This is the first in a small series of posts about my favorite podcasts. I first began listening to podcasts as a way of keeping up with the news on my bus commute to an internship in Houston. Before ever being interested in technology podcasts, I listened to news and culture podcasts. I’ve added some more in recent years, but some of these I’ve been listening to for quite some time.
I describe these as general interest because they aren’t technology focused and they should appeal to any curious audience.
This American Life
Run time: about 60 minutes.
“This American Life” is hard to describe. They take a variety of stories from place in or related to America, and organized around a theme depending on the show. Sometimes, though, they’ll do a whole show following just one story.
Hosted by Ira Glass, this show is always entertaining and oftentimes informative. I look forward to it every week and I listen to it regardless of whether I have a commute or not. It also helps me feel a little bit more connected to the US when I am abroad.
I recommend this podcast without reservation to all audiences.
BBC Global News
Run time: less than 30 minutes.
For international news source I rely primary on the BBC World Service. The Global News podcast is compiled twice a day, so whatever time zone I am in there is usually a recent one available. The only exception is on weekends, when it’s not published.
The key thing to know is that Global News is just the highlights from other BBC shows. It’s short and sweet and to the point on different news stories. If you only have time for one news podcast and you want to get up to date with what is going on in the world in less than 30 minutes, this is the podcast.
If you have more time, want to hear longer interviews, or need a news podcast on the weekend, I recommend the related podcast from the World Service, BBC Newshour.
NPR Intelligence Squared
Run time: less than hour.
Billed as “Oxford-style debating on this side of the Atlantic,” this podcast is recordings of live debates on various contentious topics related to modern American life.
They only come out about once a month (or less), but they’re usually quite interesting and very informative. Past topics have included: * “Is the Two-Party System Making U.S. Ungovernable?” * “Should Airports Use Racial And Religious Profiling?” * “Is Islam a Religion Of Peace?”
For whatever reason these podcasts aren’t listed as my top recommendations, but I still listen to them.
They are for the most part still top notch, but might be less reliable week-to-week (i.e. the occasional bad episode). I might also only listen to them occasionally when I’ve run out of the main ones. For others, I might still be giving them a chance to impress me.
Back to Work
Run Time: around an hour.
I’m still not quite sure what this podcast is about. Merlin Mann is really famous from his days, now behind him (deliberately, on his part), as a productivity guru. They talk about work/life balance stuff, philosophy of work, etc. I had this in the Apple-focused podcast post but I’ve moved it back to general interest, because though they both like Apple they don’t talk about it that much.
Listening to this podcast I often have some epiphany about how I’m doing my work or making decisions. It’s also quite entertaining, mainly because Merlin Mann is an intensely likeable and very funny guy. The only reason this podcast isn’t in my top recommended section is because I’m still not sure what the podcast is even about. It seems like sometimes they ramble on forever. I still enjoy it, and I’m giving it a chance to win me over, but I prefer my other Apple podcasts more (to be revealed in a later post).
On The Media
Run time: less than an hour.
On The Media is quality analysis of media bias. Each show takes an investigative approach around one topic. I’m not sure why I put this in the “other podcasts” section. When I switched podcast programs I think I forgot to add this, so I just haven’t listened to it in a while. I would definitely give this a try, especially if you are interested in any of their topics.
Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
Run time: less than an hour.
This is a quiz show from NPR. It’s usually pretty funny, but sometimes I don’t get the jokes because I’m not hooked into the 24 hour news cycle in the US (many of the questions are related to the news of the week, and it’s usually US-centric). They get political and entertainment figures on the show, sometimes, and they are usually pretty funny. This is something to try out and see if you like the format.
Check out the next in the series, my Apple-related podcast recommendations.