Podcasts I Listen To

Podcasts are a major part of my listening life, along with Spofity for music and Audible for audiobooks. I've listened to them for about 3 years now regularly and I follow a lot of podcasts on different subjects - some about my hobbies and some which are more general interest: stories that I wouldn't hear anywhere else.

Before I get started on an overview of them, I thought it'd be worth mentioning which app I use. I've tried many of them on the App Store: the default Apple one, Pocket Casts, Instacast and Castro before finally settling on Marco Arment's Overcast for its good syncing capability, clean interface, Smart Speed and automatic Voice Boost EQ which can make some of the less professionally-made podcasts I listen to sound much better. Overcast is extremely powerful: you can set most settings on a per-show basis but that customisation also gets out of the way once you've chosen what you like.

So, without further ado, these are my favourite podcasts:

General Interest

Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4

Released On: Friday
Episode Length: 30 mins
Network: BBC

A good-natured satirical current affairs comedy program from the BBC, compromising of The News Quiz, a panel game hosted by Sandi Toksvig, and The Now Show, a sketch show hosted by Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis. They alternate every ten weeks or so, as far as I can tell.

Although recently I've found The Now Show less and less funny (perhaps the quality of guests is declining), The News Quiz is still, in my opinion, some of the best of the BBC's radio programming.

I'd highly recommend it if you want a regular alternative perspective on the week's news, or just a good laugh on a Friday evening.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

This American Life

Released On: Monday
Episode Length: 1 hour
Network: WBEZ, CPM, PRI

This is the big one, the one you've probably heard about. It is routinely top of the iTunes podcast charts. In the most basic sense, it is a journalistic non-fiction show, where each episode follows a theme with several "acts" each on that theme.

This American Life lives up to its title in that, from the perspective of a teenager living in the UK, it gives me insight into little-known facets of human life in the States. The subject of episodes ranges greatly from very personal stories to more general aspects of society and culture: the machine that is America. One particularly interesting example of this was their episode on patent trolls.

Hosted by the fantastic Ira Glass, every episode is worth devoting time to, especially since the soundtrack is usually extremely well done and fitting to the content. Also, they did a live show, and it was amazing. Their podcast feed does confuse me though, because sometimes old episodes appear in between new ones.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Serial

Released On: Thursdays (in seasons)
Episode Length: 30 mins - 1 hour
Network: WBEZ, CPM, PRI

This American Life's spin-off show, in which Sarah Koenig takes us week-by-week through one true story with investigative journalism. The first season revolved around the story of Adnan Syed, who was accused and convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1995. Seemingly an open-and-shut case, but Koenig saw that something didn't add up.

Serial achieved something remarkable in that it is the only podcast which I have ever overheard being talked about in the corridors of my high school. This, however, was not necessarily a good thing. The real-life story of a human tragedy was being followed as closely as a piece of fiction, with the "characters" each gaining a following and conspiracy theories. Brands even jumped in on the action:

I don't think I fault Serial for this reaction, however. It is entertainment, ultimately, and good entertainment at that. The ending, however, I thought was disappointing in a way that is inevitable in a case like this. On the whole, I would say that it is worth a listen, when you have a spare plane journey or other otherwise unoccupied space of time. The soundtrack is excellent.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

The Infinite Monkey Cage

Released On: Mondays (in seasons)
Episode Length: 30 mins - 1 hour
Network: BBC

A science-orientated BBC comedy panel show with guests ranging from neuroscientists to comedians, hosted by Brian Cox and Robin Ince. Each show has a theme and the panelists field questions related to that theme. The themes range from actual fields of science such as "The Science of Sound", to commentary on what science's role is in society ("Art v Science") and the eternal question "Does Size Matter?".

Unlike some other science podcasts, The Infinite Monkey Cage does not take itself too seriously, which in my opinion is what makes it so enjoyable to listen to. I'd recommend it even if you only have a glancing interest in science, since no prior knowledge is required to understand the program as a whole.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Tech & Tech Culture

TLDR

Released On: Mondays
Episode Length: 10 mins
Network: On The Media

TLDR features interesting short-form journalism about the web hosted by Meredith Haggerty. I've heard stories on this show that I would never have otherwise heard about - not important stories - but interesting stories. It covers a good proportion of stories about women's lives on the internet as well as the more obvious (to me) male experience.

Topics range from the investigation of famous internet hoaxes to the recent rise of TinyLetter as a safer platform for women to express themselves in a manner similar to a public diary.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Reply All

Released On: Thursdays
Episode Length: 20 mins
Network: Gimlet

Reply All is a spin-off from TLDR, but it took the original hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman (the latter of whom is a producer for This American Life). As they say themselves, "It features stories about how people shape the internet, and the internet shapes people."

It tends to be more in-depth than TLDR, given that it is about twice the length and in two halves (centred around an ad break), which often reflect two different sides of the same story. Topics range from the racism that was brought out of the woodwork when Yik Yak became popular at Colgate University to the story of the man who accidentally invented pop-up adverts.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Accidental Tech Podcast

Released On: Fridays
Episode Length: ~2 hours
Network: N/A

Hosted by Marco Arment (maker of Overcast, as well as Instapaper, Tumblr etc), John Siracusa and Casey Liss, ATP is a good-natured look at the world of Apple, programming, and wider aspects of technology culture.

Starting with follow-up (corrections and expansions) from the previous episode, ATP allows more of a bidirectional discussion with the listeners than many other podcasts, and it also serves to broaden the perspective on the topics themselves, which range from writing apps for Apple Watch to coverage of issues like GamerGate and InfoSec to being cynical about the latest Apple rumours. The after-show also covers gaming occasionally which is interesting to me as a non-gamer.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Hello Internet

Released On: Mondays
Episode Length: ~2 hours
Network: N/A

Hosted by CGP Grey and Brady Haran, this podcast isn't really about anything in particular. I don't listen to every episode, since each is so long and fairly rambling, but when I have a spare 2 hours while doing some sort of visual work this is my go to podcast.

In general, it would be fair to say that it's about the Internet (given the title), but it's also about technology culture and culture culture and science and engineering. It appeals to a wide range of my interests, hence my listening since I'm never quite sure what I'm going to get.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Film & Theatre

Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's Film Reviews

Released On: Fridays
Episode Length: 2 hours
Network: BBC

This is the definitive film review program. Each week Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo intervew stars of current films, review what's coming to the cinema, and take listener feedback and reviews.

Quirky, informative, well worth two hours a week. They even run a Snapchat account with behind the scenes of their Friday afternoon recording and interviews.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project

Released On: Tuesdays
Episode Length: 30 mins
Network: N/A

Hosted by Adam Savage, this podcast is (from my perspective) essentially Mythbusters behind the scenes. Topics range from how Adam got from being a sculptor to Mythbusters, the technology used to make the show, and Adam's other projects and hobbies (his costumes for ComicCon etc are something else).

Half an hour is not a long time to devote to hearing about making in the widest sense. Costumes, props, electronics, films: all covered frequently in enough detail to be interesting but not too much to be dull.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Headset Podcast

Released On: Occasional Mondays
Episode Length: 45 mins
Network: N/A

A very new podcast, but a fascinating glimpse into the world of professional technical theatre. Each episode is an interview with a guest who works in the industry, and so far after 5 episodes they've already had the Technical Director of the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies.

Some but not too much technical information, and links to articles to find out more in the show notes every episode. Technical theatre is a famously difficult-to-get-into field, and without this podcast I would have a much lesser understating of the industry and shows.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]

Crew Call

Released On: Thursdays (in seasons)
Episode Length: 30 mins - 1 hour
Network: N/A

Much like Headset, but for the film industry instead. All of the above applies here too, with guests in all areas of film production. I funded them on Kickstarter when it first came out, and it was definitely worth it. I only wish they used real microphones and not phones to interview their guests because sometimes it's hard to make out what they're saying.

[Website, iTunes, Overcast]


There are a couple of other podcasts that I subscribed to briefly, which are not bad but not to my taste, like The Vergecast and the Stack Exchange Podcast. Those two are worth a listen if you can stand them talking over eachother all the time.

I hope this post was useful to someone. Podcasts are a big-ish deal for me, and I know they are for quite a few others, so I thought a list would be useful for anyone looking for new ones to subscribe to.