Last Updated 30/3/2017
A few years ago I stumbled upon podcasts. Following a brief trial period I was a convert and now podcasts form a part of my daily routine. Recently I revamped my collection of podcasts so I thought it’d make for a decent topic to write about.
For the uninitiated, a podcast is a series of audio-only episodes on a particular topic that you can download and listen to at any time, particularly on the go. To put it another way, in the same way we can now record TV shows to watch later, it’s similar with your favourite radio show. Of course, podcasts aren’t necessarily radio shows. Some radio shows do, however, release special podcast versions of their broadcasts.
When I began listening to podcasts I quickly realised the need for an app to automatically download and store the episodes for me. At the time I opted for the basic Google Listen app but that was sadly discontinued in 2012 and stopped working entirely when Google Reader was discontinued in 2013. A new app was required: a free app, with desktop/mobile synchronisation and a lack of obscuring features. Simple enough? Nope. Forget the desktop/mobile sync, asking for a free app which wasn’t overly complicated (by features that weren’t even enabled in the free version!) was apparently quite a large ask.
Eventually I settled on a small (at the time) app called Player FM. It’s a great app and, were it to offer a paid version, I definitely would have coughed up by now. The interface is clean & intuitive and the app is very much fit for purpose. Highly recommended here.
Podcast manager sorted, then, but what to listen to? After many revamps, additions and removals I’ve settled on the following podcasts (split by category):
The Football Ramble – A great football podcast with a much more light-hearted delivery than most of the “serious” podcasts but a comparable amount of information on offer. If you ask anyone about football podcasts it’s inevitable they’ll recommend the Football Ramble to you, alongside…
The Guardian Football Weekly – This podcast features a well-known host in James Richardson and the who’s-who of football journalism on tap. It covers English, Spanish and Italian football constantly, with other leagues and/or nations brought in for special occasions. While easy to listen to, it’s a lot more serious than The Ramble, which some may prefer.
The Tuesday Club – Sadly on an indefinite hiatus, this was the proto-‘arsenalfantv’. Know who Alan Davies is? Did you know he’s a massive Arsenal fan? Want to hear him rant about Wenger’s decision to sell RvP to United for the millionth time in a row? Well, I’ve got the podcast for you. Significantly less balanced and high-brow in content, naturally for an Arsenal podcast some would say, it’s by far the funniest of the three. It’s also interesting to hear how Davies and friends view the rest of the football world through their red-tinted glasses because their bias doesn’t stop them from discussing other footballing matters in a reasonable manner.
The Gary Neville Podcast – Usually recorded in the commentary box with Martin Tyler, this isn’t a true podcast. It is essentially additional punditry from Gary Neville on the game he has just commentated on and any large talking points from the weekend.
More or Less: Behind the Stats – This BBC podcast which takes stats from recent news and checks them out. If a politician makes a claim as part of a pledge that sounds a bit dodgy, chances are that the team at More or Less will check it out. While the methods and numbers are quite geeky, the end product is usually a simple answer. Politician said x, this is confirmed/denied, you can tell your friends that said politician was in/correct.
Developer Tea – Host Jonathan Cutrell tries to empower devs to improve their skills, adopt best practice and embrace the growth mindset. Developer Tea is about becoming the best developer you can be and Cutrell helps navigate the confusing seas. This podcast also features a large number of interviews with other people in the tech industry, the majority of whom are not developers.
NPR: TED Radio Hour Podcast – This podcast has an interesting format. It doesn’t simply pick the best TED Talks and air them on a weekly basis. Instead, it picks a theme and curates content from TED Talks (approximately three per episode) to offer a varied perspective on the theme. This not only includes snippets of the talks themselves but also interviews with the speakers.
Radio Lab – Arguably one of the most famous podcasts of them all, Radio Lab is the podcast of choice when recommending to a beginner. It usually tells a story, including interviews with the people involved, experts on the subject and excellent soundbites. Sometimes the story is human-interest, other times it may be scientific and perhaps even pure old-school journalism but Radio Lab always ensures it’s told in an interesting way. If you are reading this and you’re tempted to try a single podcast out, this is the one you should try first.
NPR: Planet Money – I’ve always had an issue with the name of this podcast because it sounds crass. It’s not really a podcast about money, more of a podcast about economics — but specifically the increasingly modern application of economics whereby economic tools are applied to life in a non-financial way. Episodes are released multiple times per week but usually tell only one story and take less than 20 minutes. Despite the name, you can have zero interest in global finance and yet still find this a fantastic little podcast.
Hmm, How Do I Classify These…?
No Such Thing as a Fish – One for the QI fans and arguably my favourite podcast. Researchers for QI (a British TV show, for the uninitiated) gather once a week to discuss their favourite facts of the week. These are facts they uncovered while researching the show but didn’t make the cut. The regular hosts are all brainboxes and, in the main, have spent time in the comedy industry. The end result is a lighthearted and educational podcast suitable for a universal audience.
What the Duck? – A podcast for Dota fans, the personalities at the MoonduckTV studio gather to discuss events, the state of the game and share their experiences. Each episode also ends with story time, where one personality tells a story that may or may not be Dota-related. Depending on the storyteller, these are usually excellent five minute stories.
The “Once Upon a Time”
Seminars About Long-Term Thinking – A lot of what we do is governed by short-term risk/reward thinking. The title of this podcast is extremely self-explanatory and might sound simple but, upon hearing a couple of the lectures, makes you realise just how little long-term thinking we actually do. In the context of this podcast, long-term doesn’t mean the difference between yourself now and in a decade’s time, it means the difference between the world we live in and the world our children will live in. While thought-provoking, I listen to podcasts to relax, entertain or be engaged by new ideas. Some of the subjects this podcasts covers were mind-expanding but not in areas that interest me.
Accidental Tech Podcast – A rather lengthy podcast (most episodes are over an hour and a half long) which can be both a blessing and a curse. When on song, it’s the most insightful tech podcast going. The hosts, who really know their stuff, can casually drop some excellent knowledge multiple times over the course of a segment. On the other hand, if the episode is subpar, it’s not even worth trawling through it for the good bits because there’s just too much. Hit and miss. Over time, I found it difficult to motivate (yes, motivate) myself to listen to a 90+ minute podcast which could be hit or miss. As a staunch anti-Apple man, their love of Apple was particularly grating.
Click – A BBC podcast about technology but not simply the latest gadgets and toys. Instead, Click is about how the latest technology will change lives around the world. At a reasonable 30 minutes per week it’s an easy listen and, well, exactly the sort of polished product you’d expect from the BBC. Unfortunately, this podcast suffers from the same problem as many BBC podcasts — it’s a specialised podcast that’s not pitched at an advanced level. The parts of this podcast which I would find interesting were covered in greater detail by other news sources.
The Bugle – A two-man show which satirically breaks down the news between episodes. Hosted by the brilliant Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver (yeah that bloke from Community and various other things where he’s hilarious), it’s clever, witty and strangely informative. As a bonus, it’s a very British podcast, which just feels much more homely than the standardised USA approach. After about a year or two of sporadic releases, John Oliver finally admitted he couldn’t commit to the podcast. Andy Zaltzman chose to continue, replacing John Oliver with a guest host each week, selected from a pool of five. While I’m very grateful that I discovered Nish Kumar in this way, most of the guest hosts were disappointing.
Hello, Internet – Two of the best YouTubers, CGP Grey and Brady Haran, discuss anything and everything. Unlike the other podcasts, there’s no real theme to this podcast and it’s mainly kept interesting by the differences between Grey and Haran themselves. I can associate with Grey, who’s fairly binary in his views, trims the excess off everything and says things that sound outrageous but actually stem from fairly sound logic. Haran is the “straight man” of the duo, who often uses his journalism skills to play devil’s advocate and push Grey’s opinions to the limit. I only listen to this podcast when I’ve got extra time over the week as, after a while, the formulaic approach gets fairly tedious. CGP Grey is an interesting robot-human hybrid, we get it. While I remain a huge fan of Grey’s YouTube work, I found myself really disliking him after listening to this podcast for a prolonged period of time. Initially, Grey’s binary views and confidence in his logic were refreshing. However, listening to a man voice an unusual opinion without an iota of doubt or self-awareness becomes incredibly frustrating when there are obvious flaws in his logic. His fan base is also on par with Justin Bieber’s.