Podcasting is better than ever! A list of favourites

Bring back The Bugle!
Bring back The Bugle!

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of radio. Other than the occasional listen to the always excellent BBC Radio 6, I tend to spend most of my listening time with my own music (iPods still rule!), and podcasts. I have been surprised by the endurance of podcasting, a medium that seems to have matured in the last decade. One could be forgiven for having given up on podcasts, as the medium seems to have been hit by difficult times in the last couple of years. But if you’re not listening to podcasts you are missing out on some fantastic content, particularly for those interested in technology issues.

Here is my list of podcasts that I listen to regularly, in no particular order.

Tech Weekly by The Guardian

This is one of the longest-running podcast in my list, and one of my favourites. With excellent production values and a fantastic cast of tech journalists from The Guardian, this podcast manages to deliver week after week, providing smart discussion and analysis of some of the most important topics in technology. There are also special focused episodes interviewing either an author or expert.

The cast has changed over time, for many years the pod was presented by the always excellent Aleks Krotoski, with regulars Charles Arthur and Jemima Kiss. Nowadays the pod is presented by Olly Mann and Nathalie Nahai, with regular cast of experts that includes Alex Hern, Keith Stewart, and the fantastic Julia Powles. While I miss Krotoski, the new hosts are knowledgeable and funny. I can’t count the times where I learnt something new, or found an interesting book that is now a favourite. This is a must-have if you are thinking of enhancing your technology knowledge.

However…

The Tech Weekly podcast has recently added a small podcast to its feed called Updog (yes, as in the Internet joke), in which the presenters discuss popular memes. I am not the target audience, and boy, do they let you know who their target audience is. The podcast is by Millennials, for Millennials, and this is about what Millennials like, enjoy and share. They don’t watch TV, that is for old people. And they are ironic and cool and these are the memes that they enjoy, and you probably do not because you still watch TV and own an iPod. And they are Millennials. And their jokes and videos are edgy. Did they mention that they are Millennials?

Edited to add: I just gave Updog another try. Still struggling to understand what it’s trying to do other than comment on things the presenters found on their social timeline. One of the main problems is that it’s an audio podcast trying to describe visual memes. As someone commented in The Guardian comment section, “This is like ventriloquism on the radio.”

Science Weekly by The Guardian

This is another long-running favourite from The Guardian. As the name says, the podcast discusses science, and every week manages to cover both the news and provide an in-depth analysis of a scientific story. The podcast always books some fantastic guests, for example this week I have been enjoying hearing an interview with Dr Richard Leakey. I also discover books, and the podcast rarely fails to deliver a great episode.

The cast has also changed, the pod used to be presented by Alok Jha, but now presenting is mostly done by Ian Sample and Nicola Davis. The quality remains, and the depth and knowledge of questioning makes for a great addition to any podcast feed collection.

Football Weekly by The Guardian

If you like football, this is a must. Puntastic James Richardson provides a joyful dissection of the week’s matches. The presenter is funny, knowledgeable, and a true natural at the art of conducting a podcast. With a case that includes the grumpy Barry Glendenning, and luminaries such as James Horncastle, Sid Lowe, Rafa Honegstein and Jacob Steinberg, this is another entertaining and informative production. It is so popular that they go on the road and give live shows to packed audiences.

And they also have Football Weekly Extraaaaaaaa.

Click

This is a BBC World Service program that is cleverly turned into a podcast with added commentary and extended interviews. Yet another long-running podcast looking at technological and digital news from around the world, it is conducted by Gareth Mitchell with Bill Thompson as the regular commentator and expert. Because this is a BBC World Service production, this is a refreshingly global podcast that takes a truly international view of technology. It is not uncommon to listen to stories of how people are using technology in the developing world, or hear about a project for using drones to deliver medicines in Africa.

The knowledgeable team manages to invite experts and give some great interviews. Another favourite.

The Bugle

Before John Oliver became famous with This Week Tonight, he was making this little gem of a podcast with comedian Andy Saltzman. A weekly satirical run-down of the news, I learned not to listen to the podcast while I was in public, as sometimes I would simply burst out laughing, eliciting puzzled looks from members of the public. If you have time to kill, go through the considerable back catalogue and enjoy some of the best the podcast world has to offer.

Sadly, the podcast seems to be in a lengthy hiatus due to Oliver’s success. We don’t care about your HBO career John Oliver, bring back The Bugle!

Answer Me This

Given the absence of The Bugle in my life, I recently started following this great podcast presented by Helen Saltzman, Olly Mann and Martin the Sound Man. I had tried the podcast a few years before and had not liked it, but it has definitely grown on me and now I look forward to every new episode. The format is quite straightforward, Helen and Olly answer questions from listeners, these range from general advice about sticky situations, to specific questions like who was the first person to die of arsenic poisoning (I am making that up, but maybe it should be asked).

A funny and witty podcast, highly recommended.

You Are Not So Smart

This is another recent addition to my list, the podcast is presented by David McRaney and was born out of a best-selling book of the same name that explores self-deception. It has grown to cover all sorts of topics in the field of cognitive research into irrational thinking, covering subjects such as confirmation bias, fallacies, adaptive learning, and dissonance, just to name a few.

While I enjoy the content a lot, the format tends to be a bit slow, and some of the constant background music is distracting, but this seems to be a common feature of many US podcasts. Having said that, this is another highly recommended production. And if you stay until the end, you will get a cookie recipe!

Freakonomics

Freakonomics, the successful book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, always divides opinion. Some see it as an innovative way to look further into subjects that are often assumed and rarely challenged. Others see it as pop economy of little intellectual value. I am sort of in the middle. I loved the first book, but loathed the second.

The podcast manages somehow to produce the same mixed emotions on me. I find the production elements extremely annoying: the pretentious jazzy background music, the constant repetition of the names of people being interviewed, the constant little snippets that tell you parts of the upcoming interview in the hope of keeping you interested. The podcast could be cut in half if Dubner did not have to play with us in that manner. “Here is what I am going to discuss in just five minutes, and here is a little clip of what the person will say, this will keep you hooked!” The format could be more straightforward and direct, and I find some of the constant repetition to be condescending towards the audience, it seems to assume that we have the attention span of a newt.

But for all of the little annoying bits, the content usually is very interesting and informative. The podcast often manages to surprise me with a look at a subject that I had never thought about before, and some of the best episodes challenge assumptions with evidence.

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

If you are into fantasy and science fiction, this is a podcast you should listen to. Masterfully presented by David Barr Kirtley, the podcast brings together great panels of experts and the host is an amazing interviewer. The episodes with Ursula K. Le Guin and Kazuo Ishiguro are some of the best I have ever heard.

Some other podcasts I enjoy from time to time

FOSS+beer: a podcast about FOSS. And beer.

TechDirt: A podcast version of TechDirt.

And last but not least

This Week in Law (TWiT): Legal discussion with an American emphasis, but still informative.

Comments 3

  1. thanks ! Having been a podcast addict before podcasts were around (I remember recording the newsquiz on tape to listen to later… ) am very happy to have your list.

    May I add? I thought, given the technological leanings here, perhaps Reply All by Gimlet could make it onto the list and Schneier’s podcast too though it’s always really late in being made (a month after his blog posts).

    Thanks ! Lily

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