I spend way too much time listening to podcasts. But it’s ok - I can stop whenever I want to. No, really.
On the other hand, without them my trips downtown or long weekend car rides would be unbarable. Since I’m constantly surprised to find how many people don’t listen to podcasts or don’t know what they are, here’s the list of my guilty pleasures.
The podcast whose name almost always comes up when talking about podcasts. It was most probably one of the first to strive for a level of audio and storytelling quality that surpasses radio and most audiobooks. What makes radiolab special, is not just the stories being told, but the way they are presented. It is completely immersive, and, for a podcast, very very visual.
Episodes of radiolab tell stories ranging from science to philosophy and art. They are usually incredibly well crafted journeys that don’t hinge on simply revealing curious or little known facts - more often than that they offer completely new perspectives and leave you with a sense of awe and a yearning for another episode.
Hardcore history is almost the complete opposite of radiolab. No musical transitions, sound effects or complex audio landscapes. And it’s an extraordinary podcast by almost all accounts - the episodes are irregular, infrequent (about once every two months) and loooong.. 3 to 5 hours long. They are behemoths among podcasts, having somehow escaped the confines of the audiobook world.
I know - a 3 hour podcast sounds like a recipe for boredom and repetition. However, Dan Carlin’s love for history, extensive research and unconventional views make them anything but. With topics ranging from the final year of the roman empire (Death throes of the republic) to the first world war (Blueprint for armageddon) there’s enough variation for everybody’s taste.
By dedicating 3-4 episodes for each topic, Dan Carlin explores in depth the human drama, suffering and achievements that usually hide behind each two line factoid in history books.
This American Life is the thin line between life and fiction that is both real and poetic. Each episode usually comes as a set of three “acts”, all held together by a common theme, detail or sheer will. Focusing on the lives of people, both in the US and all over the world, they highlight the humanity and the irony of everyday situations and acts.
Serial is actually a spin-off of This American Life, started with the goal of exploring a single story in detail over a range of episodes. Even though it’s a relatively new podcast, started at the beginning of October, 2014, it has already grabbed my attention.
The story that’s currently being told started as an episode in This American life: a girl disappears and is later found dead, her ex-boyfriend is tried and sent to prison, but nobody is completely sure as to what actually happened. As with many podcasts, it is all about perspective. And Serial enjoys the luxury of giving the story enough time to bloom in full detail. Conflicting witness testimonies, unverified statements, flaky timelines make listening to this podcast akin to reading a detective novel - nothing’s clear, everybody’s suspect and the suspence is gripping.
Triangulation is a talk show podcast focusing on technology. Its host Leo Laporte is doing a tremedous job interviewing the guests, getting them to talk about their achievements, exploits and hardships.
As with any talk show, Triangulation’s success hinges on two things: the host and the guests. And this podcasts’s lineup speaks for itself: Lawrence Krauss, Kevin Rose, Jeff Hawkins, Mitch Kapor, etc.
Here’s a few more podcasts I like listening to:
- Stuff you missed in history class - a (usually) light-hearted podcast about various historical curiosities.
- TED radio hour - TED talks and interviews with speakers.
- The Moth - stories from story-telling shows.
- The Cloudcast - news and interviews from the cloud computing world.
- FLOSS weekly - weekly interviews with creators of open source projects.