In this week’s episode of Chit Chat Across the Pond Bart Busschots joins us to talk about how he arranges his podcast listening, how he categorizes them and then what kinds of shows he likes. Bart listens to around 6 hours of podcasts per day so this is quite a long list. He purposely didn’t include the usual suspects that he’s talked about often before. That means that you are bound to learn about some shows you’ve never heard of and might enjoy.
I’ve done podcast recommendations before, usually when Allison is away and I need to find some material for a solo-show 🙂.
I don’t want to re-tread recommendations I’ve made before, so instead I thought I’d share some other recommendations grouped by format. Different people listen in different ways, so some of these formats will suite you better than others.
I’ve started to group the podcasts I subscribe to into into three main playlists in Overcast:
- ‘Exercising’ — My main playlist. The podcasts I want to listen to every episode of automatically go in here, with the ones that are time-critical set as priority podcasts so they jump to the top of the list.
- ‘Dip in and Out’ — a playlist I never listen to directly. Podcasts I’m happy not to be a completist about go in here. They are set to keep just the most recent 5 episodes. When I have room in my primary play list, or, when I’m in the mood for something different, I scroll through this playlist and add anything that takes my fancy to the main Exercising playlist.
- ‘Current Series’ — at all time I have a long-running epic series on the go, and every now and then I either listen to this play list directly, or add a few episodes from this playlist to the main Exercising playlist.
No More Completism
My personality tends to favour completism, and that’s not compatible with a whole genre of long-running, broad topic podcasts. In the last year or so I’ve worked hard to get over that predisposition, and it’s opened me up to some fabulous podcasts!
Some of my favourite Dip in and Out Podcasts:
- Fresh Air (NPR) — the wonderful Terry Gross interviews just about anyone about just about anything. Terry is a simply amazing interviewer, and she’s so well known she gets some absolutely amazing guests in front of her mic! No one will find every interview interesting, but equally, everyone will find some of them fascinating.
- Recode Decode (VOX) — the fiery Kara Swisher interviews tech CEOs and thought leaders, very often female tech leaders, about all things tech. Kara is never rude of mean-spirited, but she is extremely frank and direct, which leads to some great conversations.
- The Ezra Klein Show (VOX) — this is one for the policy wonks and civics dorks! The interviews are long, in-depth, and anything but superficial. The guests are also very hight quality and the topics quite wide-ranging.
- TED Radio Hour (NPR) — Hour-long thematic shows built around TED talks and interviews with the speakers who delivered those talks. This format is designed specifically for Radio, and is much more than just snippets from related talks combined together. These are well produced shows that tie the TED content together in a unified whole.
- Library Talks (New York Public Libraries) — a broad range of interviews with people related to literature and reading, often authors. Sadly the show seems to be on hiatus ATM 🙁 But, most of the episodes in their back-catalogue is timeless.
Stand-alone Series Often Rock
When we think of podcasts we often think of on-going shows that have a format and appear on some kind of regular schedule, but not all podcasts are like that, some have a definitely beginning, middle, and end. Taming the Terminal is a bit like that.
There are many such timeless series out there, and they range from short mini-series to absolute epics!
Some Short Mini Series I Recommend
- Bagman (MSNBC) — Rachel Maddow takes time out from the news and current affairs to dig into the other scandal in the Nixon White House, the one that forced his Vice President Spiro Agnew to resign shortly before he did.
- 13 minutes to the Moon (BBC) — the story of Apollo 11 told through the tape of the nail-biting 13 minute descent to the Moon from Lunar orbit.
- Drawn — the fascinating story of animation.
- Inside Star Wars (Wondery) — the story behind the making of this epic story.
Longer Stand-alone Series I Recommend
- Elements (BBC World Service) — a deep dive into each of the elements that make up the periodic table with a focus on their impact on the economy and our daily lives.
- Presidential (The Washington Post) — One episode for each President of the United States of America. The lesser known Presidents get just as much time as the famous ones. Personally, I found the episodes on the presidents we barely remember the most fascinating.
- Constitutional (Washington Post) — A follow-up to Presidential which goes through the US constitution article by article, and amendment by amendment.
- 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy (BBC World Service) — A series of short but very well researched and presented shows about some of the often over-looked things that underpin our modern economy. Now in its second season, so well on its way to 100 things 🙂
- A History of the World in 100 Objects (BBC Radio 4) — Neil MacGregor, the (then) director of the British Museum, takes us on a journey from the stone age to the modern world in 100 episodes, each dedicated to an object in the museum’s collection that epitomises a time and a place.
Series of Mini Series
I don’t know if this has been a thing for a long time and I’ve just been ignorant of it, but I’ve recently come across a very cool new format for podcasts, the series of mini series! These will consist of a handful of episodes about one topic, followed by a handful of episodes on another topic.
Sometimes the grouping is very loose, and perhaps even interspersed with single stand-alone episodes (the ultimate mini series I guess 😉).
- Imaginary Worlds — rather than strictly defined series of series this show tends to dwell on a topic for a few episodes, and then move on. The topics are very wide-ranging, but what they all have in common is that they have to do with the creation of fictional universes. The show is much broader than just sci-fi, but if you enjoy sci-fi you’ll almost certainly love this show.
What I’ve found to be more common though is the strongly structured series of mini series, some of which even re-start their numbering for each mini series:
- American Innovations (Wondery) — short series (3-5 episodes generally) built around individual world-changing inventions that America gave to the world. The most recent mini-series is the unusual tale of two brothers who gave the world corn flakes, and ended up life-long enemies in the process.
- Mythology (Parcast) — ancient myths have a huge influence on our modern culture, learn about them in 2-3 part mini-series.
- Prime Time (VOX) — this is a new series of series dedicated to examining the history of television. The first series is out and complete, and looks at the complex two-way relationship between television and the US Presidency.
Epic Mega-series I Recommend
- The History of Rome — a massive series that takes you from the legend of Remus & Romulus right through to the sacking of Rome and the fall of the western empire.
- The Fall of Rome (Wondery) — a detailed look at how it all went wrong for the once apparently invincible Roman Empire.
- The History of English Podcast — the complex but fascinating story of how the language that arguably dominates the globe came to be (not yet complete, but up as far as the Canterbury Tales).
- The History of Egypt Podcast — starting in the earliest Egyptian pre-history and then moving forward through all the famous names we all remember from childhood history lessons (not yet complete, we’ve just gotten to the enigmatic Akhenaten & Nefertiti).
Very Regular, but short
- This Day in History Class (iHeartRadio) — a daily short 5 to 10 minute show about something interesting that happened on a given day in history.
- Vector with Rene Richie (iMore) — an approximately daily short podcast about something Apple-related. Generally both insightful and well informed.
- The Indicator (NPR) — a short daily (week days only) podcast from the Planet Money team explaining something relevant to the news in general or the economy.
- Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing — a few episodes each week. Each individual episode is relatively short anyway, but they are made up of even shorter segments so you never get bored or distracted. Also, the style is very light-hearted and fun, so you end up learning without trying.
- Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities — a few 10-minute episodes each week, each consisting of two usually related strange or unusual stories from history.
- TED Talks Daily — one short 15 to 20 minute TED talk each day on any topic.
Infrequent but High Quality
- Twenty Thousand Hertz — stories about the sounds that surround us in our daily lives, often sounds we don’t usually take the time to stop and think about. Quite reminiscent of 99% Invisible which I’ve highly recommended before.
- The TED Interview — Chris Anderson sits down with famous TED speakers for an hour-long interview. The guests are often very impressive, including TED alumni like Bill Gates.
- The Global News Podcast (BBC World Service) — two half-hour long shows each weekday, and one each weekend day focusing on the biggest stories from around the world, and featuring local reporters who really understand the places they’re reporting on.
- The World This Week (BBC World Service) — a half-hour summary of the most important news from around the world each Saturday
- More or Less (BBC Radio 4) — the truth behind the numbers in the news and on social media.
- Hard Talk (BBC World Service) — half-hour hard-hitting interviews with important people relevant to the news of the moment.
- The Real Story (BBC World Service) — A weekly deep-dive into one topic that’s making the news.
- The Oath (MSNBC) — A series where Chuck Rosenberg interviews US public servants who have served in high public office. The first series featured Jim Comey, Sally Yeats, and Andy McCabe among others.
- Stuff You Should Know — A very long-running series explaining just about anything and everything we might encounter in our daily lives.
- Invention — A relatively new series that digs deep into the invention of anything and everything from Toasters to Telescopes.
- The Why Factor (BBC World Service) — A very long-running weekly show that examines the human condition by grappling with one ‘why?’ question every week.
- The Anthropocene Reviewed (WHYY) — this has to be one of the most enigmatic podcasts I’ve ever come across. Each relatively short episode contains a review of two apparently unrelated and random things in our modern human-centric world. Examples include “Scratch ‘n’ Sniff Stickers and the Indianapolis 500”, and “Lascaux Paintings and the Taco Bell Breakfast Menu”!