Podcasts are great: A way for anybody with an Internet connection, a microphone and something (or nothing) to say to make a joyful noise unto the Internet. They are one of the shining examples of how the net is changing media for the better.
But with democratization and an explosion of new content it becomes hard to find the good stuff, so this post is my attempt to help you find something good to put in your ears. It’s an update to a post from a few years ago, which also extolled the medium and gave some examples of good podcasts at the time. But podcasts come and go, so here’s an updated list of what’s currently playing on my iPhone.
Super British and tweedy BBC Radio 4 show in which Melvyn Bragg interviews experts in their field about topics as diverse as Shakespeare’s The Tempest, exoplanets and the Berlin Conference. The topics are all over the map: history, physics, religion, philosophy, etc. It’s like a miniature college degree on your phone and surprisingly fun when the experts get themselves all excited about their topics.
It’s also a nice reminder of just how ignorant I am.
A show about science, medicine and things of general interest to skeptics. Nerdy and a bit dry, but a good antidote to the generally terrible way science is covered in the mainstream press.
I don’t have to tell you about the Bugle, right? If you like your humor British, this is the podcast to listen to. And also the podcast most guilty of making me look like a loon by laughing out loud to myself on the bus.
I can’t wrap my head around how two people can generate that much bullshit on a weekly basis, but that’s the magic of the Bugle. Get it. Just watch out for the pun runs—they really hurt.
This isn’t a podcast so much as a series of free and excellent audio books. Carlin covers history from a human angle—it’s not a series of dates and kings, but an exploration of historical events focused on the people who lived through them.
Topics so far have included the Mongols, the war on the Eastern Front, the fall of Rome and many others. They are gripping.
Note that part of Carlin’s monetization strategy is that older episodes go behind a paywall after a certain amount of time. The fall of Rome episodes are now behind that paywall, and they are well worth paying for.
The same Carlin from Hardcore History also creates Common Sense. It’s a show about current events from a smart, non-partisan angle. Though he doesn’t explicitly bring it up, his grasp of history clearly informs his thinking on this show.
He’s the kind of person you find yourself agreeing and disagreeing with, but his reasoning is usually solid. A good antidote to the screaming heads dominating mainstream current events discourse.
At a whole different speed we have the thing that is Tofop. Or Fofop, as it’s now called for obtuse reasons, but which you won’t find it listed as. But never mind that. Tofop is Australian comedian Wil Anderson (who is apparently huge in Australia) talking to other comedians, usually in hotel rooms around the world. Basically it’s just riffing and there’s nothing in here you actually need to know, but most of the time it’s two very funny people going off on tangents about anything that pops into their heads.
Which disturbingly often is Batman.
The quality depends on the guests, but most often it’s a good time with funny people in your ears.
Not Safe For Work unless prison rape is an appropriate topic where you work.
Sort of a sister show to Tofop/Fofop, Walking The Room is two comedians having a weekly conversation about what’s going on in their lives. At its best it’s raw, heartfelt and very funny. At its worst it’s two middle-aged men being angry about how their lives are going.
You’ll usually get both in the same show. And lots of profanity and NSFW topics.
I have a lot of affection for Walking the Room.
Three Mac nerds talk about what’s happening in technology, mostly Apple-related. Worth a listen for the banter and chemistry between the hosts as well as the occasional nerd-on-nerd violence about things like the Proper Way to Organize Your Desktop. If the thought of people arguing about the proper way to organize your desktop makes you smile, this show is for you. (I’m thinking of starting a support group.)
Also a showcase for how the Internet is changing things in that one host is in the U.S., one in the U.K., and one in Italy. It’s a nice mix of accents.
As with The Prompt, it’s three nerds talking about what’s happening in technology, especially the Mac/iOS universe. Featuring the king of all nerds, John Siracusa, it’s usually worth listening to.
An ever-shifting assembly of nerds led by Jason Snell cover topics of interest to, well, nerds, like books, movies, comics, and, so help them, Dungeons and Dragons.
I very much enjoy the book and movie episodes.
Yes, the Saturday NPR quiz show hosted by Peter Sagal. Good banter, and it’s nice to be able to time shift.
For the hardcore nerds, Debug features various programmers as guests and delves into various arcana about Mac OS and iOS culture and programming. Tends to run very long as the guests have many opinions they’re happy to get off their chests.
Three angry nerds attempt catharsis by trashing the dumbest and most cynically page-view driven coverage of Apple.
Despite their best efforts over the years, the stupid still prevails.
As you’d imagine, the bastards work very blue, so it’s NSWF.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame and a host of guests talk about what’s going on in the world of Apple and technology in general. The quality varies a bit depending on who the guest is, but it’s usually worth a listen as Gruber is one of the few people who really gets Apple.
That’s the list. Hope you found something in there to put in your ears. If you have any shows to recommend, do hit me up on Twitter.
After all these years, Nic still can’t understand the American attitude to healthcare.
A sci-fi and fantasy heavy installment that includes The Valedictorian of Being Dead, The Mastermind, Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, Tiamat’s Wrath, The Raven Tower, The Liberation, The Light Brigade and Cryptonomicon.
Includes The Incomplete Book of Running, Aching God, The Murderbot Diaries, Lies Sleeping, The Consuming Fire, and Rendezvous with Rama.
Did you know Las Vegas is kind of nutty?
Includes Hollywood Dead, Tales from the Loop, Things from the Flood, The Court of Broken Knives, and Port of Shadows.
Nic has a retinal tear and has his vision is saved by a laser.
Includes The Storm Before the Storm, White Trash, Calypso, Tell the Machine Goodnight, Prince of Fools, and Provenance.