In the last couple of years I have become something of a podcast junkie. Obviously, I have my musical favourites (I’ll cover them another time), but where they really come into their own is the spoken ones. I feel like I have a far more rounded and informed worldview than even just a year ago, simply by seeking out podcasts that cover issues I’m interested in, and by people who’s opinions or worldview are maybe at odds with mine. Understanding why people see things differently is a crucial life skill in my very humble opinion, and lets face it, we’re all wrong plenty of the time, and when we’re right we won’t get far persuading people to our worldview if we don’t understand what makes them tick.
So anyway, here’s a round-up of most of my favourite spoken word podcasts, across a range of topics.
99% Invisible – short podcasts about aspects of design in the built world. The host Roman Mars is great to listen to (check his TED talk on flag design to get a flavour of the show), the title comes from the quote “Great design is 99% Invisible”. Rarely anything other than engrossing
Song Exploder – artists explain the process of making particular songs, which is a real pleasure for someone in the industry like myself, but also a brilliant window into the world of creating music for fans. Guests have included Bjork, Chet Faker, MGMT, Joey Bada$$, Harry Greggson-Williams (who scored The Martian) and many, many more
Waking Up With Sam Harris – endlessly fascinating scientific, religious and philosophical discussions. Sadly, Harris is somewhat infamous in many circles because of his strident views on atheism, religion and in particular Islamic extremism (he was the guy Ben Affleck had a wobbly at on the Bill Maher show). Having listened to his podcast for a while, its clear that he’s not the bigot many paint him as through selective quotations, and is actually a fascinating thinker who is not afraid of taking on sensitive issues from a generally liberal perspective, and is completely unafraid of going against the liberal grain, as his views on Radical Islam and gun control attest. The interview with a former Westboro Baptist Church member is essential listening, and the episodes with David Deutsch and Max Tegmark are just wonderful brain-food, if a bit hard to comprehend at times for a layman such as myself!
Dan Carlin – Common Sense & Hardcore History. Dan Carlin is just a phenomenon, possibly the best podcaster out there. The HH series on World War 1 is truly a tour de force – as is the Wrath Of The Khans series actually. I can’t recommend these highly enough. Anyone with even a passing interest in military history needs to listen to those 2 series. His Common Sense podcast is an excellent, reasonably neutral, look at US Politics.
Distraction Pieces with Scroobius Pip (long-form interviews with subjects of varying backgrounds). Pip’s easy way with his interviewees and curious nature has made Distraction Pieces a real hit – in the modern age, its nice to hear someone given an hour or two to talk as well, as so many interviews on TV or radio are barely 5-10 minutes long, and more often than not just there to sell something. Guests range from stars such as Simon Pegg and Russell Brand through to a fascinating episode with a refugee telling her story of settling in the UK, and what she went through to get to this point
Joe Rogan podcast – long-time comedian and UFC commentator Joe Rogan was someone I’d been recommended many times, but never really got into for quite a while. I found his style a bit brash at first, and mistakenly believed him to be a bit of a “jock”. In fact, while he sometimes instinctively leans towards worldviews I don’t fully agree with, he’s incredibly open to having different sorts of guests on his pod, and on letting people state their case. Sometimes they talk him round to their point of view, other times he manages to open their eyes to different ways of seeing things. He churns out a ridiculous amount of content, so it’s sensible to pick and choose, but there is some brilliant, brilliant stuff to get stuck into. And he even somehow manages to make the adverts entertaining, which is nice.
Serial – season one was a bit of a phenomenon, and genuinely brilliant. The tale of a did he/didn’t he murder case, that still splits public opinion even now. Season two started quite recently, covering the case of a US soldier who walked off-base in Afghanistan and ended up spending 5 years in captivity, and its…. its…. well, its OK. Its not bad, but it’s nowhere near as gripping or interesting as its predecessor, but that’s a hell of a bar to have to try and reach. I’ll keep listening as it’s still extremely well made and about a topic I find fascinating, but it’s a long way from the heights that season one scaled
This American Life – slices of American life, from same people as Serial. If you care about the human experience, and trying to get a window into what makes people tick, this is essential listening. It definitely approaches the world from a pretty liberal standpoint, but its not really a political pod. It’s more about just giving normal people a voice, and through this better understanding how we all bumble forwards in our own little universes.
The Economist Radio – provides bite-sized pods about current affairs, and on the whole they are a really good way to quickly get a well-informed, sober look at the news.
The View From 22 – the Spectator’s podcast, usually very thorough, informed and interesting on different current affairs topics from a range of commentators. The magazine is generally pretty right-wing but they do a pretty good job of giving most sides a voice on the podcast.
Football Weekly – magnificent if you follow the game, but even if I didn’t like football, I’d probably listen, Jimbo is just such a brilliant host, and the rapport between the various guests he has on rotation is very easy listening. Wonderful rapport and (whisper that word) “banter” – that’s banter in the traditional sense of witty repartee amongst friends, rather than the Nando’s-munching well-rehearsed bollocks that passes for it these days.
The Big Interview with Graham Hunter – fantastic interviews with major figures in world football. Fascinating peek behind the curtain of professional football, some genuinely hilarious stories (The Harry Redknapp episodes in particular have some corkers about Merson and Kanu), and some insight into the pressures, frustrations and glory of football at the sharp end.
Adam Buxton Podcast – generally interviews, but a bit of him just waffling on the way he does, really good so far, although after a busy early start it has slowed down since his father passed away, which is entirely understandable. The Christmas shows that paired him back with his old radio co-host Joe Cornish (of Adam & Joe fame) were a real joy for fans that grew up with the pair. Possibly the nicest, most likeable man in show business.
The Bugle – great satire podcast by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, sadly seems to be done now that Oliver is a megastar in the USA though. The back catalogue is well worth trawling if you want a good laugh, many is the time that it had me on public transport trying to conceal the fact that I was in hysterics!
The Axe Files with David Axelrod – Axelrod was chief strategist for Barack Obama’s succesful 2008 & 2012 campaigns, and the stature of his guests reflects this. Happily, he’s not just setting up an echo chamber for those he agrees with – Mitt Romney, Bernie Sanders, Spike Lee, Nancy Pelosi, Alistair Campbell all feature, along with various others from the world of politics. Fascinating and illuminating to hear people explain why they push the politics they do, what motivates them, and realise that even those you completely disagree with completely are invariably coming at things from a sincere belief that they are trying to help the best way they can see.