If you haven’t listened to a podcast before, I recommend giving it a go. Podcasting is becoming increasingly popular and has definitely improved the quality of my life in the past couple of years. It has become one of my dominant forms for consuming media, because it’s so easy to listen while doing other things (such as chores or driving).
For example, over the past 18 months or so I’ve had to commute on a regular basis, and rather than listening to radio stations that are full of ads and aren’t particularly aligned with my interests or mood, I’ve been able to listen to podcasts that match my interests and moods. I’ve learnt a lot and, arguably, become a more interesting person.
Podcasting has been around for around ten years at this point. I remember trying to listen to some a number of years ago. It was hard to find good podcasts (I’m sure there were some good ones, but not as many as there are now), and it was a major hassle to download them from iTunes then sync my iPod/iPhone to get them. I gave up on the concept pretty quickly.
But things have changed! There are some fantastic apps available now for listening to podcasts, which download podcasts directly, have great interfaces, and make it intuitive to find shows. My experience is that the free podcast apps aren’t nearly as good as apps you pay for. I use Pocket Casts on both Android and iOS and think it is excellent. I understand that there are other good apps, and I can’t comment on those, but I can’t recommend Pocket Casts highly enough. It’s well worth the money.
Another thing that still blows my mind is how well everything works with bluetooth in my car. I turn on the car, and it automatically links to my phone and starts playing at the point where I left off. Bluetooth makes the experience better while I’m at home as well. I’ve recently transitioned from listening with headphones to listening using a cheap bluetooth headset on one year. (If I had to replace it, I’d pony up and get a Plantronics Voyager Edge.) This takes the hassle away from unravelling the headphone cord and means that my movement isn’t impinged at all. Do I look like a tool? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. (My wife has insisted that I don’t wear it in public. However, I’m finding it harder and harder to resist.)
Some Podcasts I Enjoy
You’re probably asking: What podcasts are out there?. There is a huge number of shows available. Ultimately, what will catch your fancy will depend on your interests and what you feel like listening to at any given time. I tend to go through phases where I’ll binge listen to one show or type of show, and move on to another.
Below is a list of some shows that I listen or have listened to, which, depending on your interests, might be worth looking into. Remember that you don’t have to listen to everything published by that podcast! Pick and choose the specific “episodes” from the podcasts that take your fancy.
Before I get into this list, I also need to qualify that there are a few that I enjoy at times, even though I’m embarrassed to admit it. In many cases, I don’t particularly like the host (Tim Ferriss, James Altucher), or the positioning of the blog doesn’t quite sit with me (The Art of Manliness, The Art of Charm). But I subscribe to them, because they often have great guests and cover topics that interest me.
- Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I’ve never had a strong interest in history, but this podcast has changed my mind. I’ve been listening to the current series, “Blueprint for Armageddon”, which is about World War I. It is a masterpiece. I can’t wait until the next part. I find Dan Carlin’s other podcast, Common Sense with Dan Carlin also to be interesting. He’s a smart and eloquent dude.
- The Cracked Podcast. Whoa. I can’t believe how good this is. I always had the impression that the Cracked website as a cynical exercise in linkbait. (To some extent. For a long time, I thought the article “What is the Monkeysphere” was one of the best articles I’d ever read.) But these guys are smart and cover some really fascinating territory, with a huge dose of humour.
- Freakonomics Radio. I have a love-hate relationship with “Freakonomics”. I enjoyed the first book. I didn’t even read the second one in light of its climate change controversy. I thought the documentary was inconsistent. However, I think the podcast works really well as a medium for Freakonomics.
- NPR Planet Money is consistently fascinating. It is delivered in a really infectious, upbeat manner. Also an automatic download.
- The Joe Rogan Experience. I remember Joe Rogan from the show Newsradio and Fear Factor and assuming he was a knucklehead. I was wrong. He gets some fascinating guests. Recently, for example, I’ve listened to interesting conversations with Sam Harris, Stefan Molyneux, and Louis Theroux.
- WTF with Marc Maron. He gets some great guests and has a talent for “peeling the onion”, or getting to the deeper layers of the person with whom he’s chatting.
- This American Life is an institution in the podcasting world. Each episode has a theme, and usually consists of a number of stories linked to that theme. Not all episodes enthral me, but it’s consistently of a high standard, and some episodes are phenomenal. It has a sister show, Serial, which is currently getting a lot of positive buzz.
- The Bret Easton Ellis podcast. I always thought he author of American Psycho would be an aggressive, alpha male-type. But no, he’s nothing like that. Ellis is a little narrower in terms of what he discusses than what I might prefer from an interviewer, but he makes up for it by getting really interesting guests. (His first three guests were Kanye West, Marilyn Mansen, and Judd Apatow (director of Knocked Up and super-producer of bro-comedies). Other interesting guests include Kevin Smith, Alan Ball (writer of American Beauty and creator of Six Feet Under and True Blood), Matthew Weiner (creative force behind Mad Men), and porn star James Deen.) (Update: after a strong start, the podcast has trailed off in terms of quality, and Ellis’s views on the same set of topics have started to get pretty jarring, for me at least.)
- The Tim Ferriss Show. I tried reading the 4 hour workweek, and for some reason it rubbed me the wrong way. It infuriated me more than any other book I can remember. I recently read a sample of the 4 hour chef and I just couldn’t see the appeal. I think Tim Ferriss has some strengths but I just don’t like him. So I’m as surprised as anyone to find that I really enjoy his podcast. I think it has to do with the guests he selects.
A few others for good measure:
- the Hamish & Andy podcast is great for light entertainment;
- You are Not So Smart;
- The Art of Manliness;
- Michael Sandel: Public Philosopher (the podcast hasn’t been updated for some time; if you’re not familiar with Sandel, stop what you’re doing and look at his course Justice on Youtube);
- Conversations with Richard Fidler;
- 99% Invisible;
- TED Radio Hour;
- Radio National Big Ideas;
- Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin;
- BBC World Service: The Forum;
- BBC World Service: Documentaries
- BBC World Service: The Why Factor;
- BBC Radio 4: More or less: Behind the Stats;
- Exploring the Mind with Sam Harris;
- Art of Charm (I’m clearly not part of the target market, but much of it is interesting and useful nonetheless);
- Death, Sex + Money;
- The Huffington Post Love + Sex (talking about what this covers will probably make you a more interesting person at dinner parties);
- The Longest Shortest Time (about parenting);
- Compleatly Beatles (this talks about each Beatles album in chronological order, covering each track and the context of the Beatles’ lives as they were recording the albums. Really good stuff);
- Motley Fool (I don’t like the way it’s presented but some of the topics are great);
- What’s the Point (from FiveThirtyEight, the home of The Signal and the Noise author Nate Silver);
- Science Vs (really entertaining);
- Meanwhile in the Future.