Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, hosted by comedian Chris Gethard. Every week, Chris opens the phone line to one anonymous caller, and he can’t hang up first, no matter what. From shocking confessions and family secrets to philosophical discussions and shameless self-promotion, anything can and will happen!
I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve finished listening feeling angry, and I’ve finished listening and felt uplifted and determined! But most of all I’ve enjoyed being invited into the life of an anonymous stranger for an hour or so. Chris is a naturally friendly outgoing guy but knows when to shut up. Not always an easy listen, and there is a voyeuristic aspect to it at times which feels a little odd but it’s never NOT engaging in some form or another.
I discovered the Hidden Brain podcast late last year and it’s quickly become a favourite.
The Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain’s host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.
It’s a mishmash of topics, all delivered by a curious, engaged host who has enough background knowledge to ask good questions and never fails to get me thinking about how I act, how I engage with the world, and how I am affected by the world around me.
The most recent episode is one that touches on the world we live in today, tracing back through from the roots of advertising to the simple notion that is pretty evident to everyone I know, “our mental space is under attack by attention hijackers”. It also touches on how Trump became President, the first popular usage of fake news, and just how much advertisers will lie to us.
The big takeaway for me from this episode was to find a way to be more mindful with my everyday attention. It’s too easy to ‘just spend 10 minutes’ on Buzzfeed (also mentioned in the podcast) and lose most of a day without really paying attention to it; those times where a quick google at 10pm suddenly finds you watching YouTube videos at 1am are all down to manufactured content deliberately created to draw us in and keep our attention.
How often do you decide what holds your attention?
The list of podcasts I subscribe to is ever evolving, so here’s a quick update. I’ve slimmed down the number of subscriptions a little recently, and found some new ones too.
Couple of things to note. As I’ve found more quality content I’m much more willing to listen to longer podcasts than I was previously, and because I always have a backlog of episodes I’m pretty free and easy with the delete button! The joys of choice.
So, in no particular order, here is my updated list of podcast subcriptions:
99% Invisible (subscribe) (website) – Design is everywhere – a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. ALWAYS fascinating and way more entertaining than it sounds, if you have any curiosity about the larger world, you’ll love this. Never EVER fails to deliver.
The West Wing Weekly (subscribe) (website) – An episode-by-episode discussion of one of television’s most beloved shows, co-hosted by one of its stars, Joshua Malina, along with Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder. If you’ve ever watched and enjoyed The West Wing, then this is for you. It’s irreverent, insightful, and funny. Two friends discussing an award winning TV show, what’s not to like?
No Such Thing As A Fish (subscribe) (website) – The QI Elves discuss four random topics. Irreverent, educational, funny, rude, enlightening. A simple format that really works. I’ve definitely been caught laughing out loud at this one a few times.
Song Exploder (subscribe) (website) – Take one song and break it out, artists discuss inspirations, production ideas and how a song becomes a song. Fascinating and has opened my ears to a lot of different artists.
Reply All (subscribe) (website) – A show about the internet. And trained rats, time travel, celebrity dogs, lovelorn phone scammers, angry flower children, workplace iguanas, and more.
Theory of Everything (subscribe) (website) – plunges listeners into a whirl of journalism, fiction, art, interviews, and the occasional exploding pipe dream. Host Benjamen Walker connects the dots in a hyper-connected world, featuring conversations with philosophers, friends, and the occasional too-good-to-be-real guest.
Love + Radio (subscribe) (website) – features in-depth, otherworldly-produced conversations exploring all of life’s gray areas on an eclectic range of subjects, from the seedy to the sublime. Fascinatingly produced series covering all sorts of people from different walks of life. Can be challenging, uplifting, sad, but as an insight into the larger human psyche and the lives we lead.
The Allusionist (subscribe) (website) – Linguistic adventures, a look at words, how they came to be and how they shape how we act and think.
Clockwise (subscribe) (website) – Four people, four topics, tech/geek/apple fanboy tastic chat. Can be a little hit or miss but the fast pace helps.
Canvas (subscribe) (website) – two full-time iPad users talk iOS and mobile productivity. Every episode has been full of useful hints, tips and apps but it is very niche so YMMV.
Hopefully some of these might be new to you, and if you have any suggestions you think I might like, please lemme know in the comments.
It’s been a while (a year!) since I wrote about podcasts but with my recent change of job, and a 30-odd minute commute by bus, I’ve been hunting about for some more podcasts to fill my time, and on the way I’ve ditched a couple I used to listen to, so I thought it worthwhile popping a list of my current subscriptions here in case anyone else has the same, admittedly specific and narrow, set of interests as me.
In saying that, most of my choices of whether to subscribe to a podcast or not is largely based around time. Anything over 40 odd minutes doesn’t make the cut – every rule has exceptions of course – and my subscriptions are varied as I’ll happily listen to someone talking about pretty much anything as long as they are engaging and passionate about their topic. I’ve dropped a couple of podcasts recently purely because of the voices, shallow I know but I really don’t want to spend 30 minutes cringing at every gasping adenoidal breath of a host who offers neither passion nor much humanity as they speak.
However looking at the list of my subscriptions (below), it does have a fairly narrow focus that covers design, tech, Apple fanboy stuff, comedy, food, science and desert island discs, so if anyone has any suggestions please leave a comment, doesn’t really matter what the topic is, as long as it’s around the 30-40 min mark (or less!).
So, in no particular order, here is my current list of podcast subcriptions:
TEDTalks (audio) (subscribe) (website) – the audio only versions of the TED talks, doesn’t always make sense without the visuals, YMMV.
Answer Me This! (subscribe) (website) – random questions answered with humour, knowledge and pathos (ok, not pathos, swearing. Whatever).
Song Exploder (subscribe) (website) – Take one song and break it out, artists discuss inspirations, production ideas and how a song becomes a song. Fascinating.
a16z (subscribe) (website) – Discusses trends, news and the future of a world being shaped by technology.
Serial (subscribe) (website) – The rule breaker – usually at least one hour long but an indepth look via investigative journalism, at one true story. Fascinating.
Clockwise (subscribe) (website) – Four people, four topics, tech/geek/apple fanboy tastic chat.
In Our Time (subscribe) (website) – From BBC R4 – Melvyn Bragg and guests the history of ideas, usually in great detail. Challenging at times, always interesting.
Canvas (subscribe) (website) – two fulltime iPad users talk iOS and mobile productivity. Every episode (so far) has been full of useful hints, tips and apps.
Refresh (subscribe) – a show about things we plug in, program and play with – from the people who brought you Cards Against Humanity
Radiolab (subscribe) (website) – a show about curiosity, where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.
99% Invisible (subscribe) (website) – MY CURRENT FAVOURITE – Design is everywhere – a weekly exploratoin of the process and power of design and architecture. ALWAYS fascinating and way more entertaining than it sounds.
No Such Thing As A Fish (subscribe) (website) – MY SECOND FAVOURITE – The QI Elves discuss four random topics. Irreverent, educational, funny, rude, enlightening. A simple format that really works.
The Allusionist (subscribe) (website) – Linguistic adventures, a look at words, how they came to be and how they shape how we act and think.
Thinking Allowed (subscribe) (website) – From BBC R4, discussions on how society works.
Desert Island Discs (subscribe) (website) – From BBC R4, truncated show (they can’t play all of the tracks) so you get the chat without having to listen to all of the music choices.
Ctrl-Walt-Delete (subscribe) (website) – Walt Mossberg (hence the name) and the Verge editor-in-chief discuss the last tech news and ideas.
The Broad Experience (subscribe) (website) – Discussing issues facing women in the workplace today.
Hopefully someone might find something new in the above list!
Ohh and I’m still using Overcast, largely because it works and does some clever little things that help – my favourite feature is probably the button that lets me skip 30s forward as I’m really fed up hearing about Squarespace and Mailchimp – and it also has a good directory which has helped me find some of the above podcasts.
I’m way way behind the curve on podcasts and I’m laying the blame firmly on my parents and their use of radio.
I grew up in a house where music was the backdrop to most activities – my first hearing of Appetite for Destruction? My Dad loaned the cassette from the library and I walked in as Welcome to the Jungle kicked off, epic! – so I never really had much of a view of things like the Shipping Forecast, radio plays and so on. I’m sure my parents did listen to ‘talk radio’ on occasion just not when I was around so I’ve always associated radio with music.
I won’t bore you with tales of recording the Top 10 to cassette, but my maturing musical tastes have mirrored my growing distaste for radio DJs and all the talking, yak yak yak they go, largely spouting nonsense and noise when all I really want is to listen to the music. So I’d turn off the radio and start listening to my own music; the rise of the MP3 made this approach all the more satisfying.
Of course the real problem wasn’t radio at all, but my choice of radio stations. Thank heavens for the internet I say, as I’ve many more ways to find music I like and, as the charts descended in mass produced pap… sorry, pop, I increasingly looked to the Pitchforks of the world to find new music. For quite a while I eschewed all radio as, wrongly, rubbish.
Recently that’s been changing as I’ve switched on (sorry!) to the richness and depth of talk radio, and whilst that’s largely been via Radio 4 at present, I’ve been enjoying the discussions, debates, and plays on offer. But how did I get here?
Bye Bye Radio
From tapes, to MiniDiscs, to CDs, I’ve spent countless hours creating playlists and recording it to the media of the moment. Where MP3s triumphed was speed, create a playlist on your computer and seconds later it’s copied to a USB stick. Roll forward a few years and, with all my music stored on my iPod, a quick sync was all it took to update several playlists and I had hours and hours of music at my fingertips.
An avid consumer of new music, I’d scour review sites and buy several new albums every fortnight or so, soon building a bank of new artists and albums (yes, I had a system for this to make sure everything got a good rotation).
So with my appetite for music being whetted elsewhere, and perhaps with my advancing years, I looked around for something a little less full-on for my morning commute.
Talk is cheap
Most mornings I’ll listen to the news as I drive to work, although it depends how much tolerance I have for whatever topic they are manhandling into a forced argument on any given day. Leaving work at odd hours to drive home (sometimes mid-afternoon, sometimes late evening) meant I was exposed to more of the planning and soon found I was getting drawn in and seeking out more alternatives.
Podcasts are not new, I’ve listened to a few now and then but in the past, with my association for radio (which is still how I view podcasts oddly) being music, none of them ever stuck. Perhaps I was just listening to the wrong podcasts, god knows there are some awful ones out there but that’s the same for everything.
However, I was determined to find podcasts that work for me, so after a fair bit of digging I’ve not got a nice workable solution that gives me a selection of podcasts available to me on any of my Apple devices.
The latter part of that solution is provided by Downcast, a multi-device podcast app which syncs my playlists. It’s installed on my iPhone, my iPad, and both MacBooks, so if music isn’t cutting it I can get to many different podcasts and usually find something to keep my attention.
Admitedly some of my these aren’t strictly podcasts but recordings of radio shows but I’ve never really been one for following rules, all I know is that they are spoken word recordings that give me an option when the radio fails me and I’m not in the mood for music.